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Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

5. Coordinate, then communicate

Coordinate within the Foundation first, then communicate with the larger movement.

Wikimedia Summit 2019 - 140

“You can talk to five different people at the Foundation and get five different answers to the same question,” one participant told us. “More intra-Foundation clarity is needed.”

We expected the insights we gathered to be about the two-way exchange between the Foundation and communities. But time and time again, both staff and community participants wanted to talk about what happens before that exchange. They made the link clear: better internal communication = better movement communication.

Community participants emphasized how difficult it is to follow our work or partner with us because we appear disjointed.

The WMF seems fragmented - It seems difficult to find out what it is doing at the moment and what plans it may have for the near future. There are many activities, but no overview.

Staff told us that stronger communications within the Foundation is an important first step to being able to communicate a coherent message to the rest of the movement.

Give us a mandate to prioritise our internal communication working, so that we can use that as a foundation for things we can tell the communities. --Foundation staffer

Coordination is as much an internal challenge as it is an external “messaging” challenge. If we are disjointed within the Foundation, we appear disjointed externally as well. We asked participants how they would begin to solve this problem, and they came back with three concrete ideas for the Foundation to consider: connect the dots through overviews, do some air traffic control, and hire dedicated internal communications staff.

Connecting the dots[edit]

Connect My Dots (22685127)

There is a lack of awareness that the outcome of one project has profound impacts across the organization for everyone else… Everybody thinks that their thing is the most important thing. --Foundation staffer

We heard this a lot from Foundation staff participants: How is my project impacting other projects? How are other projects impacting my work? Why does it feel like my project is competing for attention with other projects? Staff participants told us that when we do not connect these dots across the organization, good work can end up not having the impact that it should.

The connecting the dots problem is with a lot of work product… things that we produce, that are then shared within a team or at most within a department and that’s it… [Things] that are based on all this community wisdom. --Foundation staffer

Connecting the dots means relating projects to each other across departments, getting aligned around shared goals, and establishing priorities between projects. It means summarizing, synthesizing, and organizing internal and public Foundation documentation, so that people can reasonably follow it and retain it. Participants mentioned that we already have information on these things available in different forms and in different places -- it is the curation we are missing.

Everything is in the open, but you have to navigate a lot of [documentation], so people still don’t have any idea of what is going on, even if theoretically they could follow the work. --Foundation staffer

Staff and community participants alike want short, digestible, easily accessible overviews of the important Foundation work. They want to understand how different work relates to our larger goals, and have a sense of which work is most critical and why.

We are too big of an organization for every individual to hold a complete picture of what the organization does. We could and did have that six or seven years ago. [Everyone needs] to have a readily accessible summary about what work is going on elsewhere in the organization… it should be relatively easy to say “this bit of work is important and this is roughly why. --Foundation staffer

Air traffic control[edit]

Air Traffic Control, Abraham Lincoln CVN-72

Connecting the dots across projects and departments and establishing priorities allows us to do some air traffic control. We heard over and over, from staff and community participants, that there are way too many things happening all the time. Dates, deadlines and priorities conflict, confusing communities, dividing their attention and causing volunteer fatigue.

There are often so many things that need input from the community or should be discussed with community happening in parallel, I get confused and I imagine volunteers get even more confused. --Foundation staffer

I would work on inter team or department communication within the foundation. So that it reduces volunteer engagement fatigue.

Air traffic control will help us spot where there will be traffic jams, trying to land two planes on the same runway at the same time, and other similar issues. It will help ensure that the most urgent requests get priority, and that projects aren’t competing with each other for attention.

Internal communications staff[edit]

Frecce Tricolori mijanka 2

Staff participants suggested many times that we may now be too large of an organization to rely on the type of internal communications we have used in the past.

We self-critiqued about our [internal] communication and documentation practices before we were a 500 person organization. And now we are a 500 person organization, and we’re still catching up.

Dedicated internal communications staff could help connect the dots, oversee air traffic control, and improve intra-Foundation clarity more generally so that we can communicate a more consistent message to the rest of the movement.

A point of emphasis: Coordination around consultations[edit]

Nailsea and Backwell railway station MMB A0

While these points speak to recommended improvements for coordinating ongoing movement communications, participants pointed to additional recommendations in the case of consultations. Consultations are high-stakes moments of shared decision making with the movement, and coordination around them needs to support the purpose of coming to decisions collectively.

“The Foundation tends to do a lot of planning and brainstorming and preparing all kinds of topics with different stakeholders, and then they think, ‘Okay this is it, this is what we’re going to do, we’ve made the decision. Let’s throw it out there.’ And then suddenly it becomes very clear that there has not been a discussion with the 150,000 other people who are completely taken by surprise by what is going on… As soon as there are polarized opinions, this completely blows up every single time... Maybe some of these things should be taken much more incrementally."

Many participants shared a feeling that, at times, consultation decisions are made behind closed doors and released to communities after. When it appears that the outcome of a consultation is predetermined, it can create feelings that the feedback cycles were misleading, which erodes trust.

When I see lack of trust for WMF, I think of examples of partners coming to the Foundation to use [staff] as a gateway to make the community happy about something they don’t want. --Foundation staffer

In many words, participants emphasized that increased coordination should not mean deciding the outcome of a consultation decision, or selecting a preference for a decision, ahead of time. In fact, in many ways, it should mean the opposite. Coordination around consultations is implementing best practices and streamlining processes so that communities can participate in a meaningful way. Best practices mentioned for consultations included:

Multilingual accessibility

Excellent multi-lingual participation (including the even rarer ability for English speakers to interact back to other languages, which really improves understanding each others' needs).

Openness to receiving feedback

Why did we publish it for feedback? Why did we say there was a talk page? Why didn’t we just publish on the Foundation website? If we’re not sincere about that kind of feedback, then it should have been very clear what we were doing.

Mechanisms to integrate feedback

It does feel good when ’the loop is closed’— That is, I know I was heard and somebody really thought about it and the decision was X.

A proper staging process where clear details were given that actually matched the discussion.

Openness to using feedback to come to a decision

[There should be] no feeling of a prior decision being made.

I have frustrations when consultations turn out to not have significant impact, only amending the minor details in a change.

Consultations require careful coordination, aimed at allowing people from across the movement to share their perspectives and make critical decisions collectively. Coordinating to calendar, connect the dots, and ensure the use of these additional best practices across the Foundation during consultations will help ensure that community members can meaningfully participate in building the future of the movement.

Similar recommendations appear in:

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