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As we prepare to discuss strategic priorities for the next few years of the Wikimedia movement, we believe it is important to start with an understanding of what's gone right and - perhaps more importantly - what's gone wrong in our past strategy processes. Knowing what to do and not do in a successful community consultation, priority allocation, etc will allow us to begin this process positioned for success.

The Wikimedia Foundation's strategy consultant, Suzie Nussel, has put together the summary of past strategy processes you see below, including strengths and weaknesses. The summary is derived from reading of past documentation and interviews with the Wikimedia Foundation c-team (Katherine Maher, Maggie Dennis, Lisa Gruwell, and Wes Moran), Guillaume Paumier (staff member), and Philippe Beaudette (2010 strategy).

We hope to hear from community members and movement partners about what they feel was good and bad about these past processes, too. What do you believe is important to do or not do during the upcoming the 2016-17 movement-wide, strategic planning process for the Wikimedia movement? Please tell us in short-form on the talk page or, if you have longer thoughts, create a page of your own and add a link to it in our navigation sidebar.

2010-15 strategic process (movement-wide)


The 2010 strategy process was internationally recognized as being unique in its approach, according to the Fortune article, "Reinventing your Business, Wikipedia Style" (March 22, 2011). Wikimedia broke the normal paradigm of C-level staff writing and delivering the strategy to a fully collaborative process engaging over 2000 community members/volunteers. This was the brainchild of then-Executive Director Sue Gardner and facilitated by Philippe Beaudette (former head of reader relations).

While the initial step of community engagement - asking community members to write proposals - was intended as simply information gathering, it elicited overwhelming response and became the main driver of the process. This was highly supported by Sue Gardner and led to a very successful outcome in terms of a clear strategic alignment.

Ultimately, however, the scope was overwhelmingly large, success measures were not built or tracked, and the lack of a strong implementation plan made this plan unachievable. This led to a break in trust in the leadership’s ability.

Process steps

According to Philippe Beaudette, who was the primary facilitator of the strategic planning process, the following steps were taken:

  • First community engagement - call for proposals to see who was interested in being part of the strategic planning process
    • Outside company, Bridgespan, hired to help define the prompts, facilitation support, and data analysis. Had issues getting them to work in this style of collaboration (ran through 3 project managers).
  • Over 1000 proposals were received, reviewed, and then clustered into functional areas
    • Proposals ranged from big strategic ideas to concrete tactics/deliverables
  • Each main cluster was converted into a task force
    • Task forces included community health, international expansion, and technology strategy
  • Each task force (organized and made up of volunteers and some staff members) was responsible for reviewing its cluster of proposals, hosting discussions on wiki, and building out a set of recommendations.
    • Task Forces were open to all in the community to attend, beyond the initial authors
    • Another 1000 people became involved in the process
    • 2 professional facilitators supported all task forces
    • Task forces were responsible for their own work
  • Recommendations were refined by staff
  • Board/staff reviewed the recommendations and build the final strategic plan.


Final strategic plan was very well received by the community and Wikimedia Foundation got recognition as being cutting-edge in its strategic planning. However, the plan was too large in scope to be properly implemented, which caused unrealistic expectations and a feeling of failure five years later.

Key people involved for further reference:

  • Philippe Beaudette
  • Eugene Kim

Strengths and limitations

Thema: Strengths Limitations
Participation - Call for proposals Highly collaborative - process was the spirit of “open-source” engagement Process yielded 1000 proposals, which overwhelmed the small staff (50 at the time). No mechanisms were in place to handle the volume.
Participation - Task forces

Process allowed sub-committees to co-create and get to the solutions on their own, thereby creating full ownership and accountability.

Loaded with big names in the communities, gave this status and energized people to participate

Some task forces did not complete the work. This was an issue for the Technical Task Force, which ended up being mainly written by Eugene Kim (and according to Philippe, was the worse one because of the lack of collaboration)
Acceptance Highly accepted by the community, since they were the primary drivers - they felt listened to and respected Staff accepted the strategy, but they had limited control to effect all the changes.
Actionability Clear, concise plans and tactics that could have been executed if the scope was reasonable for the resources available. The translation between the strategy to annual planning never happened effectively. The overall scope was too large to accomplish. Baseline measures were not known (or able to be known), so the goals could not be tracked for success.

