As Acting Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees since March I take full responsibility for this situation. I am truly sorry for all the frustration this whole situation has caused to volunteers, who have engaged in discussions expressing their concerns, and to the staff, who have been working and not really sure if that is really the direction the Board is prepared to seriously consider, or if it is just an exercise on our part. As Chair of the Board, I recognize the Board owes clear information to the communities and guidance to the staff.
In 2017, the Board approved the 2030 Movement Strategic Direction, recognizing the strategic importance of growing the reach of the Wikimedia projects to new languages, communities, and geographies, as part of our global mission. In June 2018, the Board approved a Foundation Annual Plan that included research into the Wikimedia and Wikipedia brands to understand how they could be tools in helping us reach these goals.
In November 2018, the staff presented research to the Board about the Wikipedia and Wikimedia brands. I personally, even though a relatively long term Wikipedian (and a bit less long term Wikimedian), was basically convinced by the findings that a rebranding is needed and beneficial for our mission and global vision, and furthermore that it should be based on the Wikipedia brand. The information presented there also convinced the Board that the team should continue their work, but as you can see from the minutes the Board believed that communication is crucial, but already a possibility for a new name for the Wikimedia Foundation was seriously considered.
And I am going to be frank here – intuitively taking the name of something like “Wikipedia Foundation” makes a lot of sense, whether or not it makes sense upon deeper consideration. But, of course, no one was planning to just rename the organisation, more conversations were needed. It was convincing enough for us (the Board) to approve the budget for this initiative.
The Board has received regular updates about the Brand work along the way, including approving continued work in the 2019 and 2020 annual plans. However, the Board has not yet had a very serious, frank conversation about what the Board will do when the work is finished, including how to balance feedback from many communities, and the importance of reaching new communities. The Board also has not yet received a final report, as the exploratory project was and still is ongoing.
The process itself, even though the brand project team has designed its process to be inclusive and transparent, has created bitterness in some volunteers, some of whom feel they were led on or even actively manipulated. I am sure there was no intent to do that. But, for instance, people do point to a reported KPI (key performance indicator) in the previous survey as an alleged attempt at deceiving either the community or the Board. The Board did not make its decision to support the brand project based on that number, nor does the clarification of that number or removal of that KPI influence the Board’s support for the project. Good-faith mistakes should not undermine trust in our colleagues’ intentions or the purpose of an entire process. But this “elephant in the room” feeling is hurting all of us – both volunteers and staff, so I acknowledge that this created a lot of bitterness.
I want us to take a step back and try to have an honest and constructive conversation on what our future work will be together. I know there is mistrust towards the Wikimedia Foundation acting in good faith, I also know the staff members feel intimidated when talking with the communities, so it is really difficult to have a frank dialog. We are all in this vicious circle – we do not trust each other, so we do not talk honestly; we do not talk honestly so we cannot build that trust. I truly want that to change. So I am going to be as direct as possible about the Board’s perspective.
The executive statement says, “A rebrand will happen. This has already been decided by the Board”. What does it mean? The brand project was approved by the Board in 2018. Rebrand may include: names, logos, “taglines,” colours, typography, or any combination of the above. An outcome of the project will be a set of recommended new branding practices. The Board has not approved any specific recommendations yet. However, it is important to be clear: the Board absolutely can change the name of the Wikimedia Foundation, even to the “Wikipedia Foundation,” if it decides.
Has the Board made the decision to change the name of Wikimedia Foundation yet? No, the Board has not. In 2018, the Board agreed that the name of the Wikimedia Foundation does not help us with our strategic goals. From 2018–2020, the Board has been reviewing research and participating in the brand process with the goal of finding a better name. The Board has not yet made a decision to change the name to another name, as the Board has not yet had a final report on the results of the Brand Project, or the opportunity to discuss the findings and tradeoffs, and make a decision for what the Board will do. The Board conversation about this is planned to happen during the August meeting.
Did the Board want to possibly have the rebranding (if approved) to take place before Wikipedia’s 20th birthday in January 2021? Yes, in a way. The resolution talks about the work being done by then, but it is indeed unclear whether the changing of the brand was included or just the completion of the research by the Foundation. The timeline can still change if the Board decides it.
Should the Board be clearer in what the Board is directing the Wikimedia Foundation to do? Yes, I believe so. Some of this unclarity and misalignment is the cause of all this unfortunate frustration.
What are the possible outcomes for the August Board meeting on branding? The Board can 1) stop the project, 2) pause the work being done or 3) continue with it.
Does the Board still want you to take the survey then? Yes. The currently open survey is intended to find the best possible outcome if the Foundation's (!) branding were centered around Wikipedia, and your voice is needed. It is an opportunity to provide constructive feedback on those alternatives. If you are engaging in discussions around it, please be kind to each other.
Do all organisations in our movement have to have a uniform name? Per the Board’s resolution from 2013 – yes, but it was a decision made at that time when the Board believed there was a chance to increase visibility and recognition of Wikimedia as a brand. It is 2020 now, and it may be the right time to loosen up on this approach and allow all organisations in the movement to use different names, best suited for their local context. Or keep uniform names, but allow using any of our brands for fundraising purposes. Or something else. The Board does have a sense that there is a need to be much more outward-looking and optimize our key assets, including our brands, for the challenges to come.
All across the Movement we have a lot to do to accomplish our 2030 goals and build out our movement strategy. And that work can be done as the Wikimedia Movement, Wikimedia communities, and the Foundation even with a new name, depending on our needs.
- antanana / Nataliia Tymkiv
- Acting Chair, Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees