Communications/Wikimedia brands/2030 movement brand project/Executive statement

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Hello everyone. I am Heather Walls, head of the Communications department at the Wikimedia Foundation and executive sponsor of the Brand project.

I want to share some information that may or may not influence your thoughts around the naming conventions my team shared this week.

We have been exploring the possibility of centering our brands on Wikipedia based on a request from the Board in 2015. The strategic value of that proposal was reinforced in research from 2018 that we undertook to support the movement’s strategic direction. The decision to rebrand was reviewed by the Board in 2018, confirmed as strategic direction in August 2019, and affirmed following the review of naming conventions via resolution in May 2020.

Here are a few of the reasons we set out to simplify our brands

  • To fulfill our vision for every single human being to freely share in the sum of all knowledge, our movement must reach billions of people. We could reach them today, but as our research has shown, our movement brand is confusing and unknown. While millions of people visit Wikipedia every day, they have no idea that it is part of an extraordinary global movement.
  • Wikimedia, our shared name since 2003, is failing as a brand. Yes we have created partnerships in the name of Wikimedia, but always with the strength of Wikipedia behind it. Half of Wikimedia community members surveyed in 2016 said they define Wikimedia by relating it to Wikipedia explicitly, and 25% said they never use the Wikimedia name outside the movement at all.
  • Wikimedia is often confused with Wikipedia and assumed to be fraudulent by both readers and donors. This is not simply a failure to “label” a product, but as a fundamental communications and values gap that is preventing people from joining and supporting our work.
  • People cherish Wikipedia for more than personal utility. In a 2017 study of internet users in seven countries, support for “free knowledge for every person” was the top association with the word “Wikipedia,” outranking “useful” and “easy to read” responses. The commitment to “free knowledge for every person” is the central goal of our movement, and the world associates it with the name Wikipedia not Wikimedia.
  • The 2030 strategic direction includes ambitious goals to reach more people as both contributors and readers. One of our roles as the Foundation is to remove whatever friction we can and support the movement in reaching those goals through improved branding. The popularity and trust in the name Wikipedia makes that possible in ways that no marketing campaign would ever achieve.
  • These goals will take significant funding, partnerships, and volunteer support, not to mention participation from many more languages, cultures, and people. Whether we like it or not, a major trusted name—as Wikipedia has become—is required to achieve this.

We understood that this decision could not be universally agreed on, and that changing identity is an emotional task as much as a practical one. So we set out to be transparent and inclusive in the steps we were taking towards a rebrand. However, when community discussions began to sway toward attempting to prevent a rebrand, we failed in clearly and consistently responding that a rebrand itself was not up for debate.

We should have been clearer: a rebrand will happen. This has already been decided by the Board. The place where we seek consultation and input is on what an optimal rebrand looks like, and what the path to get there will be.

In response to community concerns along the way we have revised our plans, extended our timelines, and looked at naming possibilities other than Wikipedia. One thing we did not sufficiently communicate in presenting the potential naming conventions is that the team did a huge amount of work to explore other options not centered on the Wikipedia brand. They dug, they proposed, they reviewed with the Legal team who also did a lot of work exploring options, narrowing down for feasibility and exploring the feasible options in depth. This includes ones we created, as well as suggestions from many community discussions.

In the end, the Board, Brand team, and Legal team agreed that Wikipedia was the change which supported the goals of the change while also meeting practical legal and financial constraints. This is why the Brand team spent extra time to develop solutions exploring interchangeable parts, and are interested in the way these parts might more usefully explain the structures of our movement.

Regarding the survey[edit]

The survey is intended as a tool to inform design and development. It is not a vote on which name we all share. It is a chance to remove options that do not work, to refine things that are promising but incomplete, and recombine elements from across the “options” that respondents highlight.

Regarding the name of the Wikimedia Foundation[edit]

Whatever the precise solution, the Wikimedia Foundation reserves the right to revise its name for strategic reasons that serve the sustainability of the movement and our shared vision. As mentioned in the timeline, there will be further revisions of a potential new name. The Executive Team and the Board of Trustees are interested in community discussion and survey feedback, but will make this decision based on long term goals.

Regarding the names of affiliates[edit]

After the completion of the Brand Project, there will be a proposal containing a set of naming conventions and a brand design system informed by surveys and discussions. Each affiliate will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to opt-in to the new system, this includes the Wikimedia Foundation. Similar to the Wikimedia Foundation, the leadership of each affiliate can then decide how to proceed. The Foundation will work to provide support as requested during this process.

Regarding the name of the movement[edit]

There is no entity, including the Wikimedia Foundation, that has the power to change how people who work in and for our projects refer to themselves. People choose to consider themselves Wikimedians, or Wikipedians, or free knowledge advocates. The name of the movement comes from the will of the people, not the other way around. However, we felt it was important to explore how any brand change would interact with current or future identities for the movement. We understand that the name for the movement is the one that is accepted and used by the community, and we hope our discussions reveal what motivates people, what resonates with their goals, and what helps expand the movement in service of our mission.

Final thoughts[edit]

And finally, I take responsibility that we have not managed to bring all of you along on this journey in the way we hoped and intended, or clearly communicated the Foundation’s intentions. I deeply regret causing stress and tension that have increased rifts between the Foundation and many community members. I am grateful for your participation even when your concerns for our methods provoke questions about the Foundation’s motivations.

Our movement, our projects, and the Foundation are nothing without our communities. We are learning many valuable lessons through this work, including how to communicate more clearly and more productively collaborate across our movement. The Foundation is building a consultation practice during the coming year to ensure that we retain these lessons and share them across the organization.