Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scale up

At the last day of the HBS course there are two cases about organizational scale ups. The first case was about an international nonprofit organization, which has the strongest similarity to WMF from all the cases. Organizational changes often mean a lot of stress inside of the organization.

Shortly after the Foundation was established the first chapters were created. In the following time both the Foundation, the chapters and other formal and informal groups grew up in a more or less organic way. In the past time we are more and more confronted with questions like: Who has which roles? Whom can we expect for what? Who has which duty?

Because our structures are so grassroot and so organical created, it poses some difficulty now to sort all these questions out. This is the reason why the board initiated the Movement Roles workgroup. It is a very important workgroup and its work will have influence on the organisation of the Foundation, the chapters and other friendly or informal groups. Because of this it is very very important, both for the Foundation, as well as the groups that would be potentially affected, to take part in this process, make their suggestions and work together.

At the end of the four days I would say that the course was a good investment for the Foundation. Even though the cases seem to be far distant from our own situation at the first glance, I inevitably discovers again and again similar situations and principles. We got some framework on how to analyse situations systematically, but more of that is that we got excercises in a lot of situations which can face a nonprofit organization in how to concentrate on the most important part of the board work: remain calm, always keep the mission in mind, and communicate.

The course was very intensive. Everyday we studied three to four cases. Every case had a discription of about in average 30 pages. The day started at 7:30 with groupwork on the cases of the day and ends at about 17:00. But that doesn't mean the end of day. On the receptions afterward and on dinner table discussion would go on and on. After I closed my door in the dorm and started my recapitulation about the next days course.

Although the days were very tough, I never felt sleepy in the classrooms because it was so interesting, so challenging and so engaging. I only noticed how tired I got went at the end of the day I shut off the light and fall almost instantly into sleep.

Preparation is important for the course. Who go to the course without studied the cases beforehand would find himself lost quite soon. Because the cases are all quite complicated and long, one need to cross read them one day before again so that the details can come back into the memory.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Theory of Change

One of the most discussed problem on the 4-day HBS course "Governing for Nonprofit Excellence", both on the course as well as off the course, is how to measure the impact of a strategy, an organization and how to measure the performance of an organization as well as its parts.

It is one of the most interested questions by almost all attendees. And it is also important for the WikiMedia Foundation.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question, not even from HBS.

The researchers at HBS consider the question in a very systematic way: At first, every organization has outputs. Outputs are things an organization can influence directly with its strategy and action. And they can be measured directly. In comparison to the outputs are outcomes. In HBS jargon outcomes are effects of an organization with their output. It is less in control of the organization, it is more a public effect. The sum of all outcomes are called impact by the HBS researchers.

For the WikiMedia Foundation, the number of articles is an obvious output. In issuing different policies we can (or can try to) influence this output. It is easy to measure. WikiMedia has a lot of such measurable values, like length of articles, article depth, visitor counts, etc. These are all what we often call metrics when we are discussing on our mailing-list or in the projects.

As everyone of us know, who had took part in these discussions, these metrics are no good measurements. The reason from them to be not good is that one can interpret them in a lot of ways. And they do not necessarily correlate with the outcome we wish.

The outcome we want to achieve is higher quality of our articles, more penetration of our projects, more participation of our users, more diversity of our projects, etc. And these are not so easy to measure.

Let's take the example of article quality. I know discussion about article quality since I joined our editing community. How can you design a measurement for so much articles in more than 270 languages in topics as different as top quark and Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva? The most obvious suggestion is article length. But the sole length of an article doesn't really reflect the quality of an article. An article could be very long, but still badly structured, poorly referenced and contains strong point of view. The article depth is a more sophisticated approach which treats a language version as a whole and tries to calculate how often the articles are updated. Beside technical and methodological problems there are also other difficulties in measuring quality. The perception for a good article and a bad article can differ between the editing community, the general public and experts of their fields. Each of these groups can have different criteria for quality of articles. For example the general public may value an article as higher quality because it is more comprehensible, but comprehensible may mean for an expert explanations that contain more ambivalent and misleading analogues.

Because of the difficulty of measurement of outcomes there is often a big gap between the measurable output of an organization and its impact. This problem is annoying for most of nonprofit organizations and highly uncomfortable for their boards. Nevertheless most of the organizations believe that they achieve impact with their work. The HBS researchers call this believe Theory of Change. It is a hypothetical and in many cases unproved theory about if we do this, than we will change the society in that way, and that would lead to the fulfillment of our mission. Most strategies of nonprofit organizations are based on theories of change.

So the theory of change of article length is that longer articles tend to contain more information, tend to be more thorough and thus of higher quality. The theory of change of article depth is that if more updates are done on a language version, then we can assume that the articles are more up-to-date, and more failures are corrected by the editing community, and thus better articles.

But as the many discussions in the past and current suggest these are all hypothetical theories and we don't really know.

