Proposal:Volunteer Management practices to Expand Participation

From Strategic Planning
Status (see valid statuses)

The status of this proposal is:
Request for Discussion / Sign-Ups

Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

Edit this page to help identify the priorities related to this proposal!

  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation

Expanding Volunteer Participation, Lessons Wikimedia can learn from Red Cross and other large volunteer-driven organizations


There are many different factors that motivate the people who participate in Wikimedia projects. Many may not be aware of or interested in the bigger vision for free, collaborative and accessible educational sources- and they don't necessarily need to be. This proposal proports that the purpose of the projects is this mission and vision. Based on this perspective this proposal is suggesting a strategy of how to create a structure and a community culture that can engage the "sum of all knowledge."


To create an infrastructure and community culture that is accessible and welcoming to any & every group or individual who would contribute to achieving Wikimedia's vision.


This proposal is based on a couple of expanded definitions for "accessible" and "welcoming."

According to Wiktionary:

  1. context of a place, information, etc.= attainable, obtainable, available.
  2. context of a price = affordable
  3. context of a person = approachable

Application for this proposal:
This proposal does not address directly the issue of accessibility for people with cognitive or physical disabilities. Instead it invites readers to broaden the concept to include barriers as related to possible participants' skills, interests, communication styles, religion, social status and other cultural aspects of a person. Ex: Wikimedia is not accessible to someone who is intimidated by the idea of editing but could further the mission if s/he were involved as a communications/press contact if s/he doesn't know that role exists, or if the role doesn't exist yet.

According to Wikitionary:

  1. hospitable, accessible and cordial.

Application for this proposal:
Welcoming is not just the intent of the host but the impact on the visitor. What is welcoming for one person may be feel very inaccessible to another. To achieve a hospitable culture, the community must be receptive to a wide variety of perspectives of what hospitality requires.
Ex: A sign that reads "Welcome" only conveys that sentiment to some people. To others, the unspoken/unwritten message is "Welcome if you're willing and able to speak English."

Observations of Current Structure

The explosive popularity of Wikimedia's projects demonstrates that it had and/or has an environment in which many people feel welcome enough to participate. There is a considerable amount of research and analysis of participation data especially for the English Wikipedia. This will no doubt play an important part in identifying potential barriers and bridges to participation, which will hopefully expand to other projects as well. This proposal is based on observations in comparison to cultures and successful structures of other volunteer-driven organizations.

Participation Entry Points
For an individual to choose to attempt entry into a voluntary community, they must either perceive that there is a valued role for them or be a pioneer and be willing to operate through barriers of accessibility (including feeling unwelcome). Many volunteer-driven organizations begin and develop with limited ways to hold a meaningful role, designed primarily around how the founders became involved and the founder's interests for the organization. As the organization evolves, entry points for participation may diversify some as resources develop. But as the organization reaches a certain level of performance (see Tuckman's stages of group development) there may be very little development of new ways to get involved. Entry points become somewhat fixed based on the community norms and governance that has been established by the "founder generation." When participation entry points are fixed and narrow the organization limits its own capacity to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities that may require new perspectives and skills.

Within the Wikimedia community, there are currently very limited entry points to participate given that the vision of these projects are to be broadly inclusive and global. The most prominent and expressly valued mode of participation is editing (also known in English as contributing, know in some languages as authoring and in some projects can include "wiki-gnome" or other content clean-up work).

There are other points of entry to become affiliated with Wikimedia that are either advertised in some way or are by their nature obvious to their target audiences including:

  • Chapter membership
  • Volunteer developer
  • Donor

However the ability to vote on many important issues relating to the direction and operation of projects, such as the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, is tied to the number of edits a person has made or requires an exception to that rule. (Voting privileges have long been an explicit expression of valuation or disenfranchisement of particular groups within a community.) [1] And while getting a special exemption from edit requirements for voting eligibility may feel perfectly accessible to many chapter members, and developers (donors don't get exemptions), it does demonstrate the narrow channels through which participants must be willing to traverse if they are to have access and be welcomed.

Because, for the most part, points of entry into and validation within the Wikimedia community require at least some interest and ability to edit; the result is a very high barrier to the accessibility and welcoming for a significant population of potential participants.

Participation Life-Span
The length of time that volunteers remain engaged with a volunteer-driven organization can be impacted by several common factors. Some of the factors influencing a decline in participation include:

  • Less availability = new job, new family, school, travels
  • Burn-out = after intense participation focused on a narrow topic area or within a specific role; if participation has repercussions in other areas of life (family, social, professional)
  • Conflict fatigue = participant is drained of motivation to participate after being exposed to or involved with tensions. These can include inherent tensions (competing vision for the organization, culture of communication etc) or specific disagreements with others.
  • Organizational change = If there is a shift in power structures participants need to decide if they want to participate in the new structure. Those who previous had influence and /or authority, may choose to end participation if they lose it. Also, when organizational changes create cultural changes for the volunteer community, new barriers may emerge for previously engaged participants.

