Wikipedia requires a certain amount of administration and governance in order to further the project's goals. To achieve Wikipedia's purpose, a wide range of administrative pages are made available in various namespaces which enumerate the various protocols and conventions created and implemented by community consensus for English Wikipedia. Of course, this process is not generally automated, and live human administration is necessary to ensure that the editing of project pages, whether administration pages or content pages, happens peacefully and in accordance with the policies generally, and loosely, governing the creation and editing of all Wikipedia pages.

Human and legal administration

Wikipedia administrative structure

At the top of the human and legal administrative structure is the Wikimedia Foundation, a not-for-profit and charitable organization governed by a Board of Trustees. Although the Wikimedia Foundation owns Wikipedia, it is largely uninvolved in the creation of Wikipedia's policies and daily implementation of those policies for legal reasons (see below). The Wikipedia community is generally self-organizing and governed, as editors with varying administrative abilities and their elected project administrators are granted considerable discretion over the means used to accomplish Wikipedia's purpose. Editors are entrusted with the responsibility of upholding the integrity of Wikipedia while adhering to intellectual property rights, such as avoiding plagiarism, respecting copyright laws, and presenting appropriate citations for article content.

Pursuant to the Five Pillars, English Wikipedia does not occur according to firm rules. Wikipedia's protocols are principles, not a civil code or exacting law and are actualized using common sense and editor discretion. Wikipedia's policies, guidelines, and formatting norms are created and revised by the editing community to describe best practices, and clarify doctrine aimed at improving the encyclopedia and resolving disputes. These "official" protocols and conventions require discussion and a high level of community-wide consensus for promotion to a guideline or policy, thus have a significant degree of influence during deliberations. Most processes on Wikipedia depend on editor consensus in some form or another governed by Wikipedia's content and conduct policies. While consensus is the key method for making decisions, a consensus amongst a small group of editors cannot override community wide policies such as "Neutral point of view". In order to determine community consensus and resolve ongoing disputes, a wide array of discussion venues are made available covering topic specific issues editors encounter in writing and maintaining Wikipedia.

Ensuring the harmonious implementation of the project's editor consensus-developed protocols governing the creation and development of all types of pages are editors elected or appointed to certain roles: i.e., functionaries like stewards and the Arbitration Committee, alongside bureaucrats, and administrators, all of whom ultimately derive their own authority from the Wikimedia Foundation. As well as being volunteer mediators, with the ability (tools) to restrict editing on pages, "project custodians" have the authority to limit, block or ban individuals who would widely be seen as disruptive, tendentious, or dishonest. In cases where the conduct dispute resolution procedure has been ineffective, the Arbitration Committee has the power to deal with highly disruptive or sensitive situations.

Wikimedia Foundation

Logo of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) owns and operates Wikipedia, along with several other collaborative, wiki-based Internet projects. The WMF organizes the raising of money, distributes grants, develops software, deploys that software, controls the servers, and does outreach to support Wikimedia projects. The WMF does not edit Wikipedia content (except for occasional office actions). Wikipedia editors handle content and internal policies because if the WMF did take responsibility for content, it would introduce liability issues per Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The WMF is governed and guided by the terms of their Charter, Corporate Bylaws, Mission Statement, Vision, Values, and Strategy (the last two of which are not officially adopted by the Foundation). In addition, the Founding Principles are a statement of the common principles guiding the founding of any Wikimedia project. See officially adopted policies.

The global work of the Foundation is supported by "Wikimedia local chapters" (usually incorporated as non-profit corporations, according to the law of the locality), and each is governed by their own chapter board of trustees. Trustees of Wikimedia affiliates are assisted by a very small number of Wikimedia staff.


Icon that typically represents editors on Wikipedia

Editors, often referred to as Wikipedians are the individuals who comprise the community of volunteers that write and edit the pages of Wikipedia as opposed to readers, who simply read the articles. Some editors use their real life names as "user names", to identify themselves on Wikipedia, whereas others choose never to reveal personal information. Theoretically all editors are equal with no "power structure" or "law enforcement officers." There are however, within the editing community, editors with extra privileges (maintenance responsibilities or ability to perform certain administrative actions). Other categories of contributors have also emerged, such as Wikipedians in residence and students with assignments related to editing Wikipedia (see below).

User access levels (or User rights and groups ) are determined by whether an editor is logged into an account, whether the account is of sufficient age or by number of constrictive edits based on knowledge of Wikipedia protocols. Some User levels are granted automatically; for example, an autoconfirmed user is an account that is more than four days old. Others User rights are only given upon request, such as rollbacker, page mover or template editor. Entry into User groups such as administrator and bureaucrat, are determined by community discussion and consensus (see below). Oversight and CheckUser Rights are only granted by the Arbitration Committee, and only after strict scrutiny (see below). The system-generated user rights are listed at Special:ListGroupRights.

