Skip to main content
Wikimedia movement governance: the limits of a-hierarchical organization
Journal of Organizational Change Management (2016)
  • Dariusz Jemielniak
Purpose – 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.

Design/methodology/approach – 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).

Findings – 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 limitations/implications – 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.
Practical implications – 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.

Social implications – 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.

Originality/value – 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.
Publication Date
Citation Information
Jemielniak, Dariusz (2016) Wikimedia movement governance: the limits of a-hierarchical organization, Journal of Organizational Change Management 29(3), pp 361-378