Capacity development for underrepresented communities: 10 lessons learnt

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This is a list of 10 lessons learnt from the Capacity development for underrepresented communities (CDUC) project, which aimed to get underrepresented communities in the Wikimedia movement.

Lesson 1: Communities require thorough research to get familiar with their needs and expectations

Research is an important important approach to acquiring valuable knowledge that can be used as a basis for developing an implementation plan. There are multiple research tools available, so getting thorough understanding is dependent on their right combination. Usually, it stands to reason to use direct surveying of community members and indirect interviewing of experts.

Lesson 2: Every community is different with specific needs and expectations 

However similar is the state of underrepresented communities in the society, their differences are always more pronounced. This means that every single community has to be approached separately so that a good understanding about their needs and expectations is gained.

Lesson 3: Fluent speakers of endangered languages are difficult to find and more difficult to motivate

The majority of speakers of endangered languages are people in the working-age group whose everyday job is unrelated to the conservation of their native language. These people are low in number and cannot be easily reached, so a strategy involving collaboration with associations of the particular community may be helpful. Furthermore, getting the people involved in the Wikimedia movement is a real challenge requiring a lot of patience and time invested because their replacement is severely restricted due to the low number.

Lesson 4: Availability of reference works on topics related to the communities may be scarce 

Typically, members of the underrepresented communities are not only interested in generating contents in their language but also in promoting their culture. However, reference works on such topics are usually scarce, which may be discouraging for their involvement. This being said, collaboration with associations that dispose with or have access to such works in advance is strongly recommended before conducting direct outreach to community members.

Lesson 5: Communities may prefer generating contents about their culture on other languages 

Depending on the state of the underrepresented community in the society, its members may find it more important to generate impartial and reliable contents about their culture in the most widely spoken languages in their area of residence. In such cases, it is practically impossible to get people from a community involved in contributing to the Wikimedia projects in their own language because they struggle to gain some basic rights and their primary goal is to improve the social status of their community.

Lesson 6: Hybrid events can help to significantly increase reach

Members of the underrepresented communities are usually scattered across a larger geographical area, so reaching out to all of them physically would require a lot of time and efforts. Yet, the rising popularity of the hybrid events during the COVID-19 pandemic and the availability of virtual conferencing platforms allow to hold hybrid events with both in-person and online attendance. In addition, the technology used for organising hybrid events enables easy recording and fast sharing with others.

Lesson 7: Collaboration with a sign language interpreter is a must

When it comes to working with a group of people who do not understand a spoken language, engaging someone who will mediate the communication is necessary. This person is usually an expert with very good understanding of the community and could also provide useful insights in the research phase as well as participate in the development of an implementation plan.

Lesson 8: Sign language users are generally not fluent in the native language spoken within their family

Owing to the fact that the majority of sign language users have never heart the spoken language within their family, they are likely to lack fluency in the written form of the language either. In other words, they view it as a foreign language and may not be able to write high-quality content.

Lesson 9: Working with a sign language community requires innovating in free knowledge

As a result of the lacking of fluency in the spoken native language within their family, there is a need to work towards identifying other ways to get the sign language users involved in the Wikimedia movement. One possible way is to produce free videos documenting content in the sign language as a new form of free knowledge.

Lesson 10: L’important c’est de participer 

Pierre de Coubertin’s idea that “important is to participate” (French: L’important c’est de participer) fully applies to the activities with underrepresented communities. Given that the pool of potential editors from such communities is very low and strenuos efforts are needed to motivate them to take part, it is ungrateful to have expectations other than a slow development of a new community of Wikimedians.

Learn more about the project on Meta-Wiki, which includes detailed information on the research (Diff post) and implementation (Diff post) phases.

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