Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Working Groups/Roles & Responsibilities/Timeline

Timeline of significant events affecting the governance of the Wikimedia movement as an input for the Roles and Responsibilities working group. Please feel free to add things, but the aim is to summarise key information about the current structure of the movement and the reasons for it, not to comprehensively list everything.


Jan 2001

Wikipedia founded. Initially the site is owned and operated by Jimmy Wales and his company.

March 2001

First non-English wikis set up (

August 2001

Volunteer developer Magnus Manske announces "PHP Wikipedia", the software that would later become known as MediaWiki.


March 2002

Larry Sanger resigns as chief organiser of Wikipedia.

March 2002

Jimmy Wales announced he is "interested in giving a small subset of the [volunteer] developers login accounts on the machine where wikipedia runs", which had so far been controlled solely by himself.


March 2003

Concept of Wikimedia proposed and initial idea created

June 2003

Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) established and registered as a charity in Florida. (initial bylaws - NB that initially it was a membership organisation). Jimmy Wales transfers domain names and various copyrights from himself and his company to the new non-profit organization.

August 2003

Jimmy Wales sets up PayPal donations. By November, the Wikimedia Foundation has purchased a new database server for $9,126.42 and spent $50 on renewing the domain, as its only expenses to date.

November 2003

French and German speaking communities begin discussions around setting up local associations that will become the template for the Wikimedia Affiliate Model.

December 2003

The English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee is set up to handle content and conduct disputes on en.wp. Previously to which Jimmy Wales played a personal role resolving these disputes, which was incompatible with the health of the community, the formal role of the WMF as a platform rather than an editorial provider, and his own sanity. A number of other Wikipedias establish their own Arbitration Committees in subsequent years.

December 2003

On the suggestion of Erik Moeller, Jimmy Wales starts a pledge drive for new hardware, with the first "Jimmy letter" asking readers and contributors to donate towards a goal of $20,000. .


June 2004

"Wikimedia Deutschland – Gesellschaft zur Förderung Freien Wissens" (association to support free knowledge) becomes the first Wikimedia chapter. (- initial bylaws) Interestingly, given subsequent events, "raise money to support Wikipedia" is the first of its listed objects.

Wikimedia Foundation holds its first board election. Erik Moeller is proposed to hold a role as a substitute trustee to break dead heats, but Erik withdraws support after initial discussion.

July 2004


Wikimedia Foundation Membership fees proposal
First WMF board meeting held in Paris
Further discussion about how to fundraise to support the websites directly, Erik Moeller proposes fundraising links at the top of Wiki pages.


WMDE makes first attempt at fundraising on German Wikipedia.
Autumn 2004


WMF applies to trademark the word "Wikipedia"
The WMF fundraising drive for the fourth quarter of 2004 hits its goal of $50,000.
September 2004

Wikimedia Commons founded. At this point, a large number of Wikipedias and a certain number of Wikisources exist, though it soon becomes clear that the Wikipedias are on a different growth path to the Wikisources.


May 2005

WMF Board discusses the creation of a "Wikicouncil" with probably representatives from different Wikimedia projects and the chapters. The proposal never becomes well-defined and was never implemented, but includes "advisory" and "consultative" roles as well as possibly being responsible for approving certain actions by the WMF.

August 2005
First Wikimania conference is held, in Germany.
WMF Board holds a joint meeting with chapter representatives. Chapters' responsibility for fundraising is discussed. Decided to create a Chapters Coordinator position, acting as a liaison and supporting the development of chapters.
Aug-Sept 2005

The English Wikipedia "Esperanza" project is set up, with the aim of advancing community health: "An sssociation of wikipedians dedicated to strengthening wikipedia's sense of community through establishing a support network for wikipedians in an environment that is often hostile and apathetic." It was led by an "Administrator General" who made decisions on behalf of Wikipedians who were members of the project. By December 2006 the project was shut down, after it grew in scope so much that many Wikipedians felt they couldn't properly participate in the project without joining Esperanza, and that Esperanza's internal decision-making processes were in fact replacing the existing principles of consensus-based discussion.


