Then-incoming executive director Lila Tretikov (right) speaks to WMF staff in May 2014. Chief communications officer Katherine Maher (left) looks on; in the middle is chief talent officer Gayle Karen Young, a member of the executive and one of the many WMF employees to have left during Tretikov's tenure.
Following several days of closed-door meetings of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, executive director Lila Tretikov announced on February 25 that she would be stepping down, effective March 31. Despite rumors of tense negotiations with the Board, Tretikov's email announcement, titled "Thank you for our time together", was gracious and positive, stressing Foundation and community accomplishments. She wrote, in part:
Wikimedia occupies a special place in the world. It is a cultural and technological revolution. Change is necessary to keep it thriving. In bringing me in as the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation the Board tasked me with making changes ("Lila Tretikov's statement on why we've changed") to serve the next generation and ensure our impact in the future. Driving these changes has been challenging, and I have always appreciated the open and honest discourse we have had along the way.
I move on with confidence that the Foundation can meet new challenges in a challenging environment. I believe in our ability to continue to lead through this change. At this critical juncture for the Foundation, and for the free and open knowledge movement as a whole, solidarity, creativity, adaptability and passion will continue to propel our movement forward, and empower our vision towards our future.
The February WMF Metrics and Activities Meeting
Tretikov's resignation comes after months of public controversy, including the removal of Board member James Heilman (Doc James), the resignation of newly appointed Board member Arnnon Geshuri following a community outcry, and revelations about the mysterious Knowledge Engine project. It follows an even longer period of internal turmoil that has prompted a series of employee departures—events that have mostly remained out of the public eye until recently.
Among WMF staffers, the news of Tretikov's departure was greeted with a sense of relief rather than glee, at least publicly. The February metrics and activities meeting, held only 15 minutes after Tretikov's announcement, was almost jubilant—not about her departure, but as though the staff felt they could celebrate their work and accomplishments, especially those concerning Wikipedia's 15th anniversary, without the pall of recent months cast over them. Those events were not entirely absent, however. A photograph of Siko Bouterse, a widely respected WMF staffer whose departure was one of the flashpoints for other employees, received a standing ovation.
Still, even after the ED's announcement, employee exits from the WMF continue. On March 4, the WMF announced that Boryana Dineva, VP of human resources who went on leave on February 9, will depart.
Speculation remains about who will work with WMF employees as interim executive director now that Wales has left San Francisco. Due to the exodus of employees, few high-level staffers remain to assume that role, with the most likely possibilities being chief communications officer Katherine Maher and general counsel Geoff Brigham. Finding an external candidate in the longer term may be difficult given the negative press coverage following the resignations of Geshuri and Tretikov, on top of the need to find someone with unusual combination of skills to lead an extremely complex organization. In a move that Andrew Lih (Fuzheado) describes as "rather astonishing", in a surprise announcement, Trustee Alice Wiegand posted to the Wikimedia mailing list that:
the Board is aiming for a quick decision about the interim ED. ... The Board is not best suited to make a decision about the interim which can quickly be established and accepted in this situation. // Therefore the board empowers the entire C-level-team to come up with a solution for the interim question. We leave it up to them ... . The C-level-team needs some time to deliberate and decide. They will present their result to the board which has to vote on it. We plan to finalize until the end of next week.
Opinions on the wisdom of this approach have been divided; critics have condemned it as an abdication of responsibility by the Board, while others have welcomed it as an effort by the Board to be more responsive to staff concerns and input.
Also unresolved is the composition of the Board itself. On February 27, Heilman announced his willingness to resume his seat on the Board and his intention to run again in the next community election. Wales, who described Heilman's account of Board conflicts as "utter fucking bullshit" in January, responded by writing that should Heilman win another election "then I will support his joining the board". Wales reiterated his disagreement with Heilman about how they perceived the circumstances of the dismissal, but the facts leading up to it remain unknown.
Draft WMF strategy: The Foundation has posted this on Meta, inviting community comment until March 18. WMF staff will respond to questions and comments from March 7 onwards.
Milestones: A video of WMF Metrics and Activities Meeting is available here, with the milestones from 16:15.