ED gave strong trust in the process and community to develop the plan

Community eager to engage and solve the challenges, worked hard to deliver the recommendations

Community, staff, and Board fully involved in a shared vision and aligned

Convergence of ideas and strategies to a manageable, prioritized set did not happen. This set up the dynamic for a no-win scenario as expectations couldn’t be reached in the 5-years.

Key lessons from 2010 process / recommendations for next process

This is a list of recommendations, which also includes those from Philippe (given August 2016 via interview).

  • Community engagement worked really well.
    • Philippe recommends running the next process as this one was - full community engagement and open-source collaboration, soliciting proposals. This generates the most effective process and community buy-in. The staff will have to remain confident, and trust in the community and process to complete the strategy. The work of the many will always be dramatically better than the work of the few.
  • Create better management tool/process for receiving and processing proposals
  • Ensure Task Forces have the right mix of resources so the work is completed in each one. This might include at least one staff member facilitating or participating, and tracking the completion of the work.
    • Give each Task Force as much background data as is available, in an organized manner (links to past studies, current metrics, work in progress, etc.).
    • Don’t try to overly manage the Task Forces in terms of driving the agenda. These need to be community-driven.
    • Staff members could be responsible for helping to schedule the meetings and doing project management.
    • Clearly define roles (time keeper, facilitator, reporter, participants) and work, both on-wiki and on the best platform for the community and language (e.g., Facebook, Telegram, Google Docs, video-conferencing, etc.).
    • Give clear expectations of work to be completed, templates to use, etc. so that output is easy to manage across all groups.
  • 2010 plan was written with big goals that they knew were not achievable. Strategies should be refined and prioritized so that expectations are clear and goals are attainable within the time frame specified.
  • Goals should be measurable from the start so that progress can be and is measured over time.
  • Need mechanisms in place for follow-through. The whole process in 2010 was exhausting, so once the strategic plan was finalized, the next layer of implementation planning was not done. This needs to be well-defined and allow for easy tracking against major milestones throughout each year.
    • Breaking down sub-tasks
    • Setting realistic milestones
    • Creating measures to track progress
    • Creating quarterly reviews to check progress, and make adjustments as needed
    • Creating annual reports on progress against strategy
    • Keeping trust and transparency at the forefront… collaborate and communicate with community if major adjustments or changes in direction are deemed necessary (get buy-in beforehand, not after changes made)

2012 Narrowing Focus


On October 1, 2012, Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Foundation, published a Narrowing Focus recommendation on meta. Because the scope of the 2010 strategy was so extensive, the Foundation was having difficulty sizing its role and executing on its priorities to drive the mission forward. The Narrowing Focus mandate concentrated on execution and delivery, mainly engineering and grant-making. This recommendation was given to the Board, which approved this action. Community was not involved in the decision-making process in a formal way.

Synopsis of the Narrowing Focus document

Highlights from the document included below:

  • “We are a website (set of sites), so engineering (including product development) is core.”
  • “We are also becoming a grant-making organization.”
    • High-priority projects:
      • Funds dissemination committee and grant-making — improving the funds dissemination processes to be more transparent, democratic, and accountable
  • Recommendations (included in the mandate):
    • We plan to convert the catalyst projects into grants
    • We plan to wind down the fellowships program.
    • We will reduce time and effort spent on staging and supporting complex international events.
    • We will focus our support for movement-wide organizational development on grant-making and crisis response.

2015 Call to Action / discovery work on strategy


In May 2014, Lila Tretikov was hired as the new Executive Director of the Foundation. She was brought in primarily to help the Foundation build out its product and engineering functions to meet its strategic goals. Lila proposed that rather than a large, long-term strategy, the Foundation should move toward an agile, iterative process for driving its product development. Below is a timeline of major milestones.

