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Meetups/Wikimedia-Bridgespan Workshop (August 2009)

From Strategic Planning

This is an idea of how the process should look. It is NOT a definitive word. You are free to read it, but please comment on the talk page, not making adjustments to this page.

Group picture from our August 5, 2009 workshop.

Pictures from our workshop


Members of the community (including Bridgespan, WMF staff, and volunteers) met for an all day retreat at Artspace in San Francisco.

These are very rough notes from the day which will be cleaned up as much as possible. They are posted here in the interests of transparency.

Opening Exercise

An opening exercise was asking people what the last Wikipedia page they viewed was. Answers included: "Grand Theft Auto" (the game); Komondor; 4H; John Dillenger; Han Dynasty; Farenheit 451; and the Dell article.

Graphic Window



Some major pieces are:

  • What does "community-driven" mean?
    • And is that language what we mean?
  • Is there something to actually engage in yet? That's why this strategy wiki hasn't been commonly publicized; also translations.
  • What are the issues about with the wiki-structure of strategy.wiki? We need to talk more about that.

One of the devs asked us "Why should I care"? When I'm overworked and in a totally reactive mode, why should I care? The technical folks in our community are probably feeling that more than most.

We have a subset of the community (the Foundation) that knows what it wants to get out of the process. One of the things that we have to do is to make sure that we're setting reasonable explanations. Language is important.

Phase I

Reviewed the proposed timespan for Bridgespan deliverables. (slide: Workplan for Phase I)

  • We'll profile reach, quality/content, and participation. Initial findings to be released to community b/w 8/10 and 8/24. The community will then grab those and run with them. Also, We know that it's going to be impossible to get to the answers, but we're just trying to take the data that we have to at least get some starting points. The idea is that there will be a common fact base for the working groups to refer to. Some of the work that Bridgespan is doing might encourage parts of the community to do something similar for other parts of the community. Are we asking the right questions to get input and are we being transparent as to what we're going to do with it?
  • Deliverables: Fact base context briefs (public, on the wiki); hope to have good first answers by Wikimania, but we've hit some roadblocks on data. By going public, hopefully the community will be able to help out. We should think about the language: we can't call them "final" or "deliverable"; or shouldn't rather.
  • The idea of doing a fact base was the principle of getting shared data out to the community. Hopefully those facts will start to cut through some of the "perspective" parts of the community discussions.
  • What feels like a big piece of the strategy is "what is the mandate/charter for the working groups". We'll talk about that some during the working groups design. That has to be really good; we don't want to throw nouns out, but give clear focused ideas to people so that they can do the work.
  • There is some concern about the very nature of the working groups; we haven't had a great history with committees (although some ad hoc groups have done well, and a few committees have done very well). It depends upon both the people and the mandate. The language is very important: these aren't committees (which sit in a room and think), but work groups or task forces, and they are temporary in nature.
  • Part of what we do in this project is to do is the stuff that doesn't tend to organically happen. If spontaneously there has not arisen the ability to have a mass conversation, then its our job to try to make that happen. That is part of the overarching role of the Foundation; to make things happen when they don't happen organically or naturally. That is, in fact, why this project exists.
  • Philippe gave overviews of strategy.wiki; translators-l; how do we go out to people where they are and ask them to either engage with us on strategy.wiki or meta or wherever they are. We cant just ask them to come to us, we also have to go to them. IRC office hours, etc.


Phase II and III

Group 1

totally scrapped the question and started down a set of questions about who the engaged beings are: how would they be involved and what would their conversations be? The language we're using is "open community process" - there's a set of mandates and codes, and a modeling process, supports are provided, then there would be clarity about how it's done. There's an idea that the Fdn would set up a series of questions about what are most important; but here's how any person in the community can participate either in part or in parallel.

To emphasize the parallel-ability; what we mean is not only that there are participation mechanisms in place, but that we see it as a process that people can take, replicate, do with what they will. When we went through the process of identifying the "who", we realized that we were paying a lot of attention to volunteers. The harder question isn't how to engage volunteers, it's how to engage with the other people. The challenge is the communication, trust building, ownership. How do we describe the architecture to the other people? It shouldn't just be us saying "we need to talk to xyz", it needs to be an owned decision to make it a collective process.

Discussing the idea of an outreach hub on the strategy.wiki that allows it to become a community owned process when we bring in other people.

"Open Community Process" - it's an open community; not a community that closes itself off or sets itself in stone. Fundamentally, people agree with that idea, but the community may be suspicious of hierarchy. They're not suspicious of opening up the process.

It will be easy to reach out to the meta community; not just to volunteers, but to that specific subset of volunteers.

We want to start implementing some of the things that surface early. There should be a way to sign up and just DO it, rather than sending it through a whole process. If you want to do xyz, go ahead and just start doing it.

There will have to be a deadline/resolution point; a process by which something has to be done to be included in the final plan; Is it important to say up front "this is the mechanism by which we close discussions in order to come to synthesis and decision making?" On the front end the idea of the key questions is important; the ways that people should interact and the expectation, etc. We need bridges to reach those people who don't access the world through wikis. That will actually define the open community process. Build out tools on "here's how you hold a meeting on this topic" or "here's how you engage an expert".

Group 2

First big thing we did was say OK, it's not one sort of framing, but to understand that there are different levels of involvement by the community. We then threw out community and decided to call them "volunteers", or those people who self-identify as caring.