Some factors influencing an increase in participation include:

  • More availability = new job/loss of job, new family, school, travels
  • Opportunities to engage: roles that are available, seen as needed and valued, work to be done that appeals to a wide range of interests and skills; the opportunity to do work that will have a valued and/or significant impact.
  • Ability to switch roles or modes of participation: when other options to participate which appeal to different interests or in which the volunteer can engage with different people and in a different role.
  • Cultural growth = the existence of others who are "like" the potential participants. The existence of pioneers who have already been the first (women, seniors, non-English speakers, non-college educated, non-dominant culture etc..); or an intentional cultural shift that values and welcomes new participants. '

Career Pathways

This proposal suggests the model of career pathways to evolve the current roles and opportunities within the Wikimedia community. This will decrease barriers to accessibility and common factors of disengagement while increasing points of entry and factors that stimulate participation.

A volunteer career path is the explicit or implicit activities and qualifications that once achieved will lead to a predictable change in the volunteer's role within the organization. Generally, as in for-profit business, there is an entry level where few skills and experience are required, then a progression of roles along a "career ladder" that require more organizational familiarity and specific skill sets.

A corporate example could be: A current career path for Wikimedia could be: Another possible career path for Wikimedia:
Entry-level: Mail-room Editor Chapter member
Advancing to: Administrative support Administrator Chapter member involved in Wikimedia project(s)
Advancing to: Administrative lead Administrator with special permissions (CheckUser) Event or Chapter project lead
Mid-level: Middle management Steward Chapter officer
Advancing to: Management Board of Directors Chapter President
Senior-level: Senior Management
Executive: President/ Board of Directors etc.

The result of narrow or non-explicit career paths within a volunteer organization can be burn out, disenfranchisement and/or a sense of completion of the volunteer contribution to the organization. If volunteers know of only one way to contribute their time and skills, they are less likely to continue affiliating and supporting the organization if their availability changes or if they grow disinterested or disillusioned in the area in which they were contributing.

The American Red Cross has faced this challenge over the past 130 years, most recently after the hurricane season of 2005 which saw its largest U.S. deployment of volunteers in history. In order to meet the increasing needs of the public with less financial support, the Red Cross needed to retain and expand volunteer participation. One of the strategies to do this was to create, publicize, and support career paths for a wider diversity of individuals and organizations.

First Step To begin establishing and expanding career paths, the first step is to identify current roles volunteers are playing and articulate how new or potential volunteers can achieve that role. A list of volunteer roles has been started on Meta-Wiki on the Volunteering pages. In order for the movement to be truly accessible and transparent, the requirements for these roles should be easily available for external audiences (including people who are completely unfamiliar with wiki culture). This is typically an ongoing activity as established roles change over time.

This first step can (and probably should) be done simultaneously to developing new roles and career paths.

Second Step Identify new roles and modes of making valued contributions to the Wikimedia movement. The opportunity here is to create roles that have new entry points, so that they attract participation from new demographics, skills sets and missing perspectives. See, for instance, the Volunteer Project Lead positions in the Best Practices Documentation team. These volunteers were recruited to the positions because of their background in project management, international experience and skills with product development. They were not previous editors or Wikimedia volunteer contributors and likely would never had been. But with a specific role, valuing the skills and interests they already had, they were enticed to volunteer with Wikimedia and have since developed wiki editing skills that will expand their career path within the organization. Additionally, currently active Wikimedian volunteers may see this new role as a possibility to extend their involvement with the organization in a new and exciting way. Developing volunteer job descriptions - which describe the opportunity, requirements and expectations of a role - is an effective way to begin recruiting for new volunteers.[2]

Other examples of new volunteer roles that might entice a broader participant diversity include:

  • Speakers Bureau Volunteer Lead / Speaker
    (Speaking at local events and for organizations that are interested in Wikimedia's mission or specific projects)
  • Endorsed Trainer / Trainer of Trainers,
    (Volunteers with skills and experience facilitating training events to provide career path advancement to other Wikimedians / or teaching others how to.)
  • WikiPod Leader / Member
    (Members of local teams of general Wikimedia enthusiasts- users who want to sing our praises and set up release party type activities)
  • Chapter Mentor
    (Volunteers endorsed by the Chapters Committee to help emerging chapters with set up and incorporation?
  • Volunteer Support
    (People with experience and interest in the volunteer management field that volunteer to help coordinate volunteer support activities with the WMF, local chapters and within different Wikimedia projects?
  • Add many, many more.

Step Three Using the descriptions for the roles developed in steps one and two, articulate possible career pathways of roles and work within Wikimedia that will help volunteers develop the skills and experiences required to move from one role to another. Instead of a relatively narrow ladder with silos of volunteer roles, we should create a system that encourages movement between skill sets and between levels of commitment and responsibility. For instance, what does a member do if they have worked as an editor, a gnome, and an admin, but now they are burned out with that type of commitment? Instead of having to take a Wiki-break or "moving on" past Wikimedia, we should offer that volunteer the chance to engage in a new interest within Wikimedia utilizing or developing new skills.