The English Wikipedia currently has 36,965,942 users who have registered a username. Only a minority of users contribute regularly (121,443 have edited in the last 30 days), and only a minority of those contributors participate in community discussions. An unknown but relatively large number of unregistered Wikipedians also contribute to the site. Creating an account is free and has several benefits, for example, the ability to create pages, upload media, and edit without one's IP address being visible to the public.


Icon that typically represents stewards on Wikipedia

Stewards are volunteer editors with complete access to the wiki interface on all Wikimedia wikis, including the ability to change any and all user rights and groups. This means that, along with the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, stewards have Checkuser and Oversight rights. They are tasked with technical implementation of community consensus, dealing with emergencies, and intervening against cross-wiki vandalism. The number of stewards is not limited by any policies. Stewards are elected annually by the global Wikimedia community. Candidates must have a support/oppose ratio of at least 80% with at least 30 supporting users. Current stewards are confirmed during each election. Stewards are subject to the stewards' policy; further documentation may be found in the steward handbook.

The Wikimedia Foundation created the position of steward when it recognized the need to separate user rights management from software development and systems administration.

Arbitration Committee

Icon that typically represents Arbitration Committee members on Wikipedia

Members of the Arbitration Committee (referred to as ArbCom or Arbs ), are volunteer editors who act in concert or in sub-groups imposing binding solutions on conduct disputes the community has been unable to resolve. ArbCom has very wide latitude in adjudication with the authority to impose general sanctions and/or personal sanctions on editors or groups of editors. They impose sanctions, either as a result of remedies accepted during cases, or during requests for clarification or amendment, or as a result of motions. The arbitration process exists exclusively for Wikipedia conduct disputes (i.e., not content disputes that may require mediation). The committee also resolves issues by private hearings if factors such as privacy may preclude public consideration.

Arbitrators are elected annually in one-year or overlapping two-year terms. The original Committee was appointed by Jimmy Wales in December 2003 from a group of volunteers. Subsquently elections were held on a yearly basis with Wales ratifying the results, but this role evolved into a purely ceremonial one and he has not been involved at all since 2013. The Wikimedia Foundation supports the technical side of the electoral process and requires that candidates meet the Wikimedia Foundation's criteria for access to non-public data and sign the Foundation's non-public information confidentiality agreement.

The broad criteria, in practice only Administrators have succeeded in being selected as Arbitrators.


Bureaucrats are volunteer editors with the technical ability (user rights) to:

Icon that typically represents bureaucrats on Wikipedia
  • promote other users to administrator or bureaucrat status.
  • remove the admin status of other users
  • grant and revoke an account's bot status.

They are bound by policy and consensus to grant administrator or bureaucrat access only when doing so reflects the wishes of the community, usually after a successful request at Wikipedia:Requests for adminship. In like fashion, they are expected to exercise judgement in granting or removing bot flags on the advice of the Bot Approvals Group. They are expected to be capable judges of consensus, and are expected to explain the reasoning for their actions on request and in a civil manner. Users are granted bureaucrat status by community consensus. The process is similar to the process of granting administrator status, but the expectations for potential bureaucrats are higher and community consensus must be clearer.

Bureaucrats do not have the technical ability to grant other levels of access (they cannot assign oversight or checkuser rights). These actions are performed by stewards, a small multilingual group that serves all Wikimedia projects. Additional stewards are elected annually; for more information see Requests for permissions. Changes in user rights by stewards are recorded at Meta:Special:Log/rights. The English Wikipedia currently has 18 bureaucrats as of 21 August 2019. Though not required by policy, in practice all bureaucrats are also Administrators.


Icon that typically represents administrators on Wikipedia

Administrators, commonly known as admins or sysops (system operators), are editors who have been trusted with access to restricted technical features ("tools"). For example, administrators can protect and delete pages, and block other editors. See Wikipedia:Administrators/Tools. Administrators are appointed after a successful community review process at Wikipedia:Requests for adminship in which consensus is determined by the bureaucrats. The English Wikipedia currently has 1,149 administrators as of 21 August 2019.

Administrators assume responsibilities as volunteers; thus are never required to use their tools, and must never use them to gain an advantage in a dispute in which they are involved (see: Wikipedia:What adminship is not). Only Jimmy Wales or the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee may authorize the removal of administrator privileges, and this authorization may be executed by any bureaucrat or steward.

Wikipedians in residence

A Wikipedian in residence is a volunteer editor who accepts a placement with an institution, typically an art gallery, library, archive or museum or institute of higher education (such as a university) to facilitate Wikipedia entries. Typical duties of such posts include outreach to other staff and members of the public, as well as making contributions to articles relevant to the institution's materials and mission. Such outreach work may include the arranging of training events and editathons. See Wikipedia:GLAM for more information.

Educators and students

The Education program helps with the coordination of educators and students around the world contribute to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in an academic setting. Educators assign their students to contribute to Wikipedia based on course-related topics. Programs are run by Wikimedia local chapters (usually incorporated as non-profit corporations, according to the law of the locality), affiliate organizations, and dedicated volunteer Wikipedia editors. Supporting the program is a limited number of staff members at the Wikimedia Foundation, who help program leaders start and scale their programs sustainably.