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Wikimedia Foundation/Chief Executive Officer/Updates/February 2024 Update

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Hi everyone,

Since joining the Foundation I have tried to regularly write to you here and elsewhere, and I wanted to share a few updates since my last letter. In October 2023, I reflected that we were in a period of compounded challenges across the world with escalating wars, conflict, and climate reminding us each week that global volatility and uncertainty was on the rise. That feels even more true now.  My instinct then was to ask us to make more time to talk to each other and to try and pull closer together. This feels even more needed now.

I noted that the return of in-person gatherings has been essential for a subset of our volunteers, providing spaces for reconnecting, recharging and working through difficult issues together in the same room. Foundation leadership has also been working harder to share organizational news and have individualized conversations on-wiki and in other digital forums. Our goal has been to put more effort and intentionality into communicating the right information, at the right time, and in the right way, even knowing that we can never meet everyone's expectations.

Most importantly, we had to keep talking to each other – formally and informally – throughout the year. This was the basis of an open invitation to Talking: 2024, an effort designed to listen intently to what is on your minds now, to share progress at the Foundation, and to also reflect on the needs for multi-year strategic plans. (A reminder that our priorities for long-range planning, informed by movement strategy, are Wikimedia’s financial model, product/technology needs, and roles/responsibilities.)

So far, Wikimedia Foundation Trustees, executives, and staff have hosted 130 conversations on-wiki, with individuals, and in small groups. These conversations have stretched across all regions of the world. We have learned from prolific community members to recent newcomers, from technical volunteers to stewards, event organizers, and affiliate leaders. Since these discussions were intended to improve deliberations at the Board’s strategic planning retreat next week, here is a summary of some of the feedback I've heard so far!

Continue focusing the Foundation on supporting product/technology needs.[edit]

As early as my first letter to you in January 2022, I understood that the central role of the Wikimedia Foundation is in enabling our projects, which is core to every aspect of our movement's mission. This was reinforced in most of the Talking:2024 conversations that we hosted over the last five months – from the need for the Foundation to remain focused on upgrading technical infrastructure to supporting volunteer needs for tool maintenance and metrics. Our annual planning continues to center the Foundation’s product and technology priorities. More deliberate conversations are taking place at the Foundation about what a multi-generational view of Wikimedia projects requires of us all. For me, this remains perhaps the most critical topic for our strategic efforts as we make tangible and practical a mission that calls for our work to continue in perpetuity.

Recent discussions on this mailing list remind me that we can’t get to everything fast enough, but we continue to move more in the right direction. Chief Product & Technology Officer Selena Deckelmann recently shared that: “In the last couple of months, we shipped changes that enabled a better backbone for PageTriage, and worked closely with volunteer developers to ensure future sustainability. Going forward, we have a number of initiatives ranging from projects like Edit Check, Discussion Tools, Dark mode, Patrolling on Android, Watchlist on iOS, Automoderator, Community Configuration, the Wikimedia Commons Upload Wizard, and others. We've resolved over 600 volunteer-reported issues in Phabricator in the last 6 months, and we're using research methods that solicit prototypes directly from volunteers for informing typography decision making. And we're learning not just the basics of font size and spacing, we're also getting important information about context, devices and cultural aspects of the use of Wikipedia which are vital for helping make our software easier to use as how people use and access it changes (and it has changed a lot over 20 years!).” She has also already published draft objectives for the product and tech teams, and your input and on-wiki comments are always welcome.

‘Human-led, tech-enabled’ means that the humans still lead.[edit]

While tech featured prominently in most of these conversations, there remains no doubt that Wikimedia is a human-led movement (“It’s all about people.”). This led to exploring even more solutions that can address a familiar dilemma about how to balance the needs of existing editors with initiatives to welcome newcomers (“It’s always the war between ‘we need to protect the existing content’ and ‘do we care about new users with a tolerance for errors.’”). While some shared wonderful stories of their own journeys (“I wanna say that the Newcomer tools have been a really great project and very glad to see that energy was expensed there”), there was vocal urgency about the sustainability of the projects for generations to come (“We are sending away people who could be helpful to the projects”). In this regard, several discussions highlighted the value of the Universal Code of Conduct  as a “game changer” in signaling to all communities that they are actively invited and welcomed to safely contribute to the mission of free knowledge, while still acknowledging there is more to do (“It’s probably a good thing, but I don’t know if it will solve what I have faced.”). I learned in my initial listening tour that we have to make all contributions count, and all contributors feel welcomed. I found that the Talking:2024 conversations deepened my own understanding of the peer support and mentorship needed for volunteers to thrive as active community members. (One example are these reflections where 140 other editors participated).

