|“||The guiding principles are a statement of how to behave and make decisions in our day-to-day work at the Foundation, as we accomplish our mission.
The values are more intrinsic and fundamental. They are what motivates our vision and our mission.
The effect that the Wikimedia Foundation has on human lives is through our mission, i.e. what we do. Our values are the deeply-held beliefs that explain why we do it.
As we embark in discussions about the core values of the Wikimedia Foundation, it is helpful to provide some background, and define a frame that explains the place of values in our organization.
Our values were first formulated in 2007−2008 and have not been discussed in depth since then. In 2013, we also developed Guiding principles, a list of more practical norms and expected behaviors to guide our day-to-day work at the Foundation. Combined with our vision and mission statements, those documents represent the core facets of our organizational identity.
There isn't currently a shared understanding among the staff and other constituents of what our core values are, and how we express them in our work. The goal of this series of new discussions is to reflect on what is bringing us together, identify the core beliefs that motivate our vision, refine our list of values, and clarify our organizational identity. This, in turn, will result in more coherent external perception, and better internal alignment.
As a nonprofit charitable organization, the Wikimedia Foundation aims to be an agent of human change. Our values are the underlying intrinsic motivations for changing human lives the way we do.
- Main article: Values/History
|Wikimedia Foundation Values|
|(current values refreshed in 2023)|
|History of values|
The Wikimedia Foundation was founded in 2003, and its "specific purpose" was "to create and freely distribute a free encyclopedia in all the languages of the world". It was broadened in 2005 to include other materials: "to create and freely distribute freely licensed encyclopedias, textbooks, reference works, and other literary, scientific, and educational information in all the languages of the world".
By September 2004, the Foundation's bylaws had a long "Statement of purpose" that was essentially the organization's mission. In 2006, the Board of Trustees proposed a slightly modified Vision statement, and a new, shorter Mission statement. Both were discussed publicly and formally approved by the Board in 2007.
In 2007, Florence Devouard (then chair of the Board) started a discussion about the Foundation's values on the foundation-l list. An initial list of values was first drafted by the Board and the Advisory Board, and discussed on Meta-Wiki with interested volunteers. Florence presented a new draft in 2008 consisting of six core values. After some additional feedback, she posted a modified version on Meta and the Foundation's website, which is largely identical to the current text (as of July 2016).
Values: "What is important to us, as an organization"
|“||This list is not meant as the six pillars every project should follow. It is meant for staff members and others working at the Foundation level.||”|
— Florence Devouard
During the initial discussions of values in 2007−2008, values were approached from the perspective of "what is truly important". The goal was to come up with "a collection of common words or ideas which reflects what is important to us, as an organization". "Values are not only what make[s] us stick together, but also general guidelines for what we want to become, what we are really trying hard to do, and what we want to be known as specific about us."
The scope of the values was explicitly defined as concerning only the Wikimedia Foundation: "This list is not meant as the six pillars every project should follow. It is meant for staff members and others working on Foundation level. [For example,] the Foundation does not have to be neutral." Even though the values were those of the Wikimedia Foundation, they were not developed in isolation. There were several rounds of discussions with volunteers.
The scope of the values was also reflected in the motivation for identifying them: "There are two main reasons we should have these values written down, one is related to "branding" (public perception of our uniqueness), the other to "management" (training of our staff members)." Ensuring alignment of the staff (and future recruits) with the Foundation's values was a primary motivation for developing the values: "The more we expand the staff, the more chance there is that part of the staff joins WMF with no single idea of our values. So the more it becomes important for us to make sure the staff understand our values and respect them. As such, writing down them will help."
Values and guiding principles
|Current values||Guiding principles|
|Freedom||≈||Freedom and open source|
|Accessibility and quality||⊃||Serving every human being|
|Commitment to openness and diversity||⊃||Internationalism|
|Our community is our biggest asset||~||Accountability, Shared power|
Although Sue Gardner stated during the discussion about the Guiding Principles draft that "This document isn't intended to supersede the Values document. It's actually intended to flesh out the values a little bit further, so it's more explicit how we live them on a day-to-day basis at the staff level.", the Board resolution approving the guiding principles later indicated that they "may come to replace the previous list of values".
