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Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Updates/15 December 2016 - Update 1 on Wikimedia movement strategy process

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Message from Katherine Maher

This message, "Update on Wikimedia movement strategy process (#1!)", was sent by Katherine Maher on 15 December 2016.

Hi all,

Since joining the Wikimedia Foundation and movement in 2014, I have often heard community members, movement organizations, and staff members speak of a need for a clear, unifying, and inspirational strategic direction for our movement. These conversations tend to follow a pattern: they start by recognizing the incredible work of our movement over the past 15 years, while seeking clarity on what we do next. What do we want to achieve over the next 15 years? What role do we want to play in the world? How will we prioritize our work and resources?

At the June 2016 Board of Trustees meeting, the Board identified the development of a long-term movement strategy as one of our top priorities for the coming year.[1] Coming to consensus on a long-term strategic direction will help us know where we are headed, which path we will take, and how we will ensure our work is supported.

At the Foundation’s December metrics meeting this morning, Anna Stillwell and Lisa Gruwell shared a presentation on the work the Foundation has done since June to prepare for a movement strategy consultation in the coming year. We have been working to understand past Wikimedia strategy efforts, estimate future budgets and timelines, and secure resources for the year to come. In this email, I want to present some additional detail on this progress, and next steps we can take together.

(Fair warning: this is a very long email. The critical information is as follows: The Wikimedia Foundation Board has approved a spending resolution and timeline for the upcoming strategy work. We anticipate beginning broad community conversations on the process, goals, and themes in early 2017. The Foundation is looking for an external expert to work with us (community and staff) to support an effective, inclusive process. I’ve been remiss in regular updates, but we will share them going forward. And of course, please share your thoughts and feedback on this list and on Meta-Wiki.)

Strategic direction


We are expecting that we will begin a movement-wide strategy discussion in early 2017, with a process that runs throughout the year. The goal is to close 2017 with clarity and consensus on a strategic direction for our movement, and begin planning for how we will make progress in that direction.

We are currently doing good work across our movement, but lack a unifying sense of how that work coheres into something greater than its individual parts. Wikipedia and the sister projects are remarkable, and our community is responsible for their success. Our movement has done an incredible job spreading our values and principles around the world—but we often look backwards to improve on our past, rather than looking fully at both our past and future. There’s an opportunity for us to consider how our vision and mission will remain current amidst changing media, demographics, and technology, and how we can better coalesce our efforts (ecosystem of affiliates, users, experts, new users, cultural and educational institutions, and the Wikimedia Foundation).

Additionally, we (community, affiliates, Board, and staff) are increasingly aware of the challenges which arise without a unified movement strategy. We have heard from members of the FDC, grant applicants, community leaders, and a growing number of affiliates that they at times struggle with understanding how our separate efforts tie together and where we are going as an overall movement. The absence of a movement strategy, in other words, is hampering our ability to work toward our mission. Given the importance of that mission, and the need to hold ourselves to the highest account on responsible stewardship of donor resources, this is an expensive opportunity cost.



At the June Board meeting, I committed to develop a proposed process and budget in time for the Board’s annual November Board retreat. This process would reflect the type of approach we might take, and be accompanied by an estimated budget for the associated work.

To prepare, we wanted to understand past efforts at developing strategies for our movement. We audited these past processes (2010, 2012/Narrowing Focus, 2014, and some other efforts) and interviewed past participants to learn what worked and what did not, and took stock of what was missing—from external expertise to audience research—to clear ownership of outcomes.

We recognized that, for example, while the 2010 process was highly collaborative, it had some notable challenges. For example, it was unable to turn collaborative goal setting into shared ownership of the work needed to reach those goals. It also did not have strong participation from emerging communities, particularly those in countries outside of Europe and North America. For movement planning to succeed in the future, we will need both broad and deep participation, from various perspectives and languages. To consider how we could realize this level of meaningful consultation, we spoke to people in the Foundation’s Community Engagement team and elsewhere, taking recommendations on everything from community toolkits and convenings to multilingual translation.

Past processes have also often focused on qualitative perspectives, usually of our existing communities of editors and readers. We have had limited ways of understanding how broadly representative these experiences, needs, and challenges were, even for our existing communities. We have tens of thousands of editors, but even in our most collaborative effort in 2010, only 2,000 people contributed to the strategic discussions. Similarly, we have limited research about why and how people around the world use and engage with the Wikimedia projects as non-editors—and our understanding about what keeps people from using the projects, as editors or non-editors, is highly qualitative.

As we engage in the consultation going forward, we see an opportunity to bring substantive audience-based research into our discussion, to inform our possibilities and challenges with good data. We worked with the Global Reach team, and staff from the New Readers and Audience Research projects to scope out qualitative and quantitative audience research in new, emerging, and existing editor and reader communities, and estimate associated budgets. And while we see this as an exciting opportunity to incorporate new data into our conversations, we also expect it to have lasting value beyond the coming year. Good audience research and data will help inform not just strategy discussions, but also should be helpful for Foundation and other product and programming decisions now and in the future.

And of course, we are not alone in the world! We exist in an ecosystem of people who use, reuse, and remix the knowledge on the Wikimedia projects in all sorts of ways. We have a strong and growing community of institutions and partners in education, government, culture, and the sciences. We also have many technical partners and re-users who have a vested interest in our health. These stakeholders offer valuable insight into how our work extends into the world, well beyond the sites we run. We want to talk to them, understand the opportunities they see in the future, and the challenges they face today. We want to speak to people working at the edge of innovation in technology, to better understand how these trends affect our future, and to engage them in our mission.

