The purpose of this paper is to show the limits of a-hierarchical organization in the Wikimedia movement governance model. Wikimedia governance, as well as the dynamic transformations it is currently undergoing, remains to be covered by the literature on organization and management studies; yet, they exemplify the problems with the “organization of the future,” which is highly idealized throughout the management literature.
The research design relies on an ethnographic, long-term, participative study of the Wikipedia community at large. The methods used rely mainly on discourse analysis and interviews. The study benefits from the unique participant immersion of the researcher (who spent six years participating in the studied community, making over five edits each day on average, and being elected to several positions of highest trust within the organization).
The findings show that the open, participative, and democratic character of the organization, which in theory is oriented toward sustainable solidarity, as well as the semi-anonymous character of some of the members’ identities, makes the community more empowered yet more belligerent. Also, the entirely open and flat governance model makes it more difficult to establish a stable leadership consensus.
Research is limited due to its methodological design, as it relies on in-depth qualitative case studies, rather than wider analysis. Further quantitative research is needed to confirm the findings on a bigger scale and in other open collaboration organizations.
The findings show that participative organizational design, especially in open collaboration projects, have adverse effects in leading to overly confrontational and quarrelsome organizational culture, which not only makes decision making more difficult, but also deters people less used to debating and conflict.
The social implications of the findings suggest that even in highly democratized structures, some minimal forms of leadership, and governance are useful to facilitate the decision-making processes.
This paper extends the understanding of organizational dynamics and governance in open collaboration organizations, and exposes the shortcomings of this model, which are an inevitable trade-off for its indisputable benefits.
This research was made possible by the Polish National Science Center Grant (no. UMO-2012/05/E/HS4/01498). The author is grateful to Charlie DeTar, Benjamin Mako Hill, and Jérôme Hergueux, as well as the special editor Andreea Gorbatai and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on this paper.
Jemielniak, D. (2016), "Wikimedia movement governance: the limits of a-hierarchical organization", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 361-378. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-07-2013-0138Download as .RIS
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