The Wikimedia Foundation: doing strategic planning the open source way

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Earlier this week I wrote a post about some of the cultural challenges Wikipedia is facing as its contribution rate has slowed. The comments you made were fantastic, including one by Dr. Ed H Chi (the PARC scientist who published the study I referred to in the post) linking to a prototype dashboard his team created to showcase who is editing each Wikipedia page (totally fascinating—you have to go try it!)

Another interesting comment was made by my good friend Paul Salazar, who pointed us to this page where the Wikimedia Foundation (the parent organization that runs Wikipedia, among other projects) is showcasing their exhaustive, happening-as-we-speak strategic planning process in all of its transparent, open glory.

From the main page, you can read the entire strategy memo that was presented to the Wikimedia Foundation board just last month. The memo itself is stunningly smart. Google must have thought so too, because they made a $2 million donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, announced a few weeks ago.

But it doesn't stop at high-level strategy for the eyes of muckety-mucks. From this page you can find proposals (hundreds were submitted, and just like on Wikipedia, anyone could contribute), background research, and task forces that have come together to discuss some of the major strategic challenges outlined in the initial strategic plan.

For instance, I found the task force looking at community health, a subject I addressed in my original post. The #1 area this task force suggested be addressed is recognition, and they've created a full page of recommendations on how to do just that.

I've gotta say. I've seen strategic planning, but I have never seen strategic planning like this before. Open, transparent discussion. Broad collaboration. Deep analysis, insight, and research from the people who care most and are closest to the issues and challenges being addressed—meritocracy in action.

It is revolutionary and amazing. It will be fun to see (and hopefully participate in) where this goes.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


If you want to read more articles about this from HBR or from Eugene Eric Kim, who is leading the Wikimedia open strategy project, look over in the right-hand column --------------------->

at the "What we're reading" section

I notice that any comments left here that might be critical of the Wikimedia Strategic Planning process are promptly deleted. What does that say about the principals of "open" and "transparent"?

Hi Gregory:
I did remove your comment yesterday. I did not remove it because it was critical of the Wikimedia strategy. That is fine and we definitely want to encourage different opinions.
It was removed because it seemed to violate the Community Behavior Rules that are part of our Terms of Use:
If you would like to discuss further please shoot me an email: mackanic(at)redhatdotcom.
Thanks for your participation and helping to create a lively dialogue.

I'm sorry, but the way the Foundation is doing this isn't the "open source" way. And I say that as an open source developer myself. I've never worked on an open source project that let just anyone commit to the code repository; that privilege had to be earned by convincing the rest of the development team that you weren't completely incompetent by, at the very least, demonstrating that you had some clue about what you're doing and usually by actually offering useful improvements to the code.

Wikipedia's "anybody can edit" model is not, and never has been, comparable to the open source development model; it is and always has been lacking the principle that the privilege of publication is earned based on merit. as a result, the cultures are totally different, something which is painfull obvious to anyone who stops and looks for more than a moment (at least without the rose-colored glasses that seem to be de riguer with Wikimedia fanbois).

In the particular case of the strategy wiki, the "any idiot can edit" principle has led to a great heap of garbage with a few semi-precious gems buried within. Of course, confirmation bias on the part of said Wikimedia fanbois means that the semi-precious gems are all that gets attention; nobody talks about the smelly heap of garbage in the back room or the huge amount of volunteer effort that is wasted on shoveling it away.

Nice metaphor, but damn, if I knew there was a pile of precious gems hidden in some garbage, I'd be seeking them out.

Your comparison with open source code misses a key point. On wikis, people will revert the content that's not good enough. On wikis, all code compiles, but some content is more buggy than other content. The procedural difference is pointless. If anyone can post patches, anyone can post patches. 'Sides, people can always compile their own versions.

The procedural difference totally matters. On an open source project, entry to the community (that is, commit access) is earned by merit, and because it has to be earned and can be taken away if abused, it is thought to be of value, is treated with respect, is not lightly squandered, and can therefore form the basis a bond of trust.

On a wiki, entry to the community is a presumptive right, and so none of the above obtains. Most notably, this means that there is no bond of trust between editors on a wiki. The notion that there is an inherent "right to edit" is endemic at Wikipedia and is the source of a great deal of its internal sociological difficulties.

that everyone can have their opinions heard, as the above comments show.

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