And last, but certainly not least, these discussions, collaborations, and conclusions need to be open and consultative. We want to work together to design a process of consultation, with opportunities for on-wiki conversation, face to face meetings, working groups, and more. In some cases, this may mean new conversations, and in others, we may want to bring additional capacity and participation to already scheduled community events. We will need additional resources for multilingual facilitation, or documentation. We will also need additional capacity to support these discussions, so that community and staff alike can retain their focus on the programs, grants, and product work to which they have committed.

We want to bring this to life. But before we could commit to this approach, we needed to be sure we could assemble the appropriate resources to make it happen. Based on our research into past processes, best practices, and conversations with community and staff—we built a high-level estimated budget with resources for the following: inclusive, multilingual community consultation on-wiki and in-person; research into our users, new users, and consultation with external experts and stakeholders; and additional external capacity for management and production of the process. All in, we estimate that the full scope of work over 1.5 years will cost somewhere around US$2.5 million. This is divided out roughly as 35% support for direct community participation, 35% support for audience research and understanding external ecosystems, and 30% support for facilitation and external support.

I know this sounds like a lot! As we break it down into budget lines, it starts to become more tangible. This estimated budget was developed in close consultation with the Community Engagement, Global Reach, and Finance teams. We worked with the Community Engagement team to use their models for community events and facilitation to budget for additional support and participation in community events. We worked with the Global Reach team to estimate the costs of qualitative and quantitative research around the world. And we worked with the Finance teams to understand hourly rates for non-profit strategic consultancies (finding that, even with non-profit organizations our commitment to meaningful consultation quickly added many hours to our planning).

An overview of this budget estimate was presented to the Board at the 13 November Board meeting. There the Board approved a spending resolution of up to $2.5 million over Fiscal Year 2016-17 (July 2016 - June 2017) and Fiscal Year 2017-18 (July 2017 - June 2018). We are currently working to migrate this proposed budget into a format similar to the one we use for Annual Planning, for the purpose of consistency and clarity of review. This detailed budget, tied to specific events, contracts, and research areas, will be shared with to the Foundation Board’s Audit Committee, and with the greater communities for feedback.

Assembling a team


To increase our likelihood of success, we want to bring additional capacity and expertise to the table. No single Wikimedia Foundation department or Wikimedia movement affiliate currently has the complete skillset or available capacity to independently manage a strategy process of this size and scale. Our goal is to find an external entity with experience in organizational or movement strategies to help move us all (affiliates, current users, new users, experts, cultural and educational institutions, community committees, and Wikimedia Foundation) toward collaborative development of a movement strategy, and assembling a team to support this process.

Practically, this means finding an entity capable of recommending a strategic approach, identifying necessary inputs (e.g., user research or sector mapping) to inform meaningful consultation and decision making, making timely process against deadlines, and helping ensure the delivery of the final work. We’re referring to this role as the "lead architect," although it is likely to be a team, rather than an individual.

We recognize that several individuals in our community already possess significant expertise in strategic planning, and we hope you will contribute your talents to the shape and content of the discussion. We also recognize it can be difficult to both facilitate a conversation and contribute to it at the same time. To help alleviate procedural and operational pressures on community contributors, and enable people to participate in primarily strategic and generative roles, we expect the lead architect and team will work closely with existing community and staff liaisons and advocates to support discussions as facilitators. They will be expected to support any community and Wikimedia Foundation bodies involved in the development of strategy.

Last month, I asked Lisa Gruwell, Anna Stillwell, and Guillaume Paumier to begin a search for this external capacity. They spoke with a number of smaller organizations—a deliberate choice, to find someone who could be flexible and open to our needs—and put together a request for proposal (RFP) for interested firms. The minimal criteria for the lead architect is someone who:

  • Has created successful strategies before (organizational or movement strategies, rather than just a strategy for a department, a program, or a product)
  • Has proposed a coherent outcome and understands the need to build an incredibly inclusive process
  • Is willing to be paired with a full-time partner/advisor who knows the movement well
  • Has significant nonprofit experience
  • Has significant international experience
  • Understands that Wikimedia communities are passionate! There will be an occasional raucous debate. They must be willing and able to have difficult conversations (difficult in substance, but not in tone).

Although we spoke to many firms that were interested, some were unable to mobilize resources on our timeline. Others we didn’t feel were the right fit. In the end, we received two viable responses. We are hoping to make a decision by the end of this or next week.

We recognize that our movement, mission, and culture are wonderfully idiosyncratic. While we know we need external skills in the area of movement strategies, we also know that any external organization will need extensive support understanding our movement values, culture, history, and projects.

We are proposing pairing any external consultants with community and staff members who have deep community experience as guides, translators, and mentors. We don’t know exactly how we will work yet, or who will be interested in playing these roles. This is one question of many we will need to answer together.

Next steps


All the resource and planning progress in the world doesn’t get us far without community conversation. Beyond the budget, the decision to bring in additional expertise, and the timeline of the coming year, we don’t have many more concrete details at this point. That’s intentional. We are committed to developing the specifics in partnership with you as we move forward.

We also recognize we are embarking on something new. We’re proposing a model that, while based on research, past experience, extensive conversations, and a detailed budget—may not be perfect. We welcome the ideas you bring to make it stronger. We anticipate we will work in the open, communicate among ourselves regularly, pause along the way to assess our progress, and course-correct as necessary. This will be part of building together.

Additionally, we’ll be providing regular documentation via email, and adding it to Meta-Wiki. If you would like to receive updates via your user talk page, you can do so by signing up on Meta-Wiki.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I imagine this is the start of many conversations. I look forward to them.

Thank you!