Welcome to Talking: 2024, conversations to share, listen, and learn with intention as we continue to plan our future as a movement. To talk about Talking, see Discussion. More information below.
Wikimedia Foundation CEO Maryana Iskander recently shared this message reflecting on developments since her initial listening tour in 2021 to understand the challenges and needs facing the Wikimedia movement.
Two years later, a lot has changed in the world and in our communities. This series of conversations is intended 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. It is also important for us to talk to each other throughout the year – formally and informally.
Over the next few months, the Community Affairs Committee, senior leaders at the Foundation, and Maryana will be available to ask: what is on your mind about consequential events taking place in 2024, about the Foundation's annual plan, or our longer-range priorities?
I hope you will decide to participate. You can sign up for on- and off-wiki options, including individual conversations with Trustees, me, or other Foundation leaders.— Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia Foundation CEO
To take part in Talking: 2024, please click on "sign up here", fill out the form, and make sure to check your talk page or have the "Allow other users to email me" feature activated. Someone from the Movement Communications team will get in touch with you.
You can also send us an email to movementcommswikimediaorg. Please let us know if you would like an individual call or there are others you would like to join in the conversation with you. Is there a specific person you would like to talk to? Are you comfortable in English or can we support you with live interpretation? Plus, your availability. We'll try our best to match.
Looking forward to talking together.
October 2023 Update and Invitation to Talking: 2024
Since joining the Wikimedia Foundation, I have tried to regularly send you updates here and elsewhere. I am mindful that this one arrives during a period of compounded challenges across the world with escalating wars, conflict, and climate reminding us each week that global volatility and uncertainty are on the rise. I hope you’ll read this message to the end to join me and Foundation leadership in conversations with each other at a time when I feel we need to pull closer together.
How it started...
Two years ago this month, I began a listening and learning process to prepare for my official start at the Foundation. In individual conversations with nearly 300 people from 55 countries, as well as numerous community events, I asked questions about Wikimedia’s vision and mission, what we believed the world needed from us now, and what challenges we faced in achieving our goals. This led to five ‘puzzles’ that I believe continue to vex us.
I observed at the time that the only topic with unanimous consensus was the urgent need for our work – which is true now more than ever before. As mis/disinformation grows, with polarization and conflict intensifying across societies globally, the Wikimedia projects remain committed to principles of open knowledge and neutrality. There is no doubt about the necessity and urgency of our contributions.
The world needs us to succeed, and this resonates for me even more in the world we occupy today. While some areas of our community are focused on what is happening around us, I believe we still aren’t united enough against these and other common threats.
My conversations in 2021 were shaped by what volunteers thought about how to make all contributions count, how to make our multilingualism more of a superpower, and how to break the circular puzzle of managing centralised institutions to support decentralised projects. I especially valued reflections about how to close the gap between where we are and where we need to be in building infrastructure that is human-led, and strongly tech-enabled.
How it’s going...
Since then, I have been primarily focused on the Wikimedia Foundation’s own performance and accountability – certainly to all of you, but also to our readers, donors, regulators, and partners. My self-assessment at the beginning of 2023 was that we were heading more in the right direction: the Foundation’s annual planning is being guided by movement strategy and attempting to be more responsive to volunteer needs, we have more than tripled the number of languages we communicate in with regions around the world, and we have re-centered product and technology priorities to better support a rapidly changing knowledge ecosystem.
Annual goals should be defined clearly, and then delivered well. But our work requires longer time horizons than yearly planning – certainly to 2030, which I believe requires asking much harder questions about priorities, constraints, and trade-offs to pragmatically agree on what can be achieved in the next seven years with a slowing growth of resources and our current collaboration models.
The question of time horizons is also leading me to ask whether Wikipedia will be a single-generation wonder or whether we know how to sustain Wikimedia for the generations still to come. Our mission calls for this work to continue in perpetuity, and some aspects of our projects have created digital imprints on the world that feel impossible to erase. But what does a multi-generational view of Wikimedia require of us, from now? I believe this is less about lofty statements than it is about working with deliberate intent on issues that will help bring a multi-generational view of our projects into clearer focus, now and into the future.
Some (not all) of the big questions...
I am not sure how we should do this, and I hope to hear what you think (more on this below). For now, I have asked our Board of Trustees and Foundation leadership to set multi-year planning goals with three topics that feel like a useful place to start:
(1) The first relates to how the financial model of Wikimedia advances our mission. 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.
- An update was recently posted about the essential role of the Wikimedia Endowment in growing long-term support for the projects.
- In parallel, we continue to assess Wikimedia Enterprise’s ability to improve the user experience of readers beyond our own websites while simultaneously having very high-volume reuse companies financially support our movement.
- On the expense side, we have responded by slowing the rate of growth for the Foundation itself, while increasing financial resources that support other movement entities.
We need a long-term financial model that matches our aspirations to our resources in order to implement plans effectively.
(2) The second topic is our product and technology priorities, which this year focus on the technology needs of Wikimedia contributors (ranging from those with extended rights, to newcomers, to institutional partners like GLAM organizations). This ranges from:
- Overarching objectives outlined in the current annual plan, which were decided following a period of community review, as well as input provided by volunteers directly to the Foundation’s new Chief Product & Technology Officer, Selena Deckelmann.