Sample Career Path Resources

Welcome to the WikiMaster node

A skills development and certification framework for WikiEducators

Apprentice 1 Apprentice 2 WikiBuddy WikiArtisan WikiTrainer WikiMaster

A WikiArtisan is a multi-skilled and experienced WikiEducator professional who has developed a respectable share of WikiEducator content. A WikiArtisan is well-versed with:

  • our learning design requirements;
  • quality assurance procedures; and
  • the values of the free knowledge community.

Achieving the status of WikiArtisan is a significant milestone for a WikiEducator. A WikiArtisan has earned this status through demonstrated contributions to the community, the attainment of a high level of proficiency in wiki skills and an intimate understanding of the values underpinning our community.

Skills requirement Support resources Outputs for community certification
  • Pre-requisite skills: - WikiApprentice Levels 1 & 2 and WikiBuddy
  • Creating structure in content resources using subpages
  • Using categories on content pages
  • Being able to defend free knowledge based on the essential freedoms
  • Sourcing and attributing free content images correctly
  • Creating and using navigation templates
  • Using support and development templates
  • Tutorial 10: Thinking about Structure
  • Tutorial 11: Navigation templates
  • Tutorial 12: What is free content?
  • Tutorial 13: Developing a teaching resource
  • Pre-requisite skills - WikiApprentice
  • Developed at least 5 learning hours of content on WikiEducator
  • Developed at least one teaching resource using:
    • Navigation templates
    • involving collaborative participation from at least two other WikiEducators
  • Listed Username as a WikiAmbassador and organised and recorded at least one WikiAmbassador event.
  • Provide an evidence portfolio as a subpage from the user page containing links to the output requirements listed above
  • Here is an example of a career pathway guide from the American Red Cross. It goes to all volunteers who are new to the department and to volunteers in other departments in case they are interested in reassignments. The guide is distributed with a list of classes and incidents the volunteers need to have completed before promotion. The pathway described here and the management of the volunteers involved with the disasters services is all created and completed by volunteers. While the Red Cross primarily supports live, in-person volunteer work there may still be promising practices in volunteer management that could apply to Wikimedia.

DISASTER SERVICES DAT Promotion Guide & Checklist

What you should know about this Guide
This is intended to assist the new DAT Trainee in completing the class training and field experience required for a trainee’s first promotion to DAT Technician. Continued training, experience, and commitment will lead to promotion to the next rank, DAT Specialist. The positions of Team Leader and Incident Coordinator are appointments made by the Disaster Chairs.

This is your Guide
You can work at whatever pace you set for yourself; however, we encourage all trainees to complete all the necessary steps to become a DAT Technician within 6 months. Note: The ARC Certificates you receive after completing a class must be kept for your records. It is a good idea to eventually make copies of the pocket size completion cards you receive, and send a copy to your CDV (Coordinator of Volunteer Disasters) to keep in the ARC office. Classes should be renewed every one to three years. (You may check with your CDV for further questions, details, etc).

Examples of other Red Cross activities
In addition to participating in DAT Responses and Disaster Services Meetings, we encourage volunteers to also participate in other Red Cross Activities. These include vehicle fleet, logistics, communications, damage assessment, family services, shelters and other projects such as health fairs, Bay to Breakers, BART drills, NERT city-wide drills, etc.

Calldown is an essential element in responding to an incident. Handling calldown on a routine basis will meet one of the incident requirements for advancement to technician. Most important for a Responder is that they respond to the phone call, whether it’s a ‘yea’ or a ‘nay’.

Instructions for completing Guide
Each time you have completed a training class, attended a Disaster Services Meeting, been called to a DAT Incident or participated in other Red Cross Activities, jot it down on your Guide.

When Guide is completed
Once you have completed all the criteria, you have fulfilled the basic requirements to become a DAT Technician, sign, date and send to your CDV for your files. Mail to:


Expanding the number, geographical reach and diversity of participants in the Wikimedia movement

Key Questions

  • What new roles within Wikimedia would be enticing to potential volunteers?
  • What kind of training and other support is required from the current community, affiliates and the WMF to reach out to and support volunteers for whom wiki culture is not welcoming?
  • What are roles can other organizations with overlapping vision and goals assume to increase the identification of people and groups as Wikimedian?
  • In what ways do volunteers and affiliate organizations like to be be appreciated. What activities and communications will make them feel valued?
  • What technical issues need to be resolved to support the expansion of a more diversified volunteer base?
  • What actions should the Wikimedia Foundation take to support the expansion and diversification of participation in Wikimedia projects?

Potential Costs

  • New Foundation staff to support global & multicultural outreach, partnerships and volunteer roles
  • Significant time from experienced and open minded Wikimedians
  • Development of tech tools to create welcoming interfaces.

Related proposals

Additional Resources


  1. Retrieved 22:10, August 18, 2009, from
  2. Some imagine that traditional management strategies like job descriptions are inappropriate for volunteers. However within the modern discipline of volunteer management, it is a well respected practice to aid in creating open and honest communication about what committment the volunteer is being asked to make and what they should expect from the experience: World Volunteer Web: How-To Guide: Manage Volunteers. Retrieved September 9, 2009
  3. Permanent link retreived 9/10/2009 11:49amPST

Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Volunteer Management practices to Expand Participation.

Want to work on this proposal?

  1. .. Sign your name here!