A comparison of the two documents shows some overlap and seems to support the notion that much of the Guiding Principles consisted of fleshing out the values: indeed, out of the six current values, three are corresponding to guiding principles (independence, transparency, freedom), two are related but more general ("accessibility and quality" and "serving every human being"; "commitment to openness and diversity" and "internationalism"), and one is related but different ("Our community is our biggest asset", and accountability & shared power).
|“||The guiding principles are a statement of how to behave and make decisions in our day-to-day work at the Foundation, as we accomplish our mission.
The values are more intrinsic and fundamental. They are what motivates our vision and our mission; they are the basis for the principles that guide our behavior and decisions.
The values were meant to be more general, and the guiding principles more practical and applicable in day-to-day work at the Wikimedia Foundation. However, some of the values (and their description) were still seen as too practical and not intrinsic enough. For example, referring to the values proposed by Florence, Delirium commented that "A lot of what are listed as "values" here are things I think of as "means to an end", not something I think the organization should either value or not value for their own sake. "Right to knowledge" is an exception, and is our core mission basically. But the rest are community-organization principles, and should be taken or left based on how they help us achieve our aims, since organizing a community for the sake of community isn't the purpose of the Wikimedia Foundation."
This concept of values "for their own sake" or as "means to an end" is generally referred to as intrinsic vs. extrinsic values. An intrinsic value is good "in itself", whereas an extrinsic value is good in the pursuit of a specific goal. For example, one might view "Freedom" as intrinsically good, and "Transparency" as a means towards equality and collaboration.
From this perspective, the practical "guiding principles" appear as extrinsic: they are a statement of how to behave and make decisions in our day-to-day work at the Foundation, as we accomplish our mission. Conversely, the values (currently a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic concepts) should be more intrinsic and fundamental. They are what motivates our vision and our mission; they are the basis for the principles that guide our behavior and decisions.
Opportunities for new discussions
|“||Having in-depth, substantive discussions about our common values is an effective way to build trust, cohesion, and alignment.||”|
When the Wikimedia Foundation's values were developed in 2007−2008, the organization only had a dozen employees. As of July 2016, it has 275. In informal discussions among employees, it frequently appears that few of them are familiar with the organization's values. There is therefore a need for better internal alignment, which was one of the reasons for defining explicit values in the first place. One method would be to "train", or "educate" new and existing employees, but another method is to include them in the discussions: having in-depth, substantive discussions about our common values is an effective way to build trust, cohesion, and alignment.
Furthermore, we now have a list of guiding principles, which wasn't available when we first developed the organization's values. When developing values, there is sometimes a concern that "values are too abstract and not action oriented enough". This is not a concern if we have the principles to "guide" our actions. The extrinsic guiding principles address some of the practical concerns that the original list of values focused on. This added clarity allows us to focus on more intrinsic, fundamental values in the new discussions.
The central place of values
Expression of values in nonprofit organizations
|“||"Nonprofit organizations are grounded in their members' values and passions. They are the organizational expression of their members' ethical stance towards the world."||”|
— Rothschild et al.
Many corporate websites provide a list of the company's "core values", and one can find many more in lists of personal or corporate values. However, those lists often mix intrinsic and extrinsic values, moral and production values, philosophical concepts and buzzwords.
As a nonprofit, the Wikimedia Foundation's relationship to its core values is much more intimate. Scholars and practitioners have argued that "Private nonprofit organizations […] exist primarily to give expression to the social, philosophical, moral, or religious values of their founders and supporters". "Nonprofit organizations are grounded in their members' values and passions […]. They are the organizational expression of their members' ethical stance towards the world."
|“||Despite our numbers and heterogeneity, there are common social, moral, ethical values that bring us all together.
Those values motivate us to work towards the same vision of the world, one in which "every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge".
"What distinguishes many nonprofits from business and governmental organizations is this distinctive values-expressive character, their concern to give witness to certain moral truths, social ideals, or tenets of faith as well as simply to complete some tasks." "Values in this context means something very different from whats some management consultants […] mean when they insist that excellent companies are value driven. Their focus is on production values like product quality or service orientation, while we are talking about ethical, moral, and religious values like justice, human dignity, and service."
Although the Wikimedia Foundation is not a membership organization, it does have a group of "supporters" in its donors, and the contributors who are integral to the accomplishment of the mission, as well as its staff. From this point of view, the values of the Wikimedia Foundation express the "ethical stance" of this group: despite our numbers and heterogeneity, there are common social, moral, ethical values that bring us all together. Those values motivate us to work towards the same vision of the world, one in which "every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge".