January 2006
"Chapters Committee" is formed, consisting of five voting members and two advisors (including the previous Chapter Coordinator). The Committee has objectives including supporting new chapters and coordinating the work of chapters. (In 2012, it was renamed and rescoped to become the Affiliations Committee)


January 2007

Delphine Menard is hired by Board Resolution as Chapters Coordinator

July 2007

Sue Gardner starts working for WMF as advisor to the board of trustees, and is appointed Executive Director in December 2007. [1]

June-December 2007

Wikimedias Taiwan, Israel and Argentina become the first Chapters recognised outside of Europe.


May 2008


The WMF Board adopts bylaws that mean in future three members of the Board will be elected by the Wikimedia community, two will be selected by the Chapters, and four will be appointed by the Board itself, plus Jimmy Wales. (This structure remains in place today, with only minor amendments.)
August 2008


Following a disputed AGM, lack of open membership, questions around the identify of board members and inability to open a bank account, Wikimedia UK (Wiki Education Resources Ltd) announces it is to be wound up as a company. Community members coordinate the creation of a new body with the blessing of the Wikimedia Foundation. The community holds preliminary elections for the initial board.


January 2009


Wiki Education Resources Ltd becomes the first de-recognised affiliate and Wiki UK Ltd is formally recognised as Wikimedia UK.


May 2010

After media coverage about the amount of sexual content on Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales unilaterally deletes 71 images from Wikimedia Commons. In the ensuing discussions, Jimmy's 'founder' rights on Wikipedias and Commons are substantially reduced. The WMF commissions a review of how to handle offensive content, which form the basis for the 2011 discussions about the Image Filter.

June 2010

Iberocoop is set up as a first multi-national collaborative body, drawing together any Wikimedia organisation that mainly works in Spanish, Portugese and Italian. Initially set up by the Argentina and Portugal chapters, it is later joined by a number of other Chapters and User Groups working in South/Central America and southern Europe. It aims to provide mutual support and assistance between organisations and communities.

During 2010

During 2010, partnerships between Wikipedia and cultural/educational institutions begin to become more common. The German Bundesarchiv begins to work with Wikimedia Deutschalnd in 2008 but that is initially the only significant partnership. Prominent 2010 partnerships include the Public Policy Initiative, a partnership with US universities led by the Wikimedia Foundation; the British Museum Wikipedian in Residence, supported by Wikimedia UK [there was also something in France in 2010, what was it?]. Partnership programmes are enthusiastically embraced across the Wikimedia movement, with both chapters and the WMF identifying opportunities for additional partnerships. (The WMF opts to end its own partnership work in late 2012).

September 2010

The first Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest is organised in the Netherlands. In subsequent years it grows to become an annual international competition, supported by many chapters and engaging many volunteers independently of chapters, and coordinated by an interenational committeee.

October 2010

The WMF begins its Movement Roles discussion, looking at roles and responsibilities within the Wikimedia movement. This is a two-year process looking at who is responsible for what, and whether the chapter model of affiliation is working. WMF ED Sue Gardner's discussion of the role of WMF vs chapters is particularly worth reading. Further details of the issues confronting the Movement Roles project:

Amical Wikimedia is a volunteer body that in many ways resembles a Chapter, but does not fit within the Chapter model of affiliations because it supports the Catalan Wikipedia, and is very firmly separate from the Spain chapter for cultural, historical and linguistic reasons. How can there be a structure of recognition and support for groups organised along non-geographical lines, as well as geographical Chapters.
Chapters are required to be incorporated entities, which comes with a significant burden of reporting and bureaucracy. Even in countries where this is a less onerous requirement, chapters have sometimes struggled with it. In some countries, the political and legal situation will make it almost impossible for a chapter to succeed. The project aims to identify a less formal way for affiliation to deal with situations where a chapter would either be 'overengineering' or is simply impractical.


During 2011

The WMF's Global Development team begins work to grow the Wikimedia projects in Brazil, India and the Arab world through Catalyst Programmes, hiring consultants to deliver outreach programmes and set up projects, adopting a highly iterative test-and-learn approach. Increasing reach in the global South has been identified as a major priority for the WMF and the Global Development team aims to address this. The work is expected to be challenging, and so it proves to be.

