Wikimedia Foundation Board Minutes
April 19, 2018
Location: Berlin, Germany
Board of Trustees present: Christophe Henner (Chair), María Sefidari (Vice Chair), Esra'a Al Shafei, Kelly Battles (present online for part of the meeting), James Heilman, Dariusz Jemielniak, Raju Narisetti, Nataliia Tymkiv, Jimmy Wales (present online for part of the meeting), Alice Wiegand
Board of Trustees absent: None
Non-Board members present: Katherine Maher (Executive Director), Eileen Hershenov (Secretary; General Counsel), Jaime Villagomez (Treasurer; Chief Financial Officer), Chuck Roslof (Legal Counsel)
Non-Board members present for a portion of the meeting: Victoria Coleman (Chief Technology Officer), Maggie Dennis (Interim Chief of Community Engagement), Nicole Ebber (Process Lead, Movement Strategy), Lisa Gruwell (Chief Advancement Officer), Rob Lancaster (Facilitator, Movement Strategy), Toby Negrin (Chief Product Officer), Bhavesh Patel (Facilitator, Movement Strategy), Josh Weinberg (Chief of Staff)
The meeting was called to order at 9:00 AM CEST. Christophe, María, Esra'a, James, Dariusz, Raju, Nataliia, and Alice were present. The Secretary confirmed the presence of a quorum. The Chair welcomed everyone and reviewed the agenda.
Toby Negrin was present for a portion of this section of the meeting.
Katherine and Jaime presented an overview of the Foundation’s revenue and finances for the fiscal year to-date (July 2017 through March 2018). Katherine presented an update on the Foundation’s hiring, including the hiring plan for the Chief of Community Engagement position. Katherine reported on the Foundation’s year-over-year trends regarding diversity and inclusion in hiring and ongoing efforts to ensure diverse pools of qualified candidates.
Katherine and Toby presented the most recent user engagement metrics. They outlined plans for improving the methods by which the Foundation gathers engagement data, analyzes it, and presents metrics. Toby and Katherine highlighted that there is work to be done to improve the Foundation’s data systems as a prerequisite to the kind of analysis the Foundation wants to do.
Toby explained that the new approach to metrics is designed to provide a better indication of the overall health and impact of the programs. He previewed the type of metrics that would be used to measure movement metrics and the connection to specific programs and said he would present an implementation plan by June 1. Eileen noted that the privacy cross-departmental program is involved in ensuring that usage data is gathered consistent with the Foundation’s commitments to user privacy—which in some cases means that we cannot calculate industry standard metrics.
Nicole Ebber, Rob Lancaster, and Bhavesh Patel were present for this section of the meeting.
Katherine presented, and the Board discussed, an update on the current status of the Movement Strategy process and an overview of Phase II of that process. Katherine described Phase II as focusing on implementing the strategic direction, rather than interpreting it. For the broader Wikimedia movement, Phase II involves forming working groups, conducting research, and consulting with a broad range of stakeholders in order to make recommendations around addressing inter-movement priorities. For the Wikimedia Foundation, Phase II involves spending the 2018-19 fiscal year developing a 3-5 year strategic plan. Wikimedia affiliates and other organized groups are similarly encouraged to begin aligning their work to the direction.
Rob described how the strategy track at Wikimedia Conference would work, with the goal of producing "input documents" to help the Strategy Team design the next steps of the process. Katherine explained some of the possible themes for those input documents and for the strategy working groups going forward, including: capacity building, resources, governance, partnerships, diversity and inclusion, technology, community health, and events. Those themes build on conversations the Board had at its November 2017 meeting and retreat.
The trustees were invited to share their reactions to the Phase II Movement Strategy plan. Those reactions included:
- Building partnerships with other organizations is going to be key; we need to become a more inclusive movement.
- As working groups develop their themes, they may wind up conflicting with each other over questions of how resources should be prioritized.
- It may be difficult to sustain engagement through Phase II, especially after the huge involvement in Phase I.
- We need to be careful about how we use the resource of community attention and participation.
- Many of the possible themes are broad and having conversations about them could be difficult and time-consuming.
- Discussion concerning the best way for the Board to participate. How can the Board’s participation facilitate everyone’s willingness and ability to be bold and make hard decisions?
The Board generated ideas in response to the question "In what ways can the board commit to working—collectively and individually—during the strategy track and after the conference?" It then grouped the ideas by theme, and generated titles for the thematic groups. The resulting groups and ideas were:
- Respecting and accepting differences
- assure each person’s power (not influence)
- be inclusive and open-minded
- Supporting community engagement
- encourage participation of less-represented groups
- facilitate the transmission of knowledge
- encourage cross-cultural collaboration
- engage communities in conversation
- join the discussions, including on mailing lists and Meta-Wiki
- attend regional events
- Generating purposeful results
- balance time spent on strategy formulation vs. execution
- clarify expectations for ourselves (the Board)
- provide robust feedback and maintain continuous alignment without slowing down
- keep an external focus
- Ensuring process sustainability
- support the legitimacy of the strategic process
- maintain the continuity of internal legitimacy
The Board further discussed its approach to engaging in strategy conversations during and after Wikimedia Conference. It expressed a desire to engage in the process and help it be effective and inclusive without dominating the conversations. The Board recognized its unique role in responding to recommendations from the broader Wikimedia movement.