- Progressing on important priorities raised by editors with extended rights. This has been supported by software improvements for New Pages Patrol, by developing a workflow in the Android app for patrolling edits, by building a system that guides newcomers to make well-referenced edits, and by developing the capability for each community to configure features to fit their own needs
- Increased support for Wikimedia Commons that included upgrades to Thumbor, support for OpenRefine, and other work. Also migrating to the latest version of the Creative Commons license on Wikipedia, in response to requests for a more human-readable and internationally-friendly version of the free culture license used on Wikipedia to make knowledge freely available.
- Committing to review and improve the community wishlist process to better handle the needs of diverse users, growing technical complexities, and deeper collaboration between the Foundation’s Product & Technology teams and technical volunteers. The wishlist survey results of 2022 and 2023 show how we are bringing together skills and expertise most relevant for the requests. For instance, while the Comm-Tech team delivered Better diff handling for paragraph split – a set of iterative features for improvement in a core editing experience, one of the most sought after features – dark mode for reading – is now being taken up by the Web team. We will continue more collaboration to build a flexible and sustainable technical wish request response system.
- Complying with growing regulatory and legal obligations in our role as technical host of the Wikimedia projects, which includes additional requirements of the Digital Services Act categorizing Wikipedia as a Very Large Online Platform (VLOP) and responding to other forthcoming regulations to advocate for Wikipedia's unique model of community self-governance.
- Advancing community conversations about generative artificial intelligence, while also modernizing our machine learning infrastructure to support mission-aligned ML tool use on our projects. This has included experimenting with whether and how we can serve reliable, verifiable knowledge via off-platform AI assistants like ChatGPT. We have also experimented with how machine learning might be used to help smaller wiki communities automatically moderate incoming edits.
- Better supporting underserved languages with open machine translations through a new translation service – MinT – that supports over 200 languages, including 44 that have machine translation for the first time.
- Dedicating more resources to maintenance and support of MediaWiki software while we begin thinking together about the future roadmap.
- As a part of our commitment to knowledge equity, adding a new caching center in South America for increased site responsiveness in the region.
- Expanding the capabilities of campaign and event organizers by improving the Event Registration capability and starting on ways for organizers to spread the word about their campaigns.
- Introducing improvements for readers like the ability to customize their own reading experience through dark mode and control over font size.
- Experimenting with how we can share free knowledge with global youth and invite them into our projects on rich-media apps where they like to spend time (e.g., TikTok, Instagram Reels).
- Prioritizing safety features that range from the first versions of an Incident Reporting System, so that editors can intuitively report harassment, to establishing a community-driven enforcement system for the Universal Code of Conduct to increase safety and inclusion for participants across all the Wikimedia projects.
(3) Finally, we are evaluating principles for defining the Foundation's core roles and responsibilities. As a movement that is built on the strength of crowdsourcing, what is the best division of labor to achieve our goals? This is intended to support movement charter deliberations, and also to directly identify challenges in our decision-making and governance structures:
- What would be the purpose of creating additional entities now, and can we repurpose or close down other entities to achieve these goals?
- Are there roles the Foundation should stop playing or let others lead?
- How can we speed up technical decision-making?
- How do we ensure that global contributors, whether organized into affiliate structures or not, can voice their perspectives and needs efficiently and effectively?
- Where and how should we continue to evaluate, iterate, and adapt to the changing needs of our movement and the world around us?
Of course this is not a comprehensive list of all the issues that need to be addressed. It is a starting point for key topics that I believe need a longer view. You will see in the next section that I am asking for your help in figuring out how we progress from here.
Invite to Talking: 2024...
Alongside learning about Wikimedia’s work in these last two years, I have also focused a lot of my energy on learning about our ways of working together. Fulfilling our mission calls for more human interactions, on- and off-wiki, that are designed to create more shared understanding, and hopefully grow trust. 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.
The goal is 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.
It is also important for us to talk to each other throughout the year – formally and informally. To support this, over the next few months I am asking our Trustees and my colleagues at the Wikimedia Foundation to join me in a different kind of listening tour: more of a two-way dialogue that is designed to listen intently to what is on your minds now, and to also share progress and ideas about our multi-year planning.
We can spend time learning from each other in the context of:
- consequential events taking place in 2024 (e.g., critical elections, a movement charter, enforcement of the Universal Code of Conduct, compliance requirements for the Digital Services Act, and how to respond to lawmakers around the world who are concerned about the impact of digital technologies on society);
- our annual plan supporting 2030 movement strategy objectives of knowledge equity and knowledge as a service;
- longer-range questions to secure our projects for generations yet to come;
- and anything else on your mind!
I hope you will decide to participate. You can sign up for on- and off-wiki options between October and February, including individual conversations with Trustees, me, and other Foundation leaders. These discussions are intended to improve deliberations at the Board’s strategic planning retreat next March, and a summary of what we heard will be shared with everyone in advance of March.
The Wikimedia Foundation's value to listening and sharing with more curiosity will shape how we show up, and I hope everyone who is interested in participating will bring the same approach.
Wikimedia Foundation CEO
Wikimedians who have expressed interest
As of February 2024, we have contacted 188 Wikimedians and managed to connect with 130. We'll update these statistics every 3 months.
|CEE & CA
|Latin America & the Caribbean
|Middle East & North Africa
|North and Western Europe
Who did we speak to?
- 22% were follow-ups to the original listening tour
- 55% were new suggestions by Movement Communications and other colleagues
- 23% signed up on wiki.
We estimate the gender breakdown of the conversations so far to be 60% men and 40% women and non-binary people.
We would love to add your voice to all the helpful feedback we have already received — we are listening (on-wiki, in 1:1 conversations, in small groups, in person), and what we hear will impact the Foundation's long-term plans. Please consider joining a conversation soon.