Former executive director Sue Gardner in 2010. None of the architects of the 2011–15 strategic plan is still with the WMF.
Hazy assessment of past strategic planning, as WMF launches new effort
In 2011, then-WMF board chair Ting Chen formally announced a five-year strategic plan that had taken more than a year to produce, at a cost of about 10% of the WMF's overall 2009–10 expenditures. He was "very pleased" as he highlighted the "transparent collaborative process" and the involvement of "more than a thousand participants"—echoing the board's initial guidance, which had proclaimed that principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration should guide the strategic plan's construction: "This is the first time ever that anybody has developed a five-year strategic plan in a truly open, collaborative process", Chen continued. "We should all be very proud of what we've done here."
Eugene Eric Kim
While the plan's initial launch was greeted with fanfare and accolades, its expiration at the end of 2015 was met with silence from the WMF. There was no blog post comparable to Chen's to note the expiration, to assess the success or shortcomings of the WMF or of the Wikimedia movement in attaining the plan's goals. Months later, in October 2016, the WMF published an assessment on the process followed in producing the plan, in its audit of past strategy processes; and the process audit did make oblique reference to the overall outcomes; it stated, for instance:
the plan was too large in scope to be properly implemented, which caused unrealistic expectations and a feeling of failure
And that the execution "led to a break in trust in the leadership’s ability."
Although Kim praised the WMF's wish to review the process, he disputed a core premise of the audit, which asserted: "the initial step of community engagement – asking community members to write proposals – was intended as simply information gathering." Echoing a concept that was consistently at the core of the creation of the plan, Kim said soliciting community input was "not the foundation of the process", but was rather "a first step in doing some collective listening and an opening for us to help shift away from tactical (how) thinking into more strategic (why) thinking."
When asked about Kim's comment, WMF communications strategist Gregory Varnum said, "The audit was meant to be an initial, high-level overview of past strategic processes to inform early thinking, and not a comprehensive or final review." If the WMF conducted any assessment of the plan's success or failure, beyond the brief words in the process audit, that assessment has not been made public. Chen also responded to a Signpost inquiry, stating that he was unconvinced that Kim's view was strongly at odds with the WMF assessment.
Tretikov responds to a question about strategy at about 1:00:25.
The WMF's negative assessment of the plan's value is not entirely isolated. In a November 2015 meeting attended by trustee Jimmy Wales, then-executive director Lila Tretikov openly mocked the value of a five-year strategic plan, claiming—on behalf of both herself and the board—that such a plan couldn't be "iterative".
But, like the 2009–10 cohort of the board, the volunteer Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC)—formed in 2012 with the primary purpose of advising the WMF on how to fund eligible affiliate organizations—offered a strikingly different assessment. In its November 2015 report, the FDC stated that it was "appalled by the closed way that the WMF has undertaken both strategic and annual planning, and the WMF's approach to budget transparency (or lack thereof)", and that "financial cost of having an unclear strategy in an organisation of this size is significant and very real." Its May 2016 report reiterated the point: "The lack of clarity in strategic direction since 2014 has caused significant waste of time, money, talent, goodwill, and momentum." (Its November 2016 report did not revisit the issue.)
A December update from executive director Katherine Maher acknowledged that "The absence of a movement strategy ... is hampering our ability to work toward our mission", and that "this is an expensive opportunity cost." The update credited "members of the FDC" (rather than the institution as a whole), and other community members, with bringing the problem into focus. When asked about the minimal reporting and belated planning of strategic initiatives, FDC member Liam Wyatt speculated that both resulted from a "series of abortive attempts at a strategy process – none of which were clearly described, conceived, or sufficiently inclusive" under the guidance of the previous executive director. Wyatt also underscored the value of taking the necessary time to get the process right, even if it means an extended gap between plans.
Do Kim's comments reveal a rift between his approach and that of current WMF leaders? Or between the views of WMF's 2010 leadership and that of the present day? Or is the disagreement, as Chen suggested, minor and semantic? As discussion plays out on the process audit's talk page, perhaps an answer will emerge.
Meanwhile, the WMF has mapped out a process for developing a future strategic plan, and will solicit volunteer input starting in early 2017. Maher sent a detailed announcement email to the Wikimedia-L list (mirrored on Meta Wiki), and emphasized the following:
The Wikimedia Foundation Board has approved a spending resolution and timeline for the upcoming strategy work. We anticipate beginning broad community conversations on the process, goals, and themes in early 2017. The Foundation is looking for an external expert to work with us (community and staff) to support an effective, inclusive process. I’ve been remiss in regular updates, but we will share them going forward. And of course, please share your thoughts and feedback on this list and on Meta-Wiki.
If the expired plan indeed led to "a break in trust in the leadership’s ability", as the process audit states, and if there are indeed fundamental disagreements within the organization about the best way to approach strategic planning, the road ahead may be a rocky one. Wikimedia volunteers may relish the challenge, or may prefer to devote their efforts to the everyday work of using our open platform to build an encyclopedia and other resources. It will be interesting to see the depth of volunteer engagement, and the robustness of the WMF's authority to establish a strategy for the Wikimedia movement as a whole. The Signpost expects to follow up in greater detail in January. PF
Seven elected to English Wikipedia ArbCom, including two new members
Eleven candidates stood in the 2016 English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee elections, six of whom were either current members of the committee or had served previously. Seven candidates secured two-year terms.
The record low number of candidates was contrasted with the high number of votes.
English Wikipedia ArbCom voter and candidate numbers 2008–16
The results for all 11 candidates are listed below—with the percentage of voters who supported each candidate, followed by the results of the formula on which the candidates are ultimately ranked (support votes divided by (support + oppose votes)) in parentheses:
Compared with a raw percentage (support÷(support+oppose+neutral)), the application of the (S÷(S+O)) formula did not yield different overall results, but shifted some of the individual ranks. DGG would have placed fourth under a raw percentage formula, but instead placed sixth. Euryalus and Ks0stm moved up from fifth and sixth positions, respectively, to fourth and fifth; LFaraone moved up from tenth to eighth; Salvidrim! moved down from eighth to ninth. Unlike last year, these differences between direct support and the formula made no difference to the outcome, for which the boundary was between seventh (elected) and eighth (not elected).
Only one candidate, Writ Keeper, received more oppose votes than support votes. An administrator and former bureaucrat (who voluntarily relinquished his tools), his nomination statement—which read, in its entirety, "Eh, why not?"— may have hindered his prospects for election.
Given the success of those with previous experience on the committee in this election, it should come as little surprise that incoming arbitrators shared no plans to make sweeping changes when the Signpost invited comments on plans and goals for their upcoming terms.
Doug Weller suggested that the workshop phase of cases can become collaborative among more arbitrators and community members to enable the Committee to reach "better decisions." GP
The WMF is holding a Wikimedia Developer Summit in San Francisco, January 9–11, 2017. Registration is closed, with 172 people expected to attend; but some sessions will be streamed, and there will be some opportunities for remote participation. Those interested are asked to register in advance.