Jimmy Wales and Lisa Gruwell were present for this section of the meeting.
Eileen provided the Board with a memorandum on the background and current status of the Wikimedia Endowment prior to the Board meeting. The Endowment currently holds between $22 and $23 million, which is on track to the ten-year goal of $100 million. The purpose of the Endowment is to fund the Wikimedia projects in perpetuity.
Eileen and Lisa presented on the rationale for, and process of the establishment of the Endowment (including community consultations), its current structure (housed at, and administered by, the Tides Foundation in San Francisco), and its history of Foundation and third party funding. The goal of the presentation was to ensure that all Board members had the same level of information about the Endowment up to the present. Because not all Trustees were able to attend due to time zone differences, the Board agreed to postpone discussion around the following two decisions: a) how the Board should approach Foundation funding of the Endowment in the future; and b) a proposal to extend the time for Legal and Advancement to come back to the Board with recommendations for the appropriate future structure of the Endowment. These discussions and action items were recommended to be resumed at a dedicated session, potentially in May.
Eileen, Lisa, and a few trustees expressed satisfaction with the current structure of the Endowment, which is being managed by Tides in a cost-efficient manner pursuant to the agreement between WMF and Tides, with guidance from the Endowment’s Advisory Board.
Risks and Mitigation
Kelly Battles joined the meeting during this section.
Eileen gave a presentation on organizational risks to the Foundation (financial, legal and reputational) and the approaches being taken to mitigate those risks. Categories of risk included legal and political, technological, personnel, community, competitive, fundraising, and public relations. The Board discussion focused on issues related to censorship, and actions the Foundation is taking or could take to mitigate censorship-related risks.
Katherine briefly summarized the Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2018-19, which had been discussed in more detail at the March 27, 2018 Board meeting and had since been shared for community input on Meta-Wiki.
In response to questions from the Board about some of the stretch goals, Katherine noted that some of the targets may not be fully achievable, as the Foundation has not set these types of targets previously. Therefore, it is difficult to fully assess how realistic or viable these targets are. The rationale is for the targets to be somewhat of a stretch, to incentivize the organization to mobilize to reach them and to emphasize accountability, but also to allow for the possibility of not reaching all of them, in an effort to create a culture of healthy experimentation. While the Foundation has developed some very good metrics and is working on more, there are some targets that we don’t yet know how to measure. Teams were working on these and being challenged to be creative.
The $92.1 million expense budget for the Annual Plan represents a 20% increase over FY 2017-18. Katherine provided a breakdown of how the department and priority area budgets have evolved from original submissions to the plan eventually presented on Meta on March 29. Katherine explained that overall budget increases against the prior year were primarily driven by personnel, as departments invest in their capacity to deliver on strategic goals going forward. Cuts to initial department budget submissions were also personnel-driven, reflecting realistic expectations about the organization’s ability to hire, onboard, and put new people to work.
Katherine noted that hiring process bottlenecks could pose potential barriers to the Foundation’s ability to deliver on the Annual Plan, as the Foundation seeks to more than double its recruiting capacity over the course of the year. She described the steps the Foundation will take to facilitate planned hiring, including improving hiring manager accountability, using internal promotions, streamlining interview teams, and hiring for some roles in batches based on standardized job descriptions. The Foundation leadership emphasize and improve diversity and inclusion efforts in hiring. It will also continue to monitor and assess progress in hiring against the Plan and take corrective action as necessary.
Toby Negrin, Victoria Coleman, and Maggie Dennis were present for this section of the meeting.
Wikimedia staff gave several presentations providing more detail on programs included in the FY 2018-19 Annual Plan.
Katherine presented on the Foundation’s plans to invest in the future of the Wikimedia platform, plans built in some respects on conversations that had been happening for years, but which have been given focus and clarity by the strategic direction. For the platform, "knowledge as a service" means building new experiences and interfaces for Wikimedia content. "Knowledge equity" means making Wikimedia software fully functional across all platforms, devices, languages, geographies and abilities. Katherine emphasized that platform evolution is a critical program and investment that will make it possible for the Foundation to do what it wants and needs to do.
