Summary of Movement Conversations 2020

From January 20 until February 21, 2020 Movement Strategy recommendations were shared with the movement, as a first roadmap towards the strategic direction[1] and the goals of knowledge equity and knowledge as a service. Wikimedians from across the globe were encouraged to review the recommendations, reflect on what they would mean in their context or project, and provide feedback. Below is a summary of who took part in movement conversations and the input provided. You can also view a more detailed table. The insights shared will inform discussions and help refine and finalize the recommendations.

How we connected…

The recommendations were made available in multiple formats: a 20-page core document, the 56-page extended text, and a 4-page cover note. A 1-page summary was developed by a community member and became a popular and accessible conversation starter. An audio readthrough of the core doc was provided as well as a video of a presentation about the recommendations. In sum, translations were provided in 12 languages, although there were challenges with their quality and lengths.

For 5 weeks, the core team and strategy liaisons conversed with global communities and different voices that comprise our movement. Conversations happened on wiki, via email, on numerous calls, social media, and messaging apps. Outreach was adapted for different contexts accordingly. Many thanks to affiliates and strategy enthusiasts who held local and regional events; 40 plus and counting.

Who took part…

Engagement with online communities was a major priority, from Spanish and Arabic language Wikipedias to Meta in English, French language Wiktionary, and Hindi Wikisource. This was supported with dedicated outreach by strategy liaisons and the core team, writers, working group members, and staff and board of affiliates and the Wikimedia Foundation. Take a look at some movement strategy events that took place and the global compiled table of the input provided

Many communities in emerging Wikimedia settings, like in Africa and Asia, were also excited to jump in, share their experiences, and be part of movement-wide discussions. Strategy has connected contributors in these regions with each other and with movement stakeholders, including larger and more established affiliates[2]. Wikimedia France, for example, supported 13 locally-led in-person events in other countries of the WikiFranca cooperation[3].

Some numbers…

The main recommendations landing page on Meta was viewed close to 8,000 times between Jan. 20 – Feb. 23, 2020; and more than 15,500 times when combined with the talk page[4]. Posts and portals on Wikipedia, Commons, and Wikidata, linked to Meta as well. Highest page views in other languages after English were German with more than 1,100, French (904), Spanish (403), and Arabic (186)[5]. Of those engaged on Meta, their median number of edits was over 20,000, and the average account age was 6.7 years. Pageviews occurred most frequently for the first few recommendations in the list of 13 and decreased for subsequent recommendations[6].

For a breakdown of the number of people engaged, please see below.

What was said…

A major request was to make the language simpler and clearer, to make it easier to understand and translate, to reduce redundancies, and make the content less vague, including the “expected outcomes” and their purpose. Clarity was also requested for terminology that means differently across languages and cultures, such as leadership, equity, advocacy, and diversity.

Movement strategy recommendations were designed not to be prescriptive to leave room for local adaptation and contextualization. This was also to find alignment amongst 89 varying recommendations from 9 different thematic areas. That said, there have been many requests for the text to become more specific, less “jargony”, and more direct, like in differentiating between stakeholders when addressing online or “offline” communities, the Wikimedia Foundation, or affiliates.

There have been requests for certain content to be made explicit: decentralization; the movement’s integral values of volunteering and free knowledge; gender inequalities pertaining to the movement and the world; women, LGBTQ+, Indigenous peoples, and other underrepresented communities; advocacy; environmental sustainability, climate change, and the movement’s footprint; technology and developer communities; user experience; internal platforms; the centrality of open source; and better inclusion of knowledge consumers.

Smaller and newer communities or affiliates often struggle with day-to-day complexities and have highlighted the need for improved participation in decision-making, resource allocation and relevant skills, better representation, technical assistance, financial support, movement knowledge that is accessible, and coordination with stakeholders in the movement and partners. At a higher level, the recommendations begin to address these barriers. At a more detailed level, there have been many questions from all communities relating to implementation and the necessary conversations on how ideas and “expected outcomes” would be carried forward; by whom, at what cost, and how will coordination be ensured.

