Strategic Plan/Movement Priorities/Theory of Change (Virtuous Circle)

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Virtuous cycle.png


This is a causal loop diagram that attempts to show a high-level picture of Wikimedia's strategic priorities and their relationships to each other.

The blue arrows show positive relationships. Red arrows show negative relationships.

For example, this diagram suggests that investing in standard APIs and data formats will improve reach. Improvements in reach will result in improvements in quality and participation.

Improvements in quality will also result in greater reach, because it will help meet the demand for higher-quality content. However, quality has a more complex relationship to participation. While better quality content will attract people who want to be surrounded by other content experts, it will discourage participants who are looking to create something new.


We can draw some conclusions from this incomplete diagram. First, reach, quality, and participation largely form a "virtuous circle," a positive feedback loop (the exception being the relationship between participation and quality, which is slightly more complex). Investments in one will have a positive effect on the others, although the size of the effect is not captured here.

Second, system stability forms a balancing loop with both reach and participation (and arguably quality, if quality is defined as "quality of experience" rather than "quality of content"). As Wikimedia gains greater reach and participation, system stability is at risk. Wikimedia must constantly invest in system stability in order to counterbalance other investments in increasing reach, quality, and participation.


Quality as a goal is worth fleshing out a bit more, because it's the most complex.

One way to improve quality is to encourage more "expert" contributors to edit pages. Currently, the vast majority of contributors are single men under the age of 30.[1] There are presumably many knowledgeable contributors who don't fall into that demographic. So encouraging a greater diversity of contributors would seem to have a positive effect on quality.

However, it also potentially introduces greater conflict, because of scale issues and because of differing perspectives. One could also argue that it might reduce conflict in the long-term, as women or older professionals might be better at handling conflict.


The different opportunities for improving participation include both new and active contributors. Having a greater diversity of contributors will generally improve the quality of content, but in order to improve the community experience, there must be a good balance between new and experienced editors, and new editors should be encouraged to become experienced.


Bringing the technology operations to the point where the Wikimedia community can be proactive is of critical importance, because every change we make to the system will likely have a negative impact on technology operations. This should be one of the highest priority goals of the movement.

Based on the diagram above, two opportunities for innovation stick out. The first is user experience. Improving the user experience of participation tools (editing, gardening, etc.) will have a positive effect on participation. It is one of the easiest things we can influence, and potentially one of the highest impact things we can do.

Improving Wikimedia's APIs is also a high potential, high priority item, because it enables innovation and could have a huge impact on reach. It makes it easy to create alternate ways to access Wikimedia content. It also enables mobile innovation and offline content access, which improves mobile reach.

What's Missing?

This diagram is meant to be high-level, and it is by nature incomplete. There may be some key pieces missing.

The relationships between tools and participation could also be further fleshed out. For example, making it easier to edit might discourage participation from some circles by inviting spam and vandalism.


  1. Ruediger Glott, Philipp Schmidt, and Rishab Ghosh, Wikipedia Survey – Overview of Results, UNU-MERIT, March 2010, last accessed 2010-06-25.