Submissions/Failures that made us better: A brief history of the Wikimedia Foundation as a learning organization

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2015.

Submission no.
Title of the submission

Failures that made us better: A brief history of the Wikimedia Foundation as a learning organization

Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)


Author of the submission

Tilman Bayer

E-mail address

Tbayer (WMF)
Country of origin


Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)

Wikimedia Foundation

Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

This talk will look back at the Wikimedia Foundation's history since 2003 as a learning organization, giving examples of “teachable moments” and gradual realizations that still inform how WMF is working today.

The Wikimedia Foundation is an organization without a prior model: No other non-profit or company had ever had the task of supporting an online project with a similar goal as, or as vast and diverse as Wikipedia. And there are no ready-made recipes or industry standards telling one how to do this. Over the years, we have been learning more and more about what works and what doesn't in getting closer to the Wikimedia vision of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

“Failing well” - that is, not being afraid of trying out new things, but also stopping to do them once it turns out they are not working, and making sure to learn from failures - has been advocated by many as an important principle for organizations and companies (especially those exploring the endless space of possibilities that is the Internet). Not least by Jimmy Wales, who recalls how the success of Wikipedia itself arose from the failure of Nupedia.

In this presentation I will take a candid look at failures in the Wikimedia Foundation’s history and describe how the organization has been learning from them. Apart from looking at these past cases, we will also describe briefly how the Foundation’s current processes for setting goals and checking successes encourage such course changes.

The presenter has been editing and publishing the Foundation's regular (quarterly, formerly monthly) activity reports since 2011, and documented how WMF teams assessed their progress in more than 60 quarterly review meetings.


WikiCulture & Community

Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?


Slides or further information (optional)
Presentation slides
Special requests

Note: I have also submitted a separate presentation about a related but different topic: "Everything the Wikimedia Foundation does, in 25 minutes". In case both get accepted, I will probably present only one of them, deciding based on the feedback from interested attendees and the programme committee.

Interested attendees

If you are interested in attending this session, please sign with your username below. This will help reviewers to decide which sessions are of high interest. Sign with a hash and four tildes. (# ~~~~).

  1. KrystleChung (talk) 20:39, 1 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  2. CT Cooper · talk 21:04, 2 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  3. SSastry (WMF) (talk) 21:53, 2 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  4. John Andersson (WMSE) (talk) 22:03, 2 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  5. Ocaasi (talk) 17:58, 3 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  6. -Another Believer (talk) 18:38, 4 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  7. --Atropine (talk) 23:30, 7 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  8. Trans Goat (talk) 10:16, 11 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  9. JAnstee (WMF) (talk) 16:17, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  10. Quiddity (WMF) (talk) 06:25, 23 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  11. Ckoerner (talk) 21:36, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  12. --KHarold (WMF) (talk) 21:44, 8 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  13. Ariconte (talk) 03:43, 14 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  14. Marcio De Assis (talk) 15:04, 21 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  15. Sebastian Wallroth (talk) 10:14, 1 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  16. --Cornelius Kibelka (WMDE) (talk) 05:19, 13 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  17. RMiller (WMF) (talk) 12:10, 17 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Schedule: The presentation is scheduled for Friday from 15:00-15:30 in room Don Diego 4.