Dimension 3. Improving the Wikimedia movement by being a constant forum for conversations about our future
The Wikimedia movement is an organically grown network consisting of the Wikimedia Foundation, its online projects, the corresponding communities, formalized and unformalized Wikimedia organizations and groups like Wikimedia affiliates and committees. Since its modest inception in 2001 and the founding of the Wikimedia Foundation in 2003, there never was a grand plan outlining where it all should go, or what the focus should be.
Before it would be possible to even talk about such a plan, there was a practical question to consider: where should the conversations take place? Despite of Wikimedia being centered around our most text-based project, Wikipedia, we felt that Wikimedians were increasingly getting tired of corresponding online about these topics. Not to the mention that these discussions are mainly taking place between anglophone Wikimedians.
Even before 2015, the Wikimedia Conference could have been a place to discuss the future of Wikimedia, but despite some efforts, it never was. The scope was either too limited, there was no interest from the relevant parts, or affiliates were more interested in engaging in discussions around logistics. In 2014, the outcomes of the Chapters Dialogue project (the so-called “6 Tough Questions”) were presented at the Wikimedia Conference: Questions that pointed towards the deeper challenges of the structures, roles, resources, and responsibilities of the Wikimedia Movement. They were not addressed immediately though. The awarding of the Wikimedia Conference for a three-year term to Wikimedia Deutschland was a game changer in this.
In 2015, the Wikimedia Conference was the first big conference for the then Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Lila Tretikov, to present herself and her ideas to the group of affiliates. As the Wikimedia Foundation faced Leadership struggles in the following months it was hard to follow up on the conference. Shortly before the Wikimedia Conference 2016, Tretikov left the WMF and her successor Katherine Maher became interim Executive Director.
The Wikimedia Conference 2016 was then the first opportunity where we used our intentionally prepared wildcard/hot topics slots: Giving space for WMF staff as well as affiliates to talk about the struggles, conflicts and emotions. We called the track “How to move forward”, and gave space to talk about the occurring difficulties, while having a clear idea of moving forward in mind. This turned out to be relieving and reconciling at the same time, and the Wikimedia Conference 2016 became a structure for productive and fruitful conversations about the future.
At Wikimania 2016 in Esino Lario, the Board of Trustees tasked the now permanent Executive Director Katherine Maher with designing and leading a Movement Strategy process for the coming years. With an active approach, convincing arguments, and not least conversations in the Armenian mountain atmosphere, we built the Wikimedia Conference 2017. It was done in close, trustful collaboration
with the Wikimedia Foundation to be the first, and one of the most important, spaces to really engage in talking about the future strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement. Thanks to excellent facilitators and track designers, we think the Wikimedia Conference 2017, a conference in which even pessimistic or cynical participants turned into optimists, laid the ground for a productive Movement Strategy process.
In Wikimedia Deutschland we always saw the Wikimedia Conference as a potential forum for conversations about the future of the Wikimedia Movement, and about strategic and organizational development. Over the three last years, and with a lot of effort, we have re-designed the conference in order to live up to this potential, and we are now much closer to being such a forum than four years ago.
We believe that having the Wikimedia Conference as a dialogue forum that includes affiliates in strategic conversations is in the greater interest of the Wikimedia Movement. We therefore also believe that after the Wikimedia Conference 2018, we will have enough support from both the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia affiliates to turn the conference into an event focusing on strategy, governance and organizational development.