Values/2016 discussion

The core values of the Wikimedia Foundation were first formulated in 2007−2008 and have not been discussed in depth since then. In 2013, we also developed Guiding principles, a list of more practical norms and expected behaviors to guide our day-to-day work at the Foundation. Combined with our vision and mission statements, those documents represent the core facets of our organizational identity.

There didn't exist a shared understanding among the staff and other constituents of what our core values were, and how we expressed them in our work. The goal of this series of new discussions was to reflect on what is bringing us together, identify the core beliefs that motivate our vision, refine our list of values, and clarify our organizational identity. This, in turn, would result in more coherent external perception, and better internal alignment.

Motivation for discussion


When the Wikimedia Foundation's values were developed in 2007−2008, the organization only had a dozen employees. As of July 2016, it has 275.[1] In informal discussions among employees, it frequently appears that few of them are familiar with the organization's values. There is therefore a need for better internal alignment, which was one of the reasons for defining explicit values in the first place.[2] One method would be to "train", or "educate" new and existing employees, but another method is to include them in the discussions: having in-depth, substantive discussions about our common values is an effective way to build trust, cohesion, and alignment.[3]

Furthermore, Wikimedia Foundation values are the result of a soft consensus and may evolve over time as the Wikimedia movement, the Wikimedia Foundation, and their environment evolve. We now have a list of guiding principles, which wasn't available when we first developed the organization's values. The extrinsic, action-oriented guiding principles address some of the practical concerns that the original list of values focused on. This added clarity allows us to focus on more intrinsic, fundamental values in the new discussions.

Framing: What is a value?

Vision Where we're headed
Mission What we do to get there
Guiding principles How we behave and make decisions on our way there
Values Why we're going there in the first place
Main article: Framing

Before we embark in discussions about the core values of the Wikimedia Foundation, it is necessary to define a frame that explains their place in our organization, and situates them with regard to other foundational documents (like the mission statement and the guiding principles). This ensures that participants are talking about the same concept, by answering the question "What do we mean by 'values'?".

The framing that we will use for the 2016 discussions invites participants to think of values in terms of the core intrinsic beliefs that drive us towards our vision. This framing is the result of a reflection based on academic research, industry practices, and the history of the Wikimedia Foundation. It helps participants think deeply about what motivates them to be part of the movement, and thus contributes to defining the Foundation's organizational identity.

In practice, this means that participants will be encouraged to go through thinking cycles, with the aim to reveal the hidden social, moral, ethical values that bring us all together. In order to identify our common intrinsic beliefs, we will ask ourselves "Why is this a good thing?" If it's a good thing because it's in service of something else that is good, we will repeat the process and ask the same question. If it's a good thing because it "just is", we have reached a core intrinsic value.



Discussions about values in nonprofit organizations are usually done internally. Staff and Board members (or a subset of them) meet, discuss, and formulate a set of values for the organization.[3] Given the open and collaborative nature of the Wikimedia movement, such a closed, internal process wouldn't make sense for the Wikimedia Foundation. The Foundation is part of an integrated ecosystem of individuals and organizations that contribute to defining its identity.

Therefore, input should be collected not just from staff and Board members, but also from volunteers, affiliates, and partners who wish to participate in this process. All the information collected should be posted publicly (possibly in an anonymized fashion). Once the input has been collected, the synthesis process should be done in a public place as well, and the end result should heavily reference the input provided in the various forums.

Process and timeline


A working group formed in July 2016 to organize the discussions. The initial public information-gathering phase began in October, with discussions in November and early December. The full transcripts of the discussions were posted in December, and their content was organized according to the themes that emerged. The second phase of synthesis and convergence was completed in December. The synthesis was presented to the Wikimedia Foundation's leadership team in early January and to the communities during the February Metrics and activities meeting (see the video segment).



Participants were invited to join live facilitated discussions in small groups. Invitations were extended based on available seats, experience in the movement, ability to contribute to discussions productively, and proven record of abiding by the Foundation's Friendly space policy.

In addition, volunteers and affiliates were invited welcome to hold live discussions in their locality, as well as on-wiki discussions in their language, to complement those venues.


  1. "Staff and contractors - Wikimedia Foundation". Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  2. Devouard, Florence (2008-01-29). "Our values". foundation-l (Mailing list). Retrieved 2016-07-19. 
  3. a b Vogelsang, John D. (2008). "Values Based Organizational Development". Journal for Nonprofit Management 2. Archived from the original on 2008-03-26.