This is really bifurcated; the first part is a high degree of input from the volunteers/community. The second part is really a distillation and winnowing process to form what the Foundation business plan is, and to inform other things like a chapter section. Then, we talked about whether the timeline was sufficient to get the level of volunteer involvement that's necessary to provide the wealth of necessary information and synthesis and start to bucket them. With the process beginning now, we sort of feel like that's okay. So what's the purpose in the beginning phases? From the community part the idea is proposals and tagging and moving them into the broad themes that will form the working groups.

It may or may not be sufficient; there needs to be a mechanism by which those who aren't part of the "community" can give input to inform the broad themes. The working groups will start to identify and prioritize the various inputs that they have. Some of the stuff will naturally fall out and happen, because it is so easy it doesn't need a process, or because it doesn't need Fdn resources, or it's just not aligned to the themes.

Then, a synthesis piece will occur where a group (smaller but representative) comes together and within the framework of the mission and vision of the movement evaluates what makes its way into the strategic direction for the Foundation, issues for the chapters, etc. The major areas that came up were whether working groups could really handle tactical and strategic issues both. Also, who's going to be in that big box, and the need for synthesis within that box. For the process to have legitimacy, the people in that box have to have the good faith, mission, and values of the community. The Board is the closest we have, but that's really not fair to the board. It needs to be very carefully considered (who's in it? what's their role?). People engage in a process according to their expectations. In the spirit of truth in advertising, we need to be clear about what the process is.

Ultimately, we decided that the purpose of that group was to make the hard decisions that need to be made by multiple parties. Nothing constrains volunteers from taking an idea and running with it. A proposal could be the basis of a framework for something that could happen above and beyond a working group. We recognize that the process has already morphed; in the original plan the call for proposals wasn't in the first phase of work. A 6 month time frame might be the right time frame. The box is a pipeline to determine the best path towards action, perhaps?

In this process there are going to be choices and action that might have to be dealt with at the same time. The ability to say "we want to take action" could create a backlog. The idea is that in a given period of time we need to wrestle with those things in parallel, not just that the first thing through the door make it into the decision making process. The "box" may be a January two-day meeting. It won't be a long consultative process of its own; it wont deal with granular proposals, but with broader themes. It might include a provisional commitment. We talked about prioritizing decisions as well; part of this project will just document stuff that most people already know. Obviously bandwidth and servers will come first, but we also agree that (for instance) public outreach is a priority as well. That way there's legitimate to the Foundation doing what it's already doing.

Incremental changes are good and those may be the easy ones. But what about the revolutionary changes that might come along? While the folks in the "box" might not carry legitimacy, the PROCESS does - the idea would go through the call for proposals, get through working groups, get to the box, etc.... in all cases, it would have to demonstrate its legitimacy. One of the tactical challenges of this group is to draw the picture and communicate it. The problem is that there's no good mechanism within the community to make a large scale change; it's all well and good to say that it exists. Identifying gaps is just as useful as part of this.

There are several things that may be happening: What goes into the synthesis process? (Limit themselves to the input from the working group, not come up with new ideas of their own, but work only with what comes out of earlier things). Synthesize and recommend priorities. Figure out what appropriate next steps are for each of the activities. Also, find the right home for the priority. It seems that some things will go back into their streams, or where there is real controversy, figure out next steps for resolving the process, like create a task force that can go forward and work on something. Some things are going to be really easy, but some are going to be hard.


  1. Continual amazement about how big the process is. Could be amazement, could be terror.
  2. Guidance on appropriate times for Bridgespan to engage with the wiki.
  3. Most of the time, the tendency is to get lost in the details and forget the big picture. Today was the opposite way around; we've been talking a lot about the big picture and may have lost the details. How do we reconcile the 30,000 foot picture with the concrete next steps?
  4. How do I push things forward while keeping the "community" in mind?
  5. To what extent is it important to have the Board involved to underscore and gain legitimacy? It might be good to have that as a point of departure. At Wikimania, we want to be able to say "do you approve this", and have the Board endorse it or whatever.
  6. Hopefully this is a model for something that's ongoing and won't just stop, and also a model for something that could happen for each project as well.
  7. Eugene has been a graceful and thoughtful facilitator.

Next Steps

  1. Recast the ideas, allowing the "paper" view to catch up to the "reality" view. Our timeline for this is three weeks, so it's ready for Wikimania.
  • The details
  • The high level picture
  • Anything we put up should probably be topped with a {{draft}} template.
  • Easy to have a series of templates that say things like "this page is maintained by staff" or "....bridgespan", or whatever.
  1. Does the timeline and resource allocation need to be revisited? Yes, even if it comes out exactly the same way.
  2. Put together a couple of times to get together to work on this resource allocation and plan.
  3. Prepare for the more robust roll-out.
  4. Content analysis work (the fact base papers)
  5. Guiding principles are important. The Board has laid some of those out. Do we need to put them on the strategy.wiki? There are some obvious dangers: the perfect is the enemy of the good, etc.


Some of our graphics are the suck. We really need to work on some better (non-linear) graphics.

We need to move towards the language of "We". But we need to also point out that we all bring valuable diverse experiences; the process can benefit from the deep experiences and we don't need to average everything out.

Philippe's favorite definition of community is "the people that share this space".