OGDN Pilot Project
March-April 2011 Progress Report
General observations / Lessons learnt
The past four months of the pilot project have already allowed us to draw some conclusions for the future regarding the realization of similar endeavors:
- The definition of the project's scope is an essential step for all participants at the very beginning of the process. This may seem obvious but turned out tricky in the details, mostly because of language issues. While the project and its parts were introduced and discussed with representatives of five chapters, it appears that not all words were understood by everyone to mean the same things. Especially terms like "strategy", "professionalization", "growth", or "commitment" turned out to be interpreted very differently by discussion participants. In one chapter, for example, the pilot project was primarily understood as a means to professionalize chapter operations, rather than lay the groundwork for long-term organizational development. This challenge, which is well-known to exist among individuals speaking the same language, is exarcerbated significantly by translation issues as well as differing levels of both professional experience and formal education. Unclear premises tend to have an impact on the developing project and to bind energies of the parties as long as they are not cleared sufficiently. Some of the delays experienced in the past four months can easily be attributed to such differing interpretations of English words. For future incarnations of this project, it seems essential that much more weight is placed on direct, personal contact with project participants and that communication follows simpler, likely more repetitive patterns to improve common understanding. This obviously has direct impact on both the project's timeline and its costs.
- Working with the chapters around the development of strategic goals touches micro-political relationships and aspects within the chapter. Relational issues between chapter board members, officers, and other involved individuals can have significant impact at least on the speed of progress, if not on the possibility of success in general. This also touches other ongoing group processes (plans, assemblies, conflicts, etc.) that may turn out to be in conflict with the project's timeline. The consultants' work therefore needs to be tailored even more to the actual situation and concrete needs of the chapter, without losing sight of the overall pilot project goal. This may have an impact on the initial timeline and requires flexibility and attention for the chapter’s internal processes.
- The chapters have different histories and common experiences; some meet more, some less often “live”; some have more, some have less formalized ways of communication. For some chapters, it is very easy to gather a sufficient number of people to take decisions on a large basis. For others, it is much more difficult, if not impossible aside from infrequent events such as annual assemblies. Geographical distance also has an impact on group integration. Accepting these differences means needing to be much more flexible about scheduling and, indeed, the overall project timeline.
In general, it is clear that the original ending date of June 2011 will not be maintained. Our recommendation, at this time, would be to reset the ending date to October, with chapter-specific ending dates before that. The upcoming meetings with WMHU, WMSE, and WMCZ should allow for clarification on the remaining timeline.
In March, several Skype meetings were dedicated to the preparation of the strategy workshop planned for April 16th – 17th in Prague. The coordination of the assessment was very good in the chapter and a lot of material had been prepared. The workshop was planned to start after the General Assembly on April 16th and continue on the 17th. However, due to strong internal dissent between participants of the assembly, it lasted much longer than planned (from 10am until close to midnight). As a consequence, the attendance in the workshop on the following day was not sufficient to hold the strategy workshop in the way that was originally planned. The workshop was reworked into a discussion on motivation and group dynamics, which was attended by two members of the board and two active chapter members. The new topics provided an opportunity to clarify certain points regarding the strategy process in the chapter in general and become aware of the need for even more clarification/discussion of these topics at the very beginning of a strategy process. Using common terminology (planning, strategic planning, strategy development) does not automatically mean that everybody is interpreting the meaning of these terms in the same way (see also "Lessons learnt" above).
A short meeting was held in Berlin on March 27th with two board members after the Wikimedia Conference to discuss further steps and present the assessment work to be done by the chapter on their own. A strategy meeting was planned at the beginning of May. However, the common assessment work was delayed as some parts of the assignments appeared too difficult to understand or to complete so that the work could not be finished on time. From the consultants' side, inquiring more frequently on task progress might have brought more momentum to the work and allowed for clarification of doubts. From the chapter’s side, communicating the difficulties would have been helpful too. The chapter participants have express that working together on the assessment during a specific live workshop would probably be more effective. A new date is yet to be set for it.
The work on the report on the February strategy workshop continued partly in March. Some points still have to be completed to be understandable also for people who have not participated in the workshop. The board also signed the contract for the chapter’s office in this time and prepared the General Assembly held in March. A new board was elected so that board transition has became the main focus for the chapter for the coming weeks. Contact was kept during April and further steps of the project will hopefully be realized in May/June.
The chapter held its annual assembly at the same time as Wikimedia Conference in Berlin. At the assembly, a new board was elected and contact was re-established with the new chair, Jan Ainali. The on-boarding workshop with the new board will be held May 28 in Stockholm.
- WMCZ: The participants worked on the organization of a new strategy workshop in May and committed to contact people accordingly. Progress has stalled somewhat as a long-term conflict between the chapter's President and a chapter member has escalated again. To resolve the open issues between them, a mediation workshop is scheduled for May 30th in Prague.
- WMHU: A date for the assessment workshop will be set in the coming days.
- WMNL: A date has to be set with the new board for the next strategy workshop.
- WMSE: The on-boarding workshop will be held on May 28.