For the past few weeks, many people approached me asking for feedback
on what Wikimedia France went through in the past 18 to 24 months.
We realize we poorly communicated on the topic, time to fix that.
I'll try to be as exhaustive as I can be without writing too much
(even though you already know this is going to be a long email).
== Short WMFr history ==
Before going into the heart of the situation, here are some
informations about Wikimedia France. We were founded in 2004. At some
point, in 2007 iirc, we went from 30K€ in our bank account to 200K€
over night as, at the time, we were payment processing.
In 2010, we hired a first employee as a project manager. A year later,
he left the organization. If we look back at why, at the core, he did
leave, one of the reason is that we weren't ready to have an employee.
Though at the time we might have not realized that.
Afterwards we hired three new employees, one head of programs, one
project manager for education and research programs and one technical
We weren't able to manage them correctly because we underestimated the
amount of work it required, especially as back then we were still
So we decided to hire a new employee, an Executive Director, to manage
our employees for us and to hire a fundraiser.
It didn't work out, and the new ED left the organization after a few
months. That is where the story starts.
== Facing failures and making radical changes ==
When the new ED left we took the time to try to understand why
Wikimedia France had those issues.
We could have hired a new ED straight ahead, but we believed that,
even though it would have been a good thing on the short run we
weren't sure we wouldn't repeat past mistakes.
We then started to wonder if the organization of Wikimedia France was
the right one, perhaps at the core we were doing things wrong. So we
decided to get help to sort this out and hire a HR company to audit us
and advise us on what to do.
Mostly at the same time, something else happened: the FDC rejected our
first proposal and gave us a gap funding just to get through until the
next FDC round.
At the same time we were auditing the organization we had to rethink
everything we were doing and how we were working.
We had no ED, so the board and staff had to pick up on the tasks the
ED used to do. We first splitted the tasks amongst us and then asked
an interim company to help us hire an administrative assistant to help
us with day-to-day administrative burden.
Before her arrival, we introduced processes used at companies we
(board members) worked at (such as "buying request" that means that
every spending of the association is matched with a sheet that
summarize what the money was used for and that the use of the money
has been checked by two differents people).
Once she arrived we worked, as a board, to define our needs and our
role. We identified that one of our mistake was that, even though we
had employees, we failed to build up trust and confidence and that we
were looking too hard on small details and not enough on the big
We saved that thought for later: as we had no ED we had to look at
those details. But when we defined what we needed from our ED, we kept
that in mind. We needed an ED with whom we were able to build a trust
relationship and at the same time have the tools to oversee their job.
We also took the time to improve the board maturity. As we had no
idea, our board meetings were really frequent and long. So we laid
some board rules such as nothing said during a board meeting is
personal, or that everyone should speak its mind but once a decision
is made the board has to commit to support that decision.
As said before we also started to better define the roles of each board member.
After a few months, we started our search for our next ED. The HR
company we hired for auditing us was charged with selecting 3 persons
we would then interview. We believed that thanks to the audit, the HR
company would have a good understanding of who we were and what we
== New ED, "new" board, new organization ==
After a 5 months process, we hired our new ED. We then enforced what
we've set aside a few months before, the board would focus to the big
picture while the ED would provide the board with the tools to oversee
how the organization is doing.
First things first, we needed to redesign how we worked (more there
We created 5 working groups :
* Internal organization: closed group made of the chair, the
vice-chair and the ED. This group is in charge of sorting out day to
day things and to ensure the organization is running smoothly.
* Internal controls: closed group made of the treasurer, the deputy
treasurer and the ED. This group is in charge of designing and
implementing internal policies and processes. Their goal is to ensure
we do everything we can so the organization is runned in a healthy
* Quality group: open group to every WMFr member. This group goal is
to design and update the metrics we're using to measure our
* Strategy group: open group to every WMFr member. This group ensures
our strategic process is going forward and includes everyone's input.
* Communication group: open group to every WMFr member. This group is
in charge to make sure the voice of WMFr members and Wikimedians is
taken into accounts and is also in charge of international
We also restructured the staff organization, for the curious it’s all
detailed there :
By doing this clear split within the board, we ensured that the few
tactical tasks the board has to be in charge of are taken care of. We
all agreed to trust each group with the topic they're in charge of.
This limits the possibility of burnout, as no one has to care
everything is being done, and efficiency as every board member focuses
on a clear defined set of tasks.
Following that reorganisation, we redesigned the interactions between
board, members and staff. The goal was to improve the way we
communicate and work with each other. One thing we've done is to write
down the clear mandate of the ED. What the ED can and can't do and
what the board can and can't do.
Then we designed a clear vision and strategy for Wikimedia France:
Once that was done, we tackled THE issue: being able to measure how
efficient we are. Based on our strategic goals, we designed a matrix
of indicators. Every project we now do goes through that matrix.
It's far from being perfect, but at least we now have a common matrix
for everything we do, evaluate our effectiveness and make decisions.
== Where we are now and where we're going ==
Now where are we?
We are in the best situation we've ever been.
WMFr board is a working efficient body, with an internal organization
that prevents burnout and also ensures continuity.
The staff now has clear goals and knows where the organization wants
to go. They also have a clear mandate on what they can and can't do.
We have an evaluation process and people in charge of improving it over time.
I'm not sure this reflects what we went through. But to sum it up, at
some point, we decided to make radical and urgent changes. To be
better, even if that meant to spend months in a painful situation. We
believed back then, and I guess we were right, that it was better for
us to go through a hard time willingly, identify and face our mistakes
and fix them rather than find a quick solution.
Now, it could seem that we're at the end of the process. Well it's
quite the opposite. Everything we did was just the start of our
"getting better" process.
We share in an other email the next steps of the process.
We wanted to share our experience because we believe some of the other
Wikimedia organizations could learn from it.
We also wanted to share that because we believe that it is important
for organizations like us to face mistakes, to have a critical eye on
everything you do, even if you've done it for years, and some time
make radical changes in order to improve things on the long run.
If anyone has questions, please, feel free to ask them either on list
or off list.
We hope that sharing this will help some of you.
All the best,
Christophe HENNER | Vice-chair
› Mail : christophe.henner(a)wikimedia.fr
› Mobile : +33(0)6 29 35 65 94
› Tel : +33(0)5 62 89 12 01
› Twitter : @Wikimedia_Fr
Wikimédia France | Association pour le libre partage de la
connaissance | Visitez notre blog http://blog.wikimedia.fr