Wikimedia Foundation Chief Executive Officer/Updates/Three Month Update and Wikimedia Foundation Draft Plan

Three Month Update & Wikimedia Foundation Draft Plan edit

Hi everyone,

It’s my third time writing to you in this format. My first note was on September 14 last year when my appointment was announced, then on January 14 when I shared what I heard from many of you on the listening tour, and now on April 14 to reflect on my first three months as CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. I am home in South Africa after a few months in the United States, where the highlight of joining Wikimedia has been bringing colleagues together – volunteers, editors, affiliates, Foundation staff, board members – to reconnect at a human level. I sense that gathering in person again, where it is safe and practical to do so, may help us all build and rebuild relationships.

Reinforcing connections to each other, and to the world beyond us, is some of what I reflected on in my “Puzzles and Priorities” letter, which followed from conversations with hundreds of Wikimedians. Three months later, I wanted to share some of the progress we’ve started to make on the priorities.

Priority 1: Foundation’s Annual Plan edit

My top priority was reimagining the way we approached planning at the Wikimedia Foundation. Since January, we have done the following:

  • We started by asking what the world needs from us now - a question I heard from many of you last year.  One starting point for this year’s planning was to look at some (not all) of the key trends shaping the world around us: from the rise of government regulation to the increased threats of misinformation and disinformation, the changing nature of search, and growing global demands for content. We hosted a staff conversation in January and asked communities for their additional insights.
  • We then tried to answer – in two ways – the question of how the Foundation’s current resources were being allocated now: (1) an organizational overview looking at how the Foundation collectively supports Wikimedia projects, regions, language communities and audiences; and (2) department overviews to help our staff understand all of the current work. These processes have gone through 2-3 iterations since January based on suggestions for further improvement from our teams.
  • We also provided guidance on slower budget growth. The Wikimedia Foundation has grown very rapidly over the past 3 years – increasing its budget by more than 30% in the past year with the addition of more than 200 new people since 2020.This will not continue as we stabilize this expansion and make sure that new resources are delivering maximum impact for our mission. We anticipate a 17% increase in our 2022−2023 budget, most of this representing inflationary and other year-on-year costs. Funding to other movement entities (individual and affiliate) will increase for next year by at least the same 17% percent, if not more. Because the vast majority of the Foundation’s own budget is allocated to staffing costs, our most important resource decisions are about the time and performance of our people and teams.
  • We spent time reflecting on the strategic direction that should guide our annual planning. The Wikimedia Foundation’s recent annual plans have identified important high-level goals and medium-term objectives. Historically, it has not always been clear how these related to the movement strategy, a multi-year process to provide clarity of direction to 2030. We have adopted the strategic direction of our Movement Strategy to guide this annual plan and our organizational objectives – to clarify how “knowledge as a service” and “knowledge equity” can guide the implementation of current and future work at the Foundation.
  • Finally, the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual plan has often been presented as primarily one-way information sharing. As we more explicitly focus on movement strategy through this annual plan, we aspire to more deliberate two-way planning by asking what others who share similar goals are also doing. For those who are interested in trying this, more deliberate two-way planning may help better visualize the collective needs, efforts, and opportunities across communities and to identify further collaborations that could be developed or deepened by region, by project, or by another area of interest.

Inspired by our projects, the Foundation’s draft plan is on Meta as a long-form text document in multiple languages. We hope this format will allow for more (and multilingual) engagement on substance and ideas, while also communicating complexity and nuance that may be difficult to achieve only through slides and spreadsheets. We have identified some thematic areas, not an exhaustive list of every Foundation initiative underway now. In some areas, we have described challenges with proposed solutions, and in other areas we have defined experiments to simply provide a concrete starting point for new ways of working.

Over the next month, we invite input from those who are interested on the Meta talk page or by joining open calls being hosted in different time zones. We’ll track comments on Meta and from the calls to shape a final document that the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees will approve in June.

Priority 2: Leadership for our product and technology teams edit

I highlighted in January that CEO transitions are disruptive for most organisations and change often continues after a new leader has arrived. One of my most immediate tasks has been to actively step in and support the Foundation’s Product and Technology departments while we recruit for executive leadership of these mission critical functions. I have spent most of my time in the first quarter with these teams, looking for opportunities to improve our ways of working even during a period of leadership transition.

I have also studied the history and evolution of the Foundation’s Product and Technology departments, which were first separated in 2015. Despite excellent work in both areas, the distance between Product and Technology has grown in recent years. At this moment in time, we will be best served by a single leader serving as the Wikimedia Foundation’s Chief Product & Technology Officer to share accountability with me for how we plan and execute our work end-to-end across product and engineering.

Hiring the right talent at this level is both art and science. So far, we have sourced hundreds of candidates in a global search spanning the world, although it will remain a rolling process until we find the right leader. I hope to share more soon.

Priority 3: Our Values edit

My final priority has been seeking to understand how the Wikimedia Foundation’s organizational values are lived in practice. This process remains ongoing. Over the past three months I have started by engaging the diverse employee resource groups at the Foundation, as well as our Board of Trustees.

Alongside this, I continue to support movement governance processes, meet with some of our most important collaborators in the free knowledge ecosystem, and invest in building a stronger partnership with our Trustees, many of whom are also new to their roles. And I am still listening and learning - thank you to those who have offered time for conversations and to share varying perspectives. Since my arrival, I have been communicating on a weekly basis with all Wikimedia Foundation staff and also with the board. I welcome feedback on how often you also want to hear from me - probably not every week!


Maryana Iskander
Wikimedia Foundation CEO