Katherine presented the three outcomes planned for the platform evolution program in FY 2018-19: (1) ensuring that people can engage with Wikimedia no matter where they’re coming from or what device they’re on, and improving the service and API layers; (2) getting away from current workarounds to make software and infrastructure easy to scale, develop, maintain, and test; and (3) improving documentation and, by extension, better supporting third-party API consumers. Victoria explained how the Technology department would work to achieve the program outcomes, by building a core platform team from separate existing teams and by partnering with Audiences and with Wikimedia Deutschland.
Katherine then presented on Wikidata, which she explained as having already become an essential part of the broader infrastructure for free and open knowledge. She described the approach to supporting Wikidata as first determining use cases for Wikidata, then developing product and an ecosystem to support and facilitate the use cases, both initially and on an ongoing basis. Those use cases might include Wikipedia, institutional users of Wikidata/Wikibase, APIs built for non-Wikimedia users, and offering services to others in addition to APIs.
Toby presented on the status quo and future plans regarding editor retention. There are several priority focus areas for improvement, including strategic planning and goal-setting, open communication and engagement with community members (with a focus on non-English communities), management and design competencies, and clear lines of responsibility. Toby discussed how the organization has seen success by partnering with the community on product rollouts, rather than doing a "big reveal" launch.
Toby discussed the need for conducting research to inform product development plans. The Audiences department utilized this approach in FY 2018-19, informed by the New Editors and New Readers research. The New Editors team researched the motivations and behaviors of mid-sized wikis, partnering with editors of Czech and Korean Wikipedias, to understand the effects the Wikimedia technology and community have on new contributor experiences. Findings indicated that common barriers to editor retention include learning Wikipedia’s policies, navigating the complexity of how Wikipedia is made, editing processes and mechanisms that aren’t intuitive or discoverable, and the daunting nature of content gaps on smaller Wikipedias. Toby outlined the Foundation’s planned product interventions in the FY 2018-19 Annual Plan, developed to respond to research findings.
Katherine, Toby, and Maggie presented on ongoing work to develop tools for the community to use to maintain community health, including new tools that allow for more granular interventions, such as more selective blocking and the improvement of existing tools such as abuse filter. The Foundation is also supporting community efforts to implement new behavior policies and better enforce existing policies. Maggie and Toby presented a plan to tracking metrics that could help provide insight into whether community health tools and policies are effective.
Katherine and Maggie presented additional work in the Community Health program. The program supported a Harvard-led research project to analyze dispute resolution processes and policies. Technology has worked on improving automated sockpuppet detection. Legal and Trust & Safety have worked on investigating specific user behavior. Several Community Engagement teams have worked together to develop resources to support the safety of in-person events. Some of the new approaches will be in evidence at Wikimedia Conference.
Katherine presented on the Foundation’s efforts to reach people in countries with low awareness and usage of Wikipedia. Successful ad campaigns in Iraq and Nigeria, created in collaboration with local Wikimedians, received millions of views each (a significant portion of each country’s population) and resulted in significant increases in awareness and pageviews. Another campaign is in progress in India. Whether and the degree to which these increases are sustained and translate into new users and contributors over time continues to be evaluated. Katherine presented future plans for this work, including reaching additional markets and refining techniques for measuring campaigns’ effects.
Katherine and Lisa also presented on Project Tiger, a pilot program run in partnership with Google to grow Wikimedia content in Indic languages. The program involves a three-month editing contest. Chromebooks and Internet access were provided to 50 volunteers, with a goal of 2000 new articles created from a list of the most requested missing content on Wikimedia in the target languages. Katherine emphasized that readership of Wikipedia is driven by there being content that people want to read and which will attract and retain new audiences. Preliminary results from the project indicated it was on track to meet its goals, suggesting that the pilot could be expanded to additional countries and language projects.
Nataliia presented a trustee profile for a candidate to fill Alice’s seat at the conclusion of her term in July. The Board expressed its approval of the profile, which emphasized organizational leadership experience in the technology sector. Nataliia gave the Board a few more days to review the profile and provide input, after which the Board Governance Committee would move forward with the recruitment process.
The Board also discussed recruitment for the trustee to fill Kelly’s seat at the conclusion of her term in July. Kelly, Jaime, and Katherine had spoken with a short list of three candidates, with Nataliia to interview them next for a recommendation to the BGC.
The Board approved the minutes from the March 27, 2018 meeting after a motion by Christophe, seconded by Raju.
Jaime presented a proposed revision to the Foundation investment policy that shifted to a model more focused on cash preservation than on short-term equity. The revised policy also added to the investment objectives a commitment to environmental sustainability. Kelly provided some additional context, saying that the updated policy is appropriate for where the Foundation is as an organization and is appropriate based on similar decisions made by other organizations.
The Board approved the updated Wikimedia Foundation Investment Policy after a motion by María, seconded by Alice.
Foundation staff members were excused at this point in the meeting, and the Board held a confidential executive session. At the conclusion of the executive session, the meeting closed.