Areas of support…

There are concepts that at the current level of the recommendations would be generally non-controversial: such as improving user experience (rec 3), particularly for multimedia, and for lowering the threshold for editing, including on mobile; internal knowledge management (rec 8); and evaluation (rec 12). Some of these concepts are addressing longstanding gaps in the movement, although there are questions around related tools and processes.

There has been strong support for distributed structures and systems (recs 5 and 6) that bring more diverse representation, local staff, regional connectivity, clear roles and responsibilities, equitable and accountable distribution of resources, and greater local autonomy. Although, there are concerns around existing power imbalances in the movement and different applications for online communities. There is also strong support for enabling more welcoming environments and addressing harassment (recs 2 and 4), although IP masking as a sub-topic continues to be complex and controversial.

There is support for systematically developing skills in the movement (rec 7), including opportunities to tap into existing expertise, such as through mentorships, and by building individual and organizational capacity. This would be based on locally-identified needs, aiming for language adaptability and relevant tools. Some would prefer fully online and self-directed options, while others would benefit more from in-person knowledge transfer and networking. Relatedly, distributed capacity and leadership (rec 6) are generally supported, particularly with a focus on improved inclusion and empowerment of individuals and organizations. Although, the concept of leadership is not universal and even the word “leader” itself has generated debate.

Working more closely, meaningfully, and systematically with third party developers and volunteers has been supported in many related discussions. This same concept can be expanded to improve engagement with communities in all matters of the movement, on- and offline. Although there have been concerns around the specifics of some concepts, the “tech council” (rec 9) for example, and the feedback received has been divided.

Areas of debate…

In general, there are concerns that implementation will be top-down, imposing, taking away autonomy and sovereignty, and interfering with project/community self-management. Questions about implementation and sovereignty have been discussed widely around concepts such as decentralization, the global council, regional and thematic hubs, with regards to legal implications, composition and representation, risk of increasing bureaucracy, around existing movement structures and stakeholders, and where financial and human resources for the new structures would come from.

Concerns around autonomy, sovereignty, and freedom extend to any content guidelines being proposed, policies and protocols enforced, around the meaning and implications of impact, analysis, and related decision-making. Similar concerns apply to notability, original research, and sourcing policies, where oral knowledge and “non-Western” sources of information have been discussed. It must be noted that many of these contentious topics predate movement strategy.

Requests for systematic conflict resolution and related training, harassment prevention, and a universal code of conduct have been prevalent and emerged early on amongst working group discussions to support healthy interactions and communities. The spectrum of feedback has been wide, ranging from full support and asking for more to address harassment, to outright rejection citing previous processes, ongoing processes, and concerns around transparency and accountability in banning users.

There are fears around the commercialization of Wikimedia, such as offering ‘premium’ application programming interface (API) for large commercial users – with concurrent support and opposition. Even though there is recognition that large commercial users place a toll on limited volunteer and Foundation resources, and there is recognition of increased revenues needed for the future of the movement, fears of commercialization persist given our history and role in the ecosystem of free knowledge. Similar concerns exist around compensating individuals for non-editing activities. While there is recognition that volunteering is not sustainable in the future for activities such as organizing, events, and skill building, especially in parts of the world where we have the largest room to grow, there are fears of facilitating paid editing.

What’s next…

Many questions exist around implementing the structures and concepts proposed in the strategy, and suggestions have been provided to prepare for the next phase and ensure a smooth transition. Even with strong support or just cautious optimism, there are requests for changes to the content, further clarity, simplification of language, better translations, and continued conversations with communities as we go forward. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach and reaching collective decisions has never been easy in our movement. The feedback provided by communities along with guidance from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, will help a small group of writers convening March 10-12 to refine the recommendations and bring them to a final state. We will continue to update and communicate decisions. We are grateful for the feedback received and wish to thank everyone who participated.

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Originally published on Meta by Mehrdad Pourzaki on March 1, 2020