Wikimedia Foundation Chief Executive Officer/Maryana’s Listening Tour/My Incoming Priorities

Puzzles and Priorities | Reflections from Maryana’s Listening Tour

Section 2: My Incoming Priorities edit

My welcome message in September referenced the Wikimedia CEO job description. I learned from speaking to my predecessors that this role requires managing complexity and uncertainty, as well as engaging layers of stakeholders: within the Foundation, amongst our partners and allies, with our affiliates, in our communities, and importantly with the rest of the world. Setting clear priorities is essential for success and survival.

Priority 1: Reimagine the Wikimedia Foundation’s Planning Processes edit

My top priority for the next six months, which is already underway, is reimagining the Wikimedia Foundation’s planning processes so that they are more visible, inspired, and integrated. I heard from too many people (both inside and outside the Foundation) that it is still not clear enough what we are delivering or prioritizing as an organisation. I learned that historically we have typically planned in departmental silos - not holistically as a Foundation - and that there can be a bias for starting new initiatives over the ‘hidden work’ of maintaining and improving our existing commitments.

With my Foundation colleagues, we have set aside the next two weeks to begin the process of very visibly mapping our current resource allocations. We will do this not only relying on the standard metrics of ‘department’ and ‘budget’ but also by building an integrated view of how the Foundation’s resources taken together support each of our Wikimedia projects (e.g., Wikipedias, Wikimedia Commons, Wikisource, Wikidata, Wiktionary, etc…), each of our regions/affiliates/language communities, and each of our key audiences. We are certain that our first iteration will need refinement and improvement.

It will also start an informed dialogue about what we are - and are not - supporting with the Foundation’s current resources. We will revise the Foundation’s planning framework to align more explicitly and pragmatically to our movement’s strategy. I believe this can shape a multi-year view of targeted investments that match priorities, not merely across-the-board growth.

A six-month planning process cannot solve the puzzles described above, but we will tackle them all – asking what the world needs from us and what we are delivering with our current resources to shape further investment in our movement’s growth. I am certain many of you have detailed questions about this process that I can’t yet answer! What I do know is that I will communicate weekly to Foundation staff about our experimentation with these new ways of working and planning in the first quarter of 2022 (January-March) and that we will host a series of community conversations and engagements in April. The goal of these sessions will be to share our thinking about the Foundation’s priorities and support for the broader movement. We will then iterate further based on this input before approval by the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees in June 2022.

Priority 2: Attract and retain global leaders to the Wikimedia Foundation, starting with product and technology edit

CEO transitions are disruptive for most organisations and change often continues after a new leader has arrived. My onboarding over the past several months has given me a baseline understanding of each area of the Wikimedia Foundation. I have a lot more work to do but am grateful to have already met and learned from over 20% of our staff.

My most immediate task is to actively step in and support the Foundation’s product and technology teams while we recruit for executive leadership of these mission critical functions with a new Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology Officer. Having studied the history of these two departments since they were separated in 2015, I have shared with our current leadership that now is a unique moment to capitalize on every opportunity we have of increasing impact through our product and technology - even during this time of leadership transition - by improving our ways of working together, not just relying on organisational structure and hierarchy.

Given the calibre, commitment and brilliance of staff we have in the Foundation’s product and technology teams, I am committed to attracting the right leaders who can empower and enable them to move us all forward.

Priority 3: Refresh the organisational values of the Wikimedia Foundation to guide our way   edit

In my conversations with chapters, user groups, and thematic organisations, I asked about and listened for how they define their own organisational values. What fundamental core values do they rely on to guide their way? The Wikimedia Foundation also has a set of organizational values. For me, these cannot only be lofty statements of inspiration, they must be clear enough to help guide everyday actions, behaviours, and expectations.

I will spend the next six months gathering input on how the Foundation’s organisational values do this now, and if a refresh may be needed as we look to the future. For me, this is about creating clarity and alignment at the most fundamental level of what an organisation uses to guide its way.

Other focus areas for my first six months edit

While these three priorities will shape my internal focus at the Wikimedia Foundation, I will continue to learn from and engage with our movement strategy and governance processes, including the work of the Movement Charter Drafting Committee. I will also begin meeting with some of our most important collaborators in the free knowledge ecosystem. Finally, I will invest in building a strong partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees so that together we can meet the expectations of our movement to lead and to serve. Like me, several of our Trustees are also new to their roles. In light of this, and also to provide space for the development of the Global Council, I have asked the board to consider staggering its further expansion while both I and many of our new Trustees find our footing in the year ahead.

While the ‘tour’ may be done, my listening and learning continues. I will spend the first few months of 2022 with Foundation teams based on the west and east coasts of the United States. Where the pandemic makes it possible, I hope to also meet with interested volunteers and community members as I travel.

Over the past two decades, you have created one of the most astonishing digital communities in all of human history. Tomorrow, we will celebrate this again on Wikipedia’s 21st birthday. I am full of abundant optimism for what lies ahead. And without being too naive, I am ready to work for the day when this can be true for us all:

“Knowledge knows no boundaries. And yet we are averse to differences. Differences in culture, language, experiences. This is my hope. That one day people refer to Wikimedia as one and only … They wouldn't care whether there is a Foundation, or a Wikimedia this or that. They'd just say: ‘Wikimedia is making knowledge a better place.’”

Thank you again for taking the time to read my message. I will continue to benefit from any feedback, comments, or suggestions.