May 2011

Following the discussion in 2010 of images on Wikipedia and Commons that are sexual, offensive or otherwise controversial, the WMF Board asks the ED to create an image filtering tool to give users more control over this. The WMF's direction proves very controversial with a significant majority of Wikipedia and Commons editors proving to be against the creation of such a tool, expressed in a range of opinion polls and consultations. The discussion continues over a year, with the WMF Board eventually reversing its previous request.

August 2011

WMF Board publishes what is known as the "Haifa Letter" signalling a new direction for fundraising and funds dissemination, noting significant concerns about the ability of chapters to raise and spend funds effectively and the resource disparity between richer fundraising chapters and poorer, non-fundraising chapters. The Board set out 'design principles' for the creation of a new system of generating and distributing resources. There is a lengthy period of heated discussion between chapters, the WMF Board and the WMF ED which lasts until Spring 2012, and includes an extra "Finance Meeting" in Paris, which is in effect a focused conference aimed at finding some kind of mutually acceptable compromise. The end point of this process is that a) No further chapters are permitted to process payments in the global Wikimedia fundraiser (though Germany, France, UK and Switzerland are permitted to continue to do so) and b) the process of designing the Funds Dissemination Committee and the growth of the grants programme begins.

End 2011

The WMF holds an extensive consultation on the Wikimedia projects Terms of Use, including a clearer framework for dealing with harrassment and vandalism across different Wikimedia projects (e.g. troublesome users who get banned from a Wikipedia then go to Commons or a Wikisource and behave in a ban-worthy manner there). The Global Bans policy is eventually implemented in March 2013, after a further extensive consultation on the policy.

Four European Wikimedia Chapters agree to pool funds for an external party, Europeana, as part of the GLAMwiki Toolset Project. The partnership aims to develop a mass-upload software, integrated into MediaWiki and deployed on Wikimedia Commons. This 2-year project starts in September 2012.


March 2012
The Funds Dissemination Committee is formally constituted, and the present model of affiliation (chapters, thematic organisations, user groups) is agreed. As well as the structure, the Movement Roles project created a set of principles for affiliation. The Chapter-selected board seats become Affiliate-selected Board seats, as Amical (the sole Thematic Organisation) is now able to participate in selection alongside the chapters.
Separately, a group of Wikimedia chapters agree to form the Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA). The charter of the new organisation includes objectives of representing chapters to the WMF, providing peer review of programmes and accountability for good governance for Wikimedia chapters. The intention is for the WCA to become a body with a paid staff providing meaningful support and oversight.
July 2012

The WMF transfers its India catalyst programme to Indian nonprofit CIS-A2K. The WMF feels that making grants to a local partner would result in higher impact and less liability than continuing to manage it directly from San Francisco. The closing report notes that relationships have at points been tense between the WMF Catalyst team, and the Wikimedia India chapter.

August 2012

The new Affiliations Committee Charter is agreed, defining the scope of the newly-renamed AffCom to include guiding affiliates through the recognition process, making recommendations to the WMF Board regarding recognition, sharing learning between affiliates, and acting as a point of communication between affiliates and the WMF. AffCom is also responsible for de-recognising affiliates that have become inactive or are behaving badly, though no derecognition process exists at this point.

September 2012

The United Kingdom chapter attracts significant criticism from volunteers in the Wikimedia community and negative coverage in the English-language media, due to a a controversy about the handling of the behaviour trustee actions by its board. At the request of the Wikimedia Foundation, the chapter undertakes a governance review and agrees not to participate in the autumn 2012 fundraising campaign as a payment processor.

October 2012
The WMF Board approves ED Sue Gardner's "Narrowing Focus" proposal. In summary, the WMF is doing too many things and not doing them well enough. The WMF will now focus on technology and grantmaking. A number of existing programmes, e.g. community growth and individual fellowships, are terminated and replaced with grant funding. The WMF's Education Programme is "spun out" to become the Wiki Education Foundation and a recipient of WMF grants. Supporting capacity building in chapters is explicitly ruled out of the WMF's scope.
Separately, Wikidata is launched, the most innovative new Wikimedia project for some years. Wikidata is also unusual in that development of it in its early years is led by Wikimedia Deutschland rather than the WMF itself.
November 2012

The first ever round of FDC recommendations is published. The committee does not shy away from difficult decisions. The France chapter's bid is rejected entirely and the FDC asks the Chapter to review its work and request funds again six months later. It also recommends no grant to the Australia chapter. On the whole, however, the process and outcomes are regarded positively within the Wikimedia movement.

