A Foundation for Inclusion With OKRs

How Wikimedia pursues its mission to broaden history’s horizons.

Wikimedia Foundation COO Janeen Uzzell and Director of Operations Lydia Hamilton

#WhoTellsYourStory? Wikimedia Foundation executives share their mission to make Wikipedia a more inclusive and equitable place — and detail how they incorporated OKRs to do it.

“None of this matters if we can’t tell people how we’re tracking it,” said Wikimedia Foundation COO Janeen Uzzell to the Foundation’s CEO Katherine Maher. “We might as well just tweet like everybody else.”

It was May 2020, and the two leaders of the Wikimedia Foundation were deciding how they would respond to the global protests of the killing of George Floyd.

After several days of discussions, Uzzell and Maher published a statement on Medium declaring the Foundation’s nine commitments to advance racial justice in their organization. Those commitments included “restructuring our resources, funding, and governance structures to share power with local communities” and “safeguarding the ability of minority and marginalized voices to participate safely in Wikimedia spaces.”

They ended the statement with this line: “With every edit, we write history.”

Building a resource for future generations to come

The Wikimedia Foundation is the global nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia and other projects, such as Wiktionary and Wikimedia Commons. Their ambitious mission is to make knowledge free and accessible to every human on the planet.

The Foundation supports a movement of thousands of volunteers that contribute to Wikipedia. Its vision is to build “a world a world where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.” But this ambitious vision depended on the operational groundwork that was being laid that year.

Uzzell, a former global healthcare executive and head of Women in Technology at GE, worked at the nonprofit from 2019-2021. One of her main tasks was to help the Wikimedia Foundation in its critical role of helping the larger movement meet their goals for 2030, becoming the essential infrastructure for an ecosystem of free knowledge.

She knew bringing the mission and vision to life was going to take a new level of discipline. Supporting a site with over 55 million articles, visited by over 1.5 billion unique devices each month, the nonprofit needed to stop seeing itself as a startup. The Foundation needed a more robust system to measure their progress, but also to help them decide what internal initiatives should continue and which ones could be paused to ensure they are doing the right work at the right time.

Uzzell, along with the Foundation’s Director of Operations Lydia Hamilton, worked together to iterate on an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) system at the organization.

When implementing OKRs, they realized how vital it was to make each goal mission oriented. Given the events of summer 2020, the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission now includes advancing racial justice inside and outside their organization. Because of this, OKRs for inclusion have become a top-level priority.

George Floyd protests in Uptown Charlotte, 5/30/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)

Making open platforms equitable

Being an open platform isn’t enough, Uzzell recognizes. “We can’t just assume that because we’re an open-source platform, that we practice equity,” said Uzzell.

Only a tiny fraction of people who read Wikipedia also contribute their knowledge and expertise to Wikipedia. More needs to be done to ensure a diverse pool of contributors can share their knowledge on Wikipedia. Uzzell is a champion for expanding the range of perspectives featured on the world’s most read encyclopedia, utilizing the hashtag #WhoTellsYourStory.

“It is 1% of the world that is giving a perspective on all of these stories. And the way that we work on the inside can help change how we work in the movement. The stronger we can become has a direct implication to the product we serve to the world,” said Uzzell.

The #WhoTellsYourStory initiative reflects the Wikimedia Foundation’s drive to grow and diversify the knowledge provided on Wikipedia. Inclusion OKRs provide clarity and focus on the mission, as well as the right metrics to measure and improve performance against the organizational goals.

Setting OKRs for Inclusion is happening in stages

For fiscal year 2021, Uzzell, Hamilton, and the Foundation’s leadership team started embedding equity into their current strategic OKRs. In 2022, equity became a leading principle for all OKRs.

“We now want to add to that guiding light of racial justice and equity, so that it is a default out the gate when we’re planning our goals,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton also has operational expertise from her time at GE, and brings to the nonprofit a precise, nuts-and-bolts approach to operations. One of her tasks included working out the details to make sure there is a system of accountability with these racial justice and equity goals, forming an equity programmatic task force made up of both senior leadership and individual contributors.

The VPs or directors from each department involved in the task force provide strategic advisory support, cross-departmental visibility, and are accountable for executing the key deliverables. The task force will also give employees closer to the day-to-day operations a seat at the table to ensure a top-down and bottom-up balance.

“It’s really critical for us to have varying levels of leadership from each department. I’m leaning on the individual contributors to keep us honest,” said Hamilton.

All this hard work and preparation now will ensure Wikipedia is a truly valuable resource for humankind for decades to come. But accomplishing it will take both great focus and determination. Uzzell believes that OKRs make it easier for her and her team to reach their full potential.

“I’ve learned that culture shifts in practices can happen, but they have to be rooted in some guidelines and guardrails and specifics of how we will get the job done. And maybe not boiling the whole ocean at the beginning,” said Uzzell.

(Uzell, Maher, and Hamilton have since departed the nonprofit.)

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