With Tretikov's departure, the hard work of getting back on track lies ahead. It would be too easy to pin the problems of Tretikov's tenure entirely on her, when her appointment and leadership drew strong and sustained support from the Board of Trustees. The Board has now chosen an interim ED, and has chosen well. It should now take steps to ensure that its search for a long-term ED attracts good candidates, and doesn't drag out.
1. The Board should rethink the job description of the long-term ED. The official document has not been updated since 2008, and much of the trouble of the past two years can be traced to the version circulated in 2013, which emphasized technical and product development skills as the top qualification. The single most important quality for the Foundation's executive director should be an ability to work with broad and diverse groups of stakeholders. This skill is not unique to Wikimedia; it also applies to jobs like running a university or a hospital system, or working for change in a broad social movement. Neither technical proficiency nor Wikimedia experience should be regarded as requirements; and removing them from the "must-have" list will allow the foundation to cast a wider net and improve the candidate pool.
2. The Board should clearly establish that the interim ED position is not a fast-track to the long-term position. While it may be tempting to ease the search for a long-term ED, what the movement needs from an interim ED is a laser focus on re-establishing short-term stability and order. It's possible that a transition from interim to long-term will make sense, but a decision like that is an important one, and should only be made with eyes wide open, with other solid candidates in serious consideration.
3. The Board should set up the next long-term ED for success. Steps that would support this goal include:
Changes to Board composition: Are there members of the Board whose approach to the last job search, and/or whose engagement with the departing ED, pointed things in the wrong direction? If so, it might be best for them to step aside and make room for other Trustees to try a different approach. Although several new Trustees have been appointed recently, the ones who appear most closely tied to the problems of the last six months remain.
Optimize the hiring process: How are candidates recruited? How are they moved through the process? How are they evaluated? The organization can't afford to miss good candidates, or to lose them during an onerous or erratic interview period. It's important to define and maintain a consistent hiring process, to clearly identify who will narrow the field and make the final decision, and generally to respect candidates' time and effort.
Evaluate what went wrong: The Board should thoroughly and publicly debrief the recent crises. Not only will this serve candidates for the position by enlightening them to the history and the challenges they may face, but it will serve to clear the air around the conflicts that led to Tretikov's resignation. When Wikimedia UK raised eyebrows through relatively benign activities, the Foundation ordered a review by an external consultant. The Foundation should heed its own advice, and invite expert critique of its practices.
4. The Foundation should continue its efforts to build a strategic plan and annual plans. It should pay particular attention to the dynamics that caused so much strife in recent months and consider whether adjustments to these documents would minimize the risk of similar problems. In recent months, a number of staff have expressed concern about frequently shifting strategic goals. A clear strategy can be a vital tool to help staff, various organizations, and numerous volunteers align their efforts and sustain a sense of shared purpose. And a good way to establish alignment is to build in community participation from the beginning: the Foundation knew this in 2010 when it ran the previous process, and the approach has been endorsed in a recent Harvard Business Review paper. The current draft of the organization's strategic plan appears to be a strong step in the right direction.
Recent communication among the Wikimedia volunteer community and staff has been thoughtful and diplomatic. Even when critical, there has been a focus on forward progress and improvement. I am hopeful that this ethos can survive, and that as a movement, we can return to the spirit of collaboration and service that has brought us together.
Pete Forsyth has been a Wikipedia editor since 2006 and runs a Wikipedia training and consulting business, Wiki Strategies. He worked for the Wikimedia Foundation from 2009 to 2011. The views expressed in this editorial are the author's alone and do not reflect any official opinions of this publication. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section.