  • July 2014: Lila introduces the concept of strategy as a practice..that helps you choose the right thing to do, focused on how the movement: Engages more users? Activates more editors? Creates more content?
  • Dec 2014: Lila presents the Call to Action approach. “Action will focus on technical execution, content and community, and innovation and new knowledge.”
  • Jan 2015: 2015 Call to Action announced at January All Hands
  • Feb 2015: Communications team publishes the State of the Wikimedia Foundation, which includes 2014 in review and the 2015 Call to action
  • Feb. 23, 2015: Open invitation to community and readers to participate in a 2-week visioning exercise / strategy consultation on 1) future trends beyond mobile for the next billion users and 2) based on these trends, what do Wikimedia projects look like?
  • March 2015: Kim Gilbey (strategy consultant) hired and introduced to the board. The iterative strategy process would be built in three phases: internal research at the Wikimedia Foundation, external dialogue, and implementation.
  • April 2015: Meetings with technology partners to discuss strategy, emerging opportunities and considerations
  • April 2015: Engineering team is reorganized into 6 teams to better meet the needs of its unique audiences in an agile product development process (Editing, Reading, Search & Discovery, Infrastructure, Community Tech, and Fundraising Tech).
  • May 2015 (Board minutes): Lila presents first take of strategy. Board concerned about the role of the Foundation in helping to solve community harassment. Also discussed best ways to work with partners and content reusers.
  • June 2015 (Metrics presentation): Lila presents Emerging Strategy.
  • July 2015 (Metrics): Findings from March visioning/strategy consultation reported.
  • July 2015: Work on Knowledge Engine grant in progress.
  • September 2015 (Board minutes): “Lila reviewed a number of strategic activities underway, including improving community workflows, increasing on-site speed, supporting high-quality content, expanding the Wikimedia Foundation's engagement with the community. The ongoing strategy process will provide an opportunity to set short term and long term goals, as well as opportunities to re-evaluate and update goals when appropriate. The Board and community will have an opportunity for more input. Board members emphasized the importance of providing adequate time for community input.”
  • Nov. 2015: Lila presents Strategic Focus areas (Reach, Communities, Knowledge)

June 2015 Strategic discovery work - Engagement by Stakeholder

From June 2015 metrics slide deck:
Wikimedia Foundation Strategy Preview, Wikimedia Foundation Metrics Meeting June 2015 - slide 46
Wikimedia Foundation Strategy Preview, Wikimedia Foundation Metrics Meeting June 2015 - slide 46

Note: Most of the non-survey work was not published.

Strategy survey (focus on mobile) - 2015


The consultation consisted of a 10-day global consultation across Wikimedia projects and languages, lasting from February 23 – March 6, 2015. We introduced the consultation by acknowledging that the world is going mobile and the next billion Internet users are coming online. We translated the questions into 15 languages to reflect the international nature of the Wikimedia movement.

The consultation used two open-ended prompts to elicit broad, qualitative feedback and insights:

  1. What major trends would you identify in addition to mobile and the next billion users?
  2. Based on the future trends that you think are important, what would thriving and healthy Wikimedia projects look like?

This is the second time the Wikimedia Foundation has undertaken a collaborative strategy-setting process. However, this consultation was designed as part of a more nimble process than the previous strategic planning process conducted in 2010, in order to allow the Foundation to respond to a quickly changing world.


Nearly 1,300 editors and readers offered their thoughts on these questions across 29 languages. We found 69% were anonymous users from 86 different countries, 24% were logged-in users with established records of participation on the Wikimedia projects, and 7% were new users (all of whom registered during the consultation itself). These latter two groups came from 30 different wikis. All of the comments offered were broken down into 2,468 comments on 28 general themes.

2016-18 Foundation strategic process


In an attempt to define the Foundation's strategic vision to drive annual planning and rebuild trust in the community, the Board asked the ED (Lila Tretikov) in November 2015 to present a strategic plan by March 2016 (2016 Strategy work).

A consultant, Suzie Nussel, was brought in to help facilitate a fast-turn process, working directly with the C-team and Kevin Smith, team practices’ project lead. Discovery work included Lila’s pre-determined focus areas (Reach, Communities, Knowledge), the past year’s SWOT analysis, and the 2015 community consultation on future trends (mobile). This was used to develop a fast-turn consultative process with staff, and then with community, looking specifically at the key challenges and potential solutions. Work with the Community Engagement team resulted in 2 different consultations (on strategic approaches and then on the strategic plan).

This resulted in a Draft Foundation strategy, which was used by departments to write their annual plan programs, goals, and objectives. The Foundation annual plan was then presented to the FDC and community for review. This consultation feedback was used to refine the plan. The Board approved the annual plan in June 2016.