December 2012

Wikimedia South Africa becomes the first (and, to date, only) chapter in Africa.


February 2013


The WMF Board publishes a statement sharply critical of the Wikimedia Chapters Association. In summary, the WMF does not feel that there is a clear purpose or mission to the WCA and wants to signal this before the WCA moves forward with legal incorporation or hiring staff. In August 2013, the two office holders in the WCA resign because of inactivity of most council members.


Timeline of Wikimedia UK Governance issues published
November 2013
The WMF Board indicates that any future Chapters or Thematic Organisations will only be approved if they have an existing record of two or more years as User Groups. After this point, no new Chapters or Thematic Organisations have been created[1]
At the same meeting, the WMF also decides to freeze the total funds available to the FDC to allocate for the next two years. Since it is anticipated that some chapters will join the FDC process, this is interpreted by some as an indication to chapters that their budgets will be cut unless they find non-WMF sources of funding.


During 2014

There is extensive consultation by the WMF about updating the Terms of Use across all projects to deal with the issue of paid editing, which has been a prominent issue during 2013 thanks to media coverage of efforts by PR firms to subvert Wikipedia for their clients. In these discussions Jimmy Wales supports a 'bright line' rule of essentially banning paid editing. An amendment to ban undisclosed paid editing is eventually agreed.

August 2014

There is significant tension between the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia project communities regarding the deployment of a new Media Viewer feature. A request for comments on the German Wikipedia asks for this new feature to be turned off, and an admin disables it as a result. The WMF creates a new technical access level called "Superprotect" to enable them to force through the deployment of the feature, resulting in widespread anger among community members. Almost 1000 community members sign an open letter to the WMF Board asking them to intervene. There is no response to the letter, but the Superprotect feature is never used again and is removed entirely in the summer of 2015.


Wikimedia Deutschland publishes the insights of the "Chapters Dialogue" project, a structured assessment of the movement organizations’ needs, goals and stories. It resulted in six tough questions around our movement's roles and responsibilities, revenue streams and resource allocations, impact, collaboration and direction, and recommended to start answering them in order for the movement to work strongly and effectively towards its mission.


May 2015


Wikimedia Deutschland publishes Governance Review.
September 2015

The WMF develops a protocol to revoke the recognition of movement affiliates on the grounds of improper behaviour or inactivity. The first four derecognitions took place in 2017, with the Hong Kong, Macau, Macedonia and Philippines chapters de-recognised after having ceased to function entirely several years before.


August 2016

AffCom introduces new expectations for chapters and thematic organisations. Chapters/thorgs are expected to engage in a range of online and offline activities, to plan their activities in a way that supports continuous learning, and engage with external organisations.


The WMF experiences a crisis, documented here. ED Lila Tretikov's tenure is marked by high staff turnover and discontent among staff members. Concurrently, there is a lack of clarity around the nature and scope of her "Knowledge Engine" initiative, with concern among Wikipedia editors that the Foundation is losing focus on Wikipedia and hoping to set up a search engine to rival Google. In Autumn 2015, WMF board member James Heilman is removed from his Board position by the rest of the Board (using a long-established but never before used procedure). This prompts further concerns from the community about the legitimacy of the Board's decision, given that he was a community-selected trustee. Later it emerges that at this point, the Board was taking steps towards Tretikov's departure, and Heilman was removed in connection with his contribution to or conduct in those conversations. (Heilman was re-elected in the 2017 Board election, and re-appointed to the Board without further controversy).


The Wikimedia Strategy process is initiated.




Wikimedia France goes through its own period of crisis, with high turnover of staff and board members, culminating in the eventual resignation of its Executive Director.


March 2018


Wikimedia France publishes Governance Assessment Report
April 2018


Wikimedia Community User Group Brasil and Wiki Education Brazil user groups were derecognized as a consequence of long term conflict that negatively impacted the Wikimedia movement in Brazil.
  • Wikimedia Poland Governance Review
  • Wikimedia Foundation Governance Review


  1. A couple of organisations whose application were in process at the point this decision was made were recognised after this date, but none since