[Foundation-l] More on Wikimedia strategic planning

Sue Gardner sgardner at wikimedia.org
Thu Apr 30 20:21:52 UTC 2009

2009/4/30 Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton at gmail.com>:
> 2009/4/30 Michael Snow <wikipedia at verizon.net>:
>> Anybody who wants to help the Wikimedia projects is invited to
>> participate. I expect that the primary activity will involve working
>> groups developing pieces of the strategy on-wiki.
> How will these working groups be organised? Having a specific group
> working on something and having everything open to participation by
> everyone seem to be contradictory. Will there be a deadline to sign up
> to each group before it starts work, or will the groups not actually
> have a well-defined membership? Or do you have some other plan I
> haven't considered?

Hi Thomas,

We don't have answers to those questions yet :-)

Basically, we (mostly Michael and I) will be designing the process
over the next few months -- it's scheduled to kick off in July, and
we'll be working through org structure, timelines, etc., between now
and then.

What you say is true: there is a fairly fundamental tension between
openness and a structure designed to drive towards decisions.

The fastest way to develop a strategy would be to have me and Michael
create it alone in a room in a single day, or have Michael tell me
what the strategy is, or have me recommend one to him.  But it
wouldn't necessarily be a very good strategy, and it certainly
wouldn't be as good as what we can accomplish collectively :-)

In a conventional organization, strategy development usually involves
just the senior management team, sometimes including consultation with
key stakeholders or experts.  We obviously don't want to do it that
way.  Our strength is our openness, and our fundamental premise is
that broad participation drives good decision quality.  Many, many
people have something to contribute -- be it a fact or piece of
information, the ability to brainstorm, a contrarian view, the ability
to reconcile divergent views, or a pointer towards expertise we don't
currently have.  That is true of the work that's done in the Wikimedia
projects, and we think it also should be true for our strategy

Having said that, we need some structure to ensure the work happens.
The trick will be trying to design a process that strikes a good
balance between total openness, and driving towards decision-making.
It's my responsibility to try to find that balance :-)

Here's a very quick sketch of the structure I am imagining right now:

* A steering committee, made up of the board. The steering committee's
job is to oversee the work, and make sure it's consistent with our
core values. To evangelize on behalf of the project and support it,
and to make hard decisions about priorities when necessary.

* A project team made up of a small number of people accountable for
driving the work forward, keeping it on track. I expect it would be
mostly paid staff and paid support. It would be process-focused not

* A small number of Working Groups, responsible for developing a set
of strategic recommendations within a fairly broad scope. For example,
we might have Working Groups on Reach, on Quality, on Participation.
The Working Groups' job would be to evaluate and synthesize
recommendations from the Sub-Groups, below.  I do not think the people
on the Working Groups would necessarily need to be experts in their
area, but they would definitely need to be strategic thinkers,
inclined towards convergence, and ideally with some expertise doing
strategy work.

* A larger number of Sub-Groups, with responsibility for developing
recommendations that feed into those broader-scope Working Groups. For
example, the Reach Working Group might have a Sub-Group focused on
"reaching people with offline readers"; the Quality Working Group
might have a Sub-Group focused on "freeing up archival/library/media
content"; the Participation Working Group might have a Sub-Group
focused on "attracting academics to participate in the projects."
Those aren't necessarily the best examples, but I'm sure you get the
idea.  The people in the Sub-Groups will need, ideally, to have real
subject-matter expertise, or be willing to work hard to get it where
it's missing.

* A small number of people supporting the process, and the groups, in
various ways.  That will include the Wikimedia Foundation staff, who
will be available to the groups for advice and expertise as needed. It
will also, I hope, include our Advisory Board members, who support our
goals and are expert in various fields.  And it will include three new
paid positions -- short-term contracts designed to support this
process.  Those jobs will be posted within a week or so, and will
include a Project Manager, a Research Analyst, and a Facilitator.
(I'll post a note here when those jobs go up.)

A couple of quick additional points:

* The structure outlined above will simply address the "what" -- what
we want the Wikimedia movement to accomplish together. It will not
address the "how" --- big questions around how to structure ourselves
to achieve this work, how to pay for it all, how to communicate our
plans externally once they are developed, etc. I am thinking now about
how to best address the "how" questions in this process.

* I believe the Working Groups and Sub-Groups should be fairly small,
in order to gel as a team and get the work done. Like, 4-6 people in
each.  And, the people in the groups will need to be able to dedicate
quite a bit of time to the project, probably over a duration of
several months.  So, we will additionally need to create other
mechanisms for involving additional people -- as experts who can be
called upon by the groups, as reviewers to comment upon the work as
it's being done, and in other roles.  I am thinking now about what
that might look like, and also about how to make the work of the
groups as public and transparent as possible.  (It is also probable
that we'll aim to construct some surveys and other mechanisms for
feedback, for people who don't have the time or inclination to really
get involved, but who nonetheless would like to have some input.)

* There is also a big question about languages. The work will need to
be done in English, but we will also want to provide avenues for
non-English-speakers to participate, other than through their own
direct connections to people who do speak English. That will be hard.

* I am also thinking about how best to involve the voices of readers
-- the people who use our projects, but don't contribute to them. I
think this is really important -- after all, the purpose of the
projects is to freely provide information to people everywhere in the
world, so it's critical that those people's differing opinions and
attitudes and desires be well-understood.  I am not yet sure how to
make that happen.  But I think that if the project were to end up
ignoring Wikimedia readers, that would be a huge missed opportunity.

Hope this helps a little. Please feel free (anyone) to comment on
this: it's very much a work-in-progress, and your views are welcome


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