Wikimedia Foundation Chief of Community Engagement to leave the Foundation

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Hello everyone,

I am writing to let you know that Val D’Costa, Chief Community Engagement Officer, is leaving the Wikimedia Foundation. I also want to share some changes we’re making around how the Foundation organizes staff in the Community Engagement department.

Val joined us last January, bringing nearly three decades of experience launching and growing international initiatives in emerging markets. With the Wikimedia 2030 movement strategy as a guide, Val and her team drafted an ambitious new vision for the work of Community Engagement—focused on decentralization of power and resources, safe and welcoming spaces, equitable collaboration, increased language and cultural fluency, dedicated programs for groups such as women and young people, and expansive partnerships in service of free knowledge.

With this vision in hand, Val and I both see this as the right juncture for her to move on to her next professional challenge. While she will be leaving the position of Chief of Community Engagement, she will remain on as a consultant to me for a brief period.

I am deeply appreciative of Val’s time with us at the Foundation and want to thank her for the contributions she has made to the Wikimedia movement. She has been a passionate and persuasive advocate for our mission and pushed us to expand our vision of what could be possible for our movement. I wish her the absolute best in what she does next.

What comes next for Community Engagement

I’ll be direct — we are making changes to the CE department structure.

We will not be starting a search for a new Chief of Community Engagement. Instead, over the course of the next few weeks, the seven teams currently within the Community Engagement (CE) department will be integrated into the Foundation’s other departments. By January, all of the teams will have joined their new departments, and “Community Engagement” will no longer be a standalone department.

The teams currently in CE will be integrated with other Foundation departments aligned with executive leadership goals and based on their scope and focus, as well as how they might grow in the future. Some of these alignments are intuitive, such as Trust & Safety returning to the Legal department; others might not be immediately apparent.

What does this mean for your work?

Although we have a good sense of which teams will integrate with which departments, we are still meeting with the individual teams to work on the specific details of the transition. Our focus is on continuity for existing community programs and support for Foundation staff in making this change. You may hear from staff seeking input on those arrangements, and I want to thank you in advance for any feedback you may have.

We expect to wrap up these conversations in early December, to begin transitions in mid-December, and for the transitions to be completed by the beginning of January, at which point we’ll be able to share an overview of the new arrangements in full.

The work of the Community Engagement teams will remain the same throughout this period of transition. For example, if you need something from Trust & Safety or Community Resources, they’ll continue to be here to work with you. If you have a project or program underway with a CE team or staff member, that work will also continue. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Greg Varnum at or leave your question here in Wikimedia Space and we’ll make sure we find an answer to your question.

Why are we making this change?

The Community Engagement department has grown and evolved since it was created in 2015. We have brought in people with an increasingly diverse set of skills and backgrounds and introduced new support for additional languages, geographies, and areas of work, such as community health.

While this has helped the Foundation come a long way in addressing the needs of the movement, it has also created complexity. The breadth of activities and competencies now supported by the department is quite large—today, we have people working on issues as diverse as GLAM collection management, participatory grantmaking, and contributor safety—and increasingly, across many geographies, cultures, and languages.

This has created challenges for how we effectively coordinate such a range of specializations, how we assess their efficacy and impact against our mission. At the same time, as the Foundation has grown, we have developed capacities in other departments who will be good partners to those serving our community mission.

In making these changes, we see an opportunity to align the functions of the Foundation with the future of the mission and movement, and better serve long-time contributors and emerging communities alike. Over time, we anticipate these new arrangements will deepen the understanding of community efforts among all Foundation staff and programs, integrate community perspective across program design and support, and open up space for bold and fresh thinking about how to move our movement forward.

What about the future?

Some people may be wondering, what does this mean for the proposed work in the Annual or Medium Term plans, or the planned restructure of the Community Engagement department to a new regional approach?

We remain fully committed to the work and goals of the Medium Term Plan. For example, although Val was not able to attend Indaba to celebrate with the African community, our COO and Deputy General Counsel, Janeen Uzzell and Tony Sebro, both attended.

The planned restructure and expansion of CE was intended to help us support the community in achieving these goals. This includes the MTP’s focus on building a thriving movement, increasing community health and diversity, and growing among new languages, regions, and audiences. We set these goals as part of our interpretation of the Movement Strategy, and they will remain our focus for the medium term.

I still believe we need to make many of these changes, as well as be prepared for further changes that may arise from the recommendations of the Movement Strategy Working Groups. We see a future that could include improved regional support, and expanded programmatic support for emerging communities, whether those are new languages, geographies, or areas of practice.

However, we are putting those plans on hold for the next few weeks, while we focus is on supporting the existing teams through this transition. I want us to make sure that goes well, before turning our attention to the future. That said, I fully expect to resume work on how we expand our support for these critical new areas in the first quarter of the new calendar year.

Final thoughts

I want to be absolutely clear that these changes are in no way an indication that the Foundation is decreasing our commitment to support for the movement. I hope you see how this offers an opportunity to do the exact opposite—to set us up to support the movement in the best way we can.

For those with an interest in Wikimedia history, it’s worth noting that the Foundation has taken many different shapes over the years. In 2014, teams focused on community support were embedded in other departments. At the time, we were much smaller, and our ability to truly engage with the full breadth of the movement was more limited. In 2019, the community engagement teams are better resourced, more global, and more representative of the movement (although there’s always space for continued improvement).

We see this as the right moment to integrate the perspectives, experiences, and skills of these teams across the Foundation, ensuring that support for the movement is woven into all the Foundation’s work. As Wikimedians, we know change is a constant—and it is through change that we often do our best work, solve our hardest problems, and find our new path forward. Thank you in advance as we take this next step to support the future of our movement.


Originally sent to Wikimedia-l by Katherine Maher on November 15, 2019

Archive notice: This is an archived post from Wikimedia Space, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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