The best way to proof the theory of change is to measure the outcome. As I had already written before, this is not easy. In many cases the organization also has no resource in know-how, man power and money to conduct a measurement or survey. The WikiMedia Foundation and our communities had in the past conducted a score of experiments and methods to measure the quality:

The featured article is doubtless the most successful of these. It is a measurement from the view of our editing community for high quality articles. Across all projects the threshold for featured articles are very high. With the public policy project WikiMedia Foundation began in the last months a test on user feed backs about quality from the reader perception. Although there were some outside evaluations with experts like those conducted by Nature or c't, these evaluations are often of too small a scale and not consistent enough to give us an overall trend over the years and across the language versions, or in more general fields.

So one of our major tasks in the coming years is still to find a way to bridge some gaps of theory of change. And one of the tasks of the board would be to engage our community and outside experts to free their resources and expertise to help us in this endeavor.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Vision, Mission, Strategy

In the four days while my stay in the Harvard Business School I often looked back at our vision, mission and strategy. The second day of the course concentrates on how vision and mission decide strategy. As Professor Leonhard put it, the question 0: What is we supposed to do.

Our vision is: Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.

Our mission is: The mission of the WikiMedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

And our overall strategy to fulfill that mission is: In coordination with a network of chapters and individual volunteers, the Foundation provides the essential infrastructure and an organizational framework for the support and development of multilingual wiki projects and other endeavors which serve this mission. The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity.

One of the most appalling think that we experienced in study the cases by HBS is that it shows how easily one lose his mission out of the sight and how difficult it often is to judge if a decision supports the mission. This seems especially easy in time of crisis. And that brings me back again and again to the most difficult discussions at the moment in our movement. The most difficult inside the board, between the board and the community, and inside the community: The controversial content discussion.

We have here two radical position that in my opinion reflects two aspects of our mission:

*The freedom of speech, the not censoring of project content according to whatever criteria as long as we move inside the frame of law reflects the aspect in our mission and vision, that we want to share the sum of ALL educational knowledge. And the sum of all knowledge certainly includes also those that are controversial.

*On the other hand, if part of the knowledge we are providing is so upset for part of the people around the world, so that they feel our projects as insulting and refuses to share their knowledge on our projects or share the knowledge that is collected on our projects, than we certainly failed to fulfill this aspect of our mission.

The call of boycott on the Aceh Wikipedia against the rest of our projects shows in a radical and confusing way how emotional and sometimes irrational this conflict even can evolve inside of our own community.

To me the duty of the board is to find out a way so that all aspects of our mission can be fulfilled, in engaged discussion with the community. Because it is a mission matter, it is a board issue, and because it is a mission matter, it is important. The lessons I learned by studying the cases is, it is all too easy to lost our mission, because of our personal view, because of the emotion that is involved in the discussion, because it relates to value and is a complicated topic. All this is for me even more reason to keep our mission in our mind when we are working through this topic. And again

Our vision is: Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.

Our mission is: The mission of the WikiMedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Leadership is ...

German version
Chinese version

... the process of bringing a new, and generally unwelcome reality to an organization, group or society and helping her/him/it/them successfully adapt to it."

Thus was it written on the blackboard in the classroom. I was attending a 4-day-course at the Harvard Business School with the name "Governing for Nonprofit Excellence".

While I was preparing for the course and reading through the cases my doubt and unease increased slowly. Would this be the right investment the Wikimedia Foundation is making? Would we and I as the current board chair really get any benefit from this course?

The cases are all very interesting, but they seem all so far away from us, I agree, a very unique organization. So what can I learn from a hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, searching for a merge partner?

A lot.

The story is about a non-profit organization, that had until now lived in a very comfortable zone, and that means,
- serving the value it is supposed to provide,
- has support from its community
- has resources for its operation,
and is now facing a changing environment which moves it out of this comfortable zone, erupting its support base. The story is about a board that recognized this danger and must make an uncomfortable decision and lead its organization to move on.

It strikes me how similar this sounds to us.

As a high-tech based organization, we are living in a fast changing world. A lot of things change around and inside of us:
- almost all governments, western free ones as more restrictive ones, are changing their laissez faire politic to the Internet and imposing more rigid policies for the web.
- the perception of the public on our projects, especially Wikipedia, is changing. We are no more that freaky Internet site five years ago, but one of the most important information source of the world. And that changes our responsibility to the public.
- our content changed, comparing the most early version of the article Boston with its state of the art there is a tremendous difference. And that means we raised our bar for new participants tremendously. And that changes slowly the composition of our very own community. It changes how we work and how we debate.
- the web technique changed in the past ten years since Wikipedia started. Its landscape changed dramatically during the ten years. Who is a veteran and had his own (first?) website on Geocities?

A lot of things that the Foundation and its board did in the last years has to do with these changes. The BLP resolution is a direct response to our changing responsibility to the general public as well as to the affected person. The usability project is a direct response to the changing technology. The change of our licensing model is also related to public perception and demand, because the pure GFDL is awesome for the use for printings. The strategic planning engages all the challenges we are facing. And the ongoing controversial content discussion is a result of our strategic planning (development and adaption in the nonwestern cultures) and the response of the changes in public policy and in our responsibility.