Discussing values is sometimes seen as not particularly relevant to one's "real work", and is therefore dismissed as a theoretical concern without practical implications: "Frequent comments are that values are a "soft," human relations concern and not connected with achieving the outcomes of the agency." However, just because values are hidden doesn't mean they're irrelevant. On the contrary, the fundamental nature of values places them behind most of the decisions one makes about their work in a nonprofit organization.
Agents of human change
|“||The effect that the Wikimedia Foundation has on human lives is through our mission, i.e. what we do. Our values are the deeply-held beliefs that explain why we do it.||”|
The Wikimedia Foundation defines itself as a "nonprofit charitable organization". The word "nonprofit" implies that the main characteristic of such an organization is that its goal is something other than to make a profit. Another perspective is that "The business of nonprofits should be conceived of neither in terms of making money nor of providing service as an end in itself but rather of effecting change." Where for-profit companies sell products or services, and where government controls, "The ‘non-profit’ institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its ‘product’ is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human-change agents. Their ‘product’ is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether."
If the purpose of a nonprofit is to effect human change, one assumes that the end result is better than the initial state. The human change that the nonprofit seeks is deemed right, desirable, valuable. Defining what a group considers to be is "right" leads to identifying its values: "A value is that which is explicitly or implicitly desirable to an individual or group and which influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action. […] Values therefore reflect relatively general beliefs that either define what is right and wrong or specify general preferences."
From this perspective, identifying the organization's values comes from identifying the underlying motivations for changing human lives the way we do. The effect that the Wikimedia Foundation has on human lives is through our mission, i.e. what we do. Our values are the deeply-held beliefs that explain why we do it.
Processes and goals
|“||The manner in which the goals are pursued can say as much about the values that the organization is trying to promote as the goals themselves.||”|
— Thomas H. Jeavons
The Wikimedia Foundation's values manifest themselves in how they express our collective stance towards the world, and why we work together to accomplish our goal. There is another dimension in which our values are visible: how we go about achieving our mission. Indeed, "In a values-expressive organization, how the organization goes about setting and attaining goals is as important as the goals themselves. […] The manner in which the goals are pursued can say as much about the values that the organization is trying to promote as the goals themselves." For example, several disagreements between the Wikimedia Foundation and its constituents originated not from the specific goal (e.g. a new software feature), but rather from mistakes concerning the processes through which it was communicated or achieved.
This is particularly true in the context of a nonprofit, of which those constituents have higher expectations than of other organizations: "As consumers we half expect to be taken occasionally, or at least disappointed, by for-profit firms trying to increase their profit margins at our expense […], but we fully expect–even demand–a higher level of integrity from charitable or philanthropic organizations. Part of that integrity lies in abiding by the organization's core values in its processes: "The processes of the organization may prove to be as important to the participants as the goals, and this may be an equally important way in which nonprofit organizations distinguish themselves from for-profit or state agencies."
More practically, this explains the link between the values and the guiding principles: the guiding principles describe the processes we follow as we conduct our mission. Staying true to our core beliefs means making sure that our guiding principles (processes) follow our values.
Values and identity
Vision and mission
|“||The mission is just one particular means of moving towards the vision. The guiding principles are just one particular way of making decisions while we fulfill our mission. The values are just one set of reasons that drive us to our vision.
It is the combination of the vision, values, mission, and guiding principles that defines our organization's distinctive identity.
The Wikimedia Foundation's original values from 2007−2008 were only developed after the organization's vision and mission statements had been clarified. Back then, the vision was described as "the dream, what we are trying to do, even if that seems impossible. It was "our bold goal". The vision invites us to "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge". That dream may never be realized, but it's what we're aiming for: it's where we're going.
The mission statement, whose text is longer, describes "the more practical path we decide to follow to reach our vision." It is "what the organization is doing to reach its goal". "A mission statement has to be operational, otherwise it's just good intentions. A mission statement has to focus on what the organization really tries to do and then do it so that everybody in the organization can say, This is my contribution to the goal."
The mission is just one particular means of moving towards the vision. The guiding principles are just one particular way of making decisions while we fulfill our mission. The values are just one set of reasons that drive us to our vision. Another organization might work towards the same vision through other means (mission), norms (guiding principles), or core beliefs (values). Therefore, it is the combination of the vision, values, mission, and guiding principles that defines our organization's distinctive identity.
