Wikimedia’s Tretikov Gets Her Social License to Operate Revoked

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Wikimedia-Tretikov

Berlin / Pierre-Selim

February 25, 2016; VICE, “Motherboard”

I have recently been intrigued by the concept of “the social license to operate,” and in this case, where an activist community is involved, we see that the concept can apply also as a license to lead. Here is a short description:

The Social License has been defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval within the local community and other stakeholders, ongoing approval or broad social acceptance and, most frequently, as ongoing acceptance.

At the level of an individual project the Social License is rooted in the beliefs, perceptions and opinions held by the local population and other stakeholders about the project. It is therefore granted by the community. It is also intangible, unless effort is made to measure these beliefs, opinions and perceptions. Finally, it is dynamic and non-permanent because beliefs, opinions and perceptions are subject to change as new information is acquired. Hence the Social License has to be earned and then maintained.

NPQ readers may recall our newswire last week on the dust-up at the Wikimedia Foundation about a $250,000 grant made by the Knight Foundation towards the development of a knowledge search engine. The argument largely focused on the foundation’s apparent secrecy with its community vis-à-vis the development of the project and its refusal to share the documents surrounding the grant. Foundation spokespeople cited their need to observe the donors’ need for privacy in sharing such information—an odd assertion under the circumstances.

Members of the community were unhappy with that lack of transparency, and they were persistent in making themselves heard. By this week, community members had begun actively calling for Tretikov to step down.

Yesterday, a member of the Wikimedia Board of Trustees announced Tretikov’s resignation:

This week, the Board of Trustees accepted Lila’s resignation. Her last day will be March 31, 2016…The Board of Trustees is meeting regularly to determine next steps. Our top priority is to develop a clear transition plan that seeks to build confidence with community and staff, appoint interim leadership, and begin the search for a new Executive Director.

Tretikov had been executive director since 2014.—Ruth McCambridge