Note: During this process, ED Lila Tretikov resigned in March 2016, and then Katherine Maher was put in place as interim ED. Katherine was then named permanent ED in June 2016.

Process steps

To meet the Board’s request and integrate with the FDC process, an extremely tight deadline of events was built. There were major, known limitations to this process from the onset, which were deemed “acceptable” in order to build a path toward better community engagement and transparency than had been done in the previous year.

  • Discovery sessions with staff and limited community members on key challenges facing movement in three focus areas (Reach, Communities, Knowledge).
    • Dec 14-18, 2015: In-person, two large group sessions of staff members
    • Dec 21-24, 2015: remote, 6 small groups of 4-6 staff members
    • Dec 20-24, 2015: remote, 3 small groups of community members
    • Dec 28-Jan 1, 2016: online, office-wiki discussion
  • Synthesis of key challenges, potential solutions (completed Jan 4, 2016)
  • Review of synthesis with Staff (Jan 5-8, 2016)
  • Writing of strategic approaches (Jan 11-15, 2016)
  • Community consultation on strategic approaches (Jan 15-Feb 14, 2016)
    • 6 pre-defined directions per three focus areas with option to write in their own strategic approach
    • Over 500 participants
    • Staff and C-team conducted sprints to respond to discussion points
    • Mid-point findings report shared with C-team, managers (Feb 5, 2016)
  • C-team - strategy review of findings and selection of strategic approaches (Feb 12, 2016)
  • Final report on strategic approaches completed and posted (Feb 26, 2016)
  • Draft strategic plan written and posted (March 4, 2016)
  • Community consultation - review of strategic plan (March 4-18, 2016)
    • C-team sprints to review and respond to comments
  • Annual plan
    • Work with teams to complete annual plan writing in FDC format (March 1-31)
    • Review of annual plan
      • Community consultation (March 31-April 30, 2016)
      • Sharing with Affiliates in Berlin (April 20, 2016)
      • FDC review (May 13-15, 2016)
    • Refinement of annual plan by staff, based on feedback (May 16-June 13, 2016)
    • Board approval of annual plan (June 22, 2016)
    • Process set up for ongoing review of completion of annual plan goals/objectives (in Q1 2016/17)


While extremely tight, this process led to some insightful community engagement to inform the strategic approaches and to guide the annual planning. During the course of this process, community and media pressure escalated around distrust and lack of transparency. This led to Lila stepping down from her role as ED in March 2016.

The plan created is intended to only drive the activities for 18 months (roughly 2016-18). A deeper strategic planning process is intended once the permanent ED is selected.

The annual plan received good response from the FDC, and this has led to a feeling of more open transparency and accountability. The main outstanding request is more specific budgetary information tied to each program, as well as clear measurement and tracking of goals.

Staff engagement on key challenges and potential solutions:

Strengths and limitations

Topic Strengths Limitations
Participation Quickly executed process to engage staff (about ⅓ active) and community (between 500-600 uniques). Fast-turn around led to some frustration in terms of time to adequately discuss, and limitations in technology/ consultation formats that were used to accommodate multiple languages but made the process difficult or cumbersome to follow.
Acceptance Makes sense and is believable. Limited push back from community on items presented. While this may be sufficient to drive short-term planning for the Foundation, the Community is still expecting a movement-wide strategy and alignment on direction. Clear need for direction and roles to be defined.

Gives specific short-term direction as it was designed to aid 2 years’ of annual planning. Annual Plan accepted and praised as step in the right direction, even if programs are not tied to specific program budgets yet.

In the process of mapping quarterly goals into the whole Annual Plan map.

Needs stronger threads into each program.

As a short-term solution, it does not grapple with the Big Questions of role that the movement / Foundation plays in the knowledge space for the next 15-20 years.

Standard performance Metrics are still not integrated into the plan.

New metrics in the process of being evaluated.


Staff spent more time in collaborative discussions.

Staff built the Annual Plan from the strategic priorities, ensuring more ownership and buy-in of the work being done.

Opportunity for level-set and new ED to get alignment with staff and community

Conflict between Board’s desire for product strategy and staff’s desire for a more comprehensive strategy.

ED resigned during the process, alleviating much of the staff tension and negative press.