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March 16, 2006

Wikipedia as volunteer management benchmark

The current issue of Associations Now has a great article by Jeff Cufaude about principles of volunteer management as gleaned from the activities of Wikipedia. From his interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Jeff distills four reminders for associations as they seek to better manage their volunteer processes:

  1. Make it easy for individuals to contribute.
  2. Newcomers are the community's future.
  3. Communities are social entities.
  4. Governance exists to support the community and its vision, not individual agendas and personalities.

The most compelling parts for me were under point number four. Here's a passage from that reminder:

So what kind of leadership qualities are required if you are going to champion an engaged and self-organizing community such as Wikipedia? Wales suggests a high tolerance for ambiguity, a comfort with chaos, and a relaxed, friendly demeanor. "Since the work we are doing is really an ongoing flow, it is complete chaos at all times," he acknowledges.

Sounds like fun! The article goes on to talk about governance...

So if that's CEO leadership, what does community governance look like? When it comes to community standards and issues, Wales notes that the governance style is very ambiguous and that different things are handled in different ways. "We don't have an a priori system," he says. "We just use human judgment. We discuss. We debate. We try to find consensus. We let the best arguments win, and, regardless, most votes are not permanent and binding."
Lordy! That sounds great, but it's not for everyone. Just as different people have different learning styles, I think some industries and professions would have a low tolerance for a governance system like this one.

Great article, definitely worth the read.

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