Non of these changes are uncontroversial and non of the discussions is unpainful. But if we want to fulfill our mission there is no other way as to move on.

What is interesting about the HBS course for me, is that by analyzing the cases I unavoidably come back again and again to our own situation. By looking at the others as an uninvolved observer it makes me more clearer to our own cases. And it provides me some guidance by providing frameworks or algorithms to analyze the situation more calmly and systematically.

Führung ist ...
... das Prozess, eine neue, allgemein unwillkommene Realität einer Organisation, Gruppe oder Gesellschaft kundzutun und sie/ihn/es/ihnen helfen, sich erfolgreich daran anzupassen."

So stand es auf dem Schwarzen Brett im Klassenraum. Ich nahm gerade an einem viertägigen Kurs an der Harvard Business School mit dem Namen "Governing for Nonprofit Excellence" teil.

Als ich das Kurs vorbereitete und die Fallstudien las, wuchs in mir den Zweifel, ob die Investition der WikiMedia Foundation diesmal wirklich so sinnvoll ist. Wird die Organisation und ich als der momentane Boardvorsitzender wirklich von diesem Kurs profitieren?

Die Fallstudien sind alle sehr interessant, aber sie scheinen alle so weit von uns weg zu sein. Ich gebe zu, wir sind eine sehr ungewöhnliche Organisation. Was kann ich also von einem Krankenhaus in Cambridge, Massachusetts lernen, der gerade eine Fusionspartner sucht?


Es ist die Geschichte einer Nonprofitorganisation, die bis dahin in eine sehr komfortable Zone gelebt hatte. Das bedeutet,
- dass es die Werte seiner Community bringt, für die sie gedacht wurde
- Unterstützung von seiner Community erhält
- Resourcen für seine Operation besitzt.
Angesichts der sich ändernden Umwelt droht sie aus ihre Komfortzone herauszurutschen. Die Basis seiner Unterstützung eruptiert. Die Geschichte ist über einem Board, das diesen Gefahr erkennt und unangenehme Entscheidung machen musste und seine Organisation weiterführt.

Es ist erstaunlich wie ähnlich dies zu unsere Situation klingt.

Als eine High-Tech basierende Organisation leben wir in eine sich schnell ändernden Umwelt. Viele Sachen ändern sich um uns herum und in uns hinein:
- fast alle Regierungen, die westlich freiheitliche wie die restriktiven, ändern ihren Laissez-faire-Politik gegenüber dem Internet und führen immer restriktiveren Regeln für das Netz ein.
- die Sicht der Nutzer zu unseren Projekten, besonders zu Wikipedia, ändern sich. Wir sind nicht mehr das Kuriosum im Internet von vor fünf Jahren, sondern ein der wichtigsten Informationsquelle der Welt. Und das ändert unsere Verantwortung zu unseren User.
- Unsere Inhalten ändern sich. Vergleicht man den Inhalt der ersten Version zu Boston mit seinem aktuellen Inhalt sieht man den riesigen Unterschied. Das bedeutet, dass wir die Anfangshürde für Anfänger erheblich angehoben haben. Diese Änderung ändert langsam die Zusammensetzung unserer eigenen Community, sie ändert auch wie wir arbeiten und wie Diskussionen geführt werden.
- Die Webtechnologie hat sich in den letzten zehn Jahren seit dem Start der Wikipedia geändert. Ihre Landschaft hat sich in den zehn Jahren dramatisch verändert. Gibt es hier Veteranen, die ihren (ersten?) Webseiten auf Geocities gebastelt haben?

Viele Sachen, die die Foundation und ihr Board in den letzten Jahren getan haben, haben mit diesen Änderungen zu tun. Die BLP-Resolution ist eine direkte Antwort auf die Änderung unserer Verantwortung zum allgemeinen Publikum wie auch zu den betroffenen Personen. Die Änderung unseres Lizenzmodells ist ebenfalls in Zusammenhang zur Publikumssicht und -anforderung zu sein, weil die reine GFDL für gedruckten Büchern einfach zu unpraktikabel ist. Mit der Strategischen Planung versuchen wir, eine Strategie gegen alle Herausforderungen zu entwickeln, die uns begegnen. Und das andauernde Diskussion zu umstrittenen Inhalten ist ein Ergebnis unserer Strategischen Planung (Entwicklung und Adaption in den nichtwestlichen Kulturen) und eine Antwort auf sich ändernden Politik und unserer Verantwortung.

Keine diese Änderungen sind nicht unumstritten und keine der Diskussionen schmerzlos. Aber um unsere Mission zu erfüllen gibt es keinen Weg vorbei.

Was für mich besonders interessant zum HBS Kurs ist, dass beim Analysieren der Fällen ich unvermeidbar immer wieder und wieder zu unsere Situation zurückkehre. Beim Studieren der anderen als ein unbeteiligter Beobachter wird es mir klarer zu unserem eigenen Fall. Und das Kurs liefert mir einigen Frameworks oder Algorithmen, um Situationen systematischer und mit einem kühleren Kopf zu analysieren.