Construction of identity
|Vision||Where we're headed|
|Mission||What we do to get there|
|Guiding principles||How we behave and make decisions on our way there|
|Values||Why we're going there in the first place|
|Identity||Who we are|
The two main reasons given for developing the Wikimedia Foundation's values were the "public perception of our uniqueness" and the "training our staff members". Both are referring to a strong identity, directed outwards (to the public) and inwards (to staff members and constituents).
One definition of identity is "the central, distinctive, and continuous characteristics of an entity". There are several approaches to an organization's identity, or essence, but the combination of the vision, values, mission, and guiding principles provides a solid definition:
Identity thus describes the essence of an entity (“Who am I as an individual?” “Who are we as a collective?”), whether that essence is thought to reflect an objective reality and/or a subjective construction). Scholarly perspectives that view an entity’s essence as relatively objective tend to focus on the mission or role of the entity (e.g., a low-cost manufacturer of consumer electronics, a sales department, a financial analyst). Perspectives that view essence as relatively subjective focus more on the identity attributes[…]—their values, goals, beliefs, stereotypic traits, and knowledge, skills, and abilities—and the narratives that are invoked to articulate the identity. Regardless of the perspective, it is difficult to conceive of a reasonably strong identity (that is, an entity that appears to have a clear sense of who/what it is) that does not have a more or less clear mission or role, along with certain values, goals, beliefs, and so on.
Another dimension worth mentioning alongside values and identity is that of organizational culture, for example models like Edgar Schein's. Culture is omnipresent in the organization and serves as a canvas on which the vision, values, mission and guiding principles are drawn.
External perception and internal alignment
|“||Every organization requires an identity for internal and external stakeholders to construct a sense of how it is situated amongst and interacts with other organizations, groups, and people.||”|
— Voss et al.
Like other organizations, our identity defines who we are, and how we interact with third parties and with each other: "Every organization requires an identity for internal and external stakeholders to construct a sense of how it is situated amongst and interacts with other organizations, groups, and people. […] Thus, identity distinguishes the organization from other similar organizations." "An organization's top leaders must be able to answer the question "Who are we?" as an organization because it affects how they interpret issues, identify threats, craft strategy, communicate about the organization, and resolve conflicts."
This was mentioned by Florence in her 2008 emails about the values: "Donors will give us money more easily if they know what is important to us, and actually agree with our values. Potential partners will not [waste] our valuable time and their valuable time proposing proprietary software deals if they know it is a deal-breaker for us." Indeed, "Donors apparently feel considerable freedom in moving their support from one agency to another", and expressing our values clearly will help us reach the supporters who believe in the same ideals as ours.
As for internally-focused alignment, some Wikimedians have argued that "Staff that does not have an intimate acquaintance with the values should not be hired in the first place", whereas others think that newcomers can espouse our values as part of their training, or socialization process, i.e. their acculturation to social norms (in a process similar to civic education). This conflict can be resolved if we accept the distinction between core intrinsic values, and practical guiding principles. Employees need to be aligned with both our values and our principles, but the principles (norms) can be learned, whereas the values are more fundamental and may be a criterion for hiring someone in the first place.
Internal alignment doesn't preclude healthy disagreement, similar to the "creative abrasion" process seen for instance on Wikipedia. However, deeper disagreement about the organization's identity increases the risk of organizational split-identity, and decreases the organization's effectiveness: "Minor divergence about identity might be a natural reflection of loose coupling that may not be damaging to organizational performance, but […] organizational outcomes are maximized when leaders agree about the organization's core, enduring, and distinctive values."
Disalignment and departure from values
|“||Nonprofit practitioners may come to think that they need to emulate the formal and hierarchical organizational structures that can only eliminate substantive values from the equation.
— Rothschild et al.
A more concerning issue arises when the organization becomes disconnected from its original values. In the nonprofit world, this sometimes happen as organizations grow, hire staff and "professionalize": "The process of institutionalization may be particularly dangerous for values-expressive organizations."
If one considers the rapid growth of the Wikimedia Foundation, this is certainly a concern to keep in mind, particularly when leaders are coming from a business background, and see for-profit companies a model to follow: "Nonprofit practitioners may come to think that they need to emulate the formal and hierarchical organizational structures that, as Weber warned over a hundred years ago, can only eliminate substantive values from the equation. Concerns with efficiency can come to crowd out devotion to substantive purpose, bringing in place of those qualitative purposes “accountability” data that can be used to justify and protect the organization but add little to its actual services and formal rules and procedures that only discourage formerly devoted volunteers and staff from participating."