Finally, our human-led values came up in several conversations about Wikimedia’s role in shaping the next generation of artificial intelligence, a topic of ongoing discussion in the world, in our communities, and at the Foundation. This is complemented by ongoing discussions about the role of AI-generated content on our platform by various project communities. A recent effort to contribute to a shared research agenda on AI can be found here – including the need for more research to understand human motivation to contribute to the knowledge commons – it was created by a small group working in the open who rushed to publish a ‘bad first draft’ that will benefit from more input.

Can our financial model provide more certainty, and also force difficult trade-offs?[edit]

In my last letter, I shared that future projections indicate that, for a range of reasons, fundraising online and through banners may not continue to grow at the same rate as in past years. We have several long-term initiatives underway to help mitigate this risk and also diversify our revenue streams, including the Wikimedia Endowment and Wikimedia Enterprise. Over the past two years, we have slowed the rate of growth for the Foundation itself, while increasing financial resources that support other movement entities. The Talking:2024 conversations provided a space for movement entities to share a need for multi-year financial certainty in their support from the Foundation, which we will take into our planning for next year. Other conversations highlighted the need to continue prioritizing limited resources and being more explicit about trade-offs (“[We must] use the money we have as wisely as we can”). These discussions have already improved the thinking for the Foundation’s current and upcoming planning cycles.

Movement roles need more clarity.[edit]

The task of defining a Movement Charter came up in several conversations with contributors of all kinds. These ranged from reflections about movement strategy recommendations and principles (“Will it always be first come, first served in this movement?”) to questions about the purpose of different structures (“What decisions do we need the global council to make? Why are decisions moving from one center to another?” “We are taking a hammer to solve this issue when they are simple screws.”). Unsurprisingly, there were varying perspectives (“The editing community in many regions doesn’t see an immediate benefit in affiliates, hubs, or other governance structures.” “The community still feels unheard by the Foundation.” “The good work that affiliates do in certain regions is commendable, especially where those affiliates are deeply engaged with the community.”)

And a deep recognition of the complex task at hand (“The community is so huge and it’s hard to tie everyone together.” “How do we make change in the movement in a way that is understandable and doesn’t scare people.” “There has to be control and risk management with empowering the community, inviting everyone, and trying to grow while protecting what we have meticulously built over the past 23 years.”).

Considering the investment of time and resources going into the charter, we need to make sure that this effort will provide us all with clearer strategic direction on what is needed to serve the future needs of our movement, and meet the expectations of a rapidly changing world around us. The Wikimedia Foundation recently shared these questions with the Movement Charter Drafting Committee to identify areas of key focus and concern. We will continue to review and comment on new drafts as they are produced in the weeks and months ahead. The Board of Trustees will dedicate time at its next Open Conversation with Trustees on March 21 to talk more about this process and the Foundation’s hopes for a Movement Charter.

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Talking: 2024 kicked off a useful check-in to hear how we are collectively doing, and it continues. Your voice and contributions would help add to the feedback we have already received—whether that is on-wiki, in 1:1 conversations, in small groups, in person. What we learn will continue to  inform the Foundation's long-term planning. Please consider joining a conversation.

For me, each conversation has been a reminder that what drives this movement is the people. We remain at a pivotal moment, where the world needs Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects more than ever. As one of you shared, “I feel like there is a way because we have made a way, an experience of community that connects people across the world.”

As always, I welcome your feedback either on my talk page or emailing me directly at miskander@wikimedia.org.

Maryana

Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia Foundation CEO