We must therefore be wary of this risk, as "Large, bureaucratic, and centralized structures have been the undoing of many values-based undertakings." Clarifying our values will help us stay true to our core ideals as we grow or further professionalize.
|“||Values can't simply be decreed: they must emerge and be recognized from our existing behaviors and beliefs.
If our official list of values changes, it probably isn't because our values themselves have changed, but rather because we have a better understanding of them.
The Wikimedia Foundation's core values are the shared fundamental beliefs that motivate our work. They're the "principles, tenets, and standards that provide a basis for action and a foundation for decision making." They "become mental habits that influence how people act toward each other, clients, the public, and external stakeholders." Because values are so fundamental, they can't simply be decreed: they must emerge and be recognized from our existing behaviors and beliefs. If our official list of values changes, it probably isn't because our values themselves have changed, but rather because we have a better understanding of them, or because we have codified them differently. "Core Values rarely change; activities and services often change to be more in line with Core Values."
The emerging nature of values was perhaps best summarized by Ray Saintonge when he said: "The values were already there." Responding to Florence in 2007, he developed: "Perhaps they might have been poorly codified. Had they not been there, neither you nor I would have stuck around for over five years."
Introspection and reflection
|“||To identify our intrinsic beliefs, we can ask "Why is this a good thing?" If it's a good thing because it's in service of something else that is good, we can repeat the process. If it's a good thing because it "just is", we have reached a core intrinsic value.
As we try to identify our emerging values, it is useful to start from individual stories, for example by considering the reason we are part of the organization. This helps ground the discussion in personal experiences rather than talking in abstract concepts: "When developing Core Values, […] it is helpful to begin with the values individuals bring to the agency before looking at the agency's values."
Then, in order to identify our intrinsic beliefs, we can ask "Why is this a good thing?" If it's a good thing because it's in service of something else that is good, we can repeat the process. If it's a good thing because it "just is", we have reached a core intrinsic value.
Past experiences inform our thinking and color our perception. This is particularly true after a crisis; if one considers the tumultuous period that the Wikimedia Foundation has recently gone through, this is a concern that we should keep in mind during this exercise: "The past is seen as particularly salient during times of crisis and transition, in which organizational members question their identities and search for new desired future identities." "The past is not there “in it-self” but is called forth in memory through its relationship to the emergent future. Thus, temporality—defined as the ongoing relationships between past, present, and future—becomes particularly relevant when actors in organizations make claims about who they are or who they are becoming as an organization."
|“||The reason for involving as many of our constituents as possible is not just to get a diverse and representative set of opinions, but also to build alignment with the values as we are identifying them.
As we start discussions about our values, we should strive to include as many of our constituents as possible: "The best way to develop a Core Purpose and Core Values is to involve as many of the decision makers and those affected in the organization." The reason is not just to get a diverse and representative set of opinions, but also to build alignment with the values as we are identifying them.
Indeed, the process of recognizing values and codifying them together is integral to agreeing on what is bringing us together: "The benefits for exploring Core Values and risking to work through the conflicts […] are greater levels of trust among the staff and between the staff and board, more creativity, more cohesion among the staff, and more flexible management. No longer is the focus on controlling people, but on reaching agreements and sharing visions about how to achieve the agency's outcomes."
|“||Documenting the meaning of the values, as well as the rationale for recognizing them, will not only paint a more accurate picture of our core beliefs; it will also help identify commonalities and come to a consensus.||”|
As we hold many discussions about our values, it may be difficult to track the outcomes of those discussions and to synthesize them. In particular, people sometimes use different words for the same concepts, and the same words for different concepts: "Given the distinction between identity labels and their associated meanings", it is useful to "include both identity labels and explicit discussions about their associated meanings."
Therefore, as we embark in new discussions of our values, we must thoroughly document those discussions, and not just list the "top values" that came up. Documenting the meaning of the values, as well as the rationale for recognizing them, will not only paint a more accurate picture of our core beliefs; it will also help identify commonalities and come to a consensus. Tracing back the final list of values to the discussions they emerged from will confer them legitimacy. For the same reason, this synthesis work should be done in public, so as to avoid any appearance of undue influence.
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