The Realities of Innovating in the Wikimedia Movement: These are some of our Needs and Challenges

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Jointly unlocking the challenges of innovation within the Wikimedia Movement

Referring to recommendation number 9 of the Movement Strategy, the Innovation Engine at Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) is currently researching which new innovation format to develop. (If you’re interested in reading more about our big plan to create a new innovation format, here is a more detailed written blog post about the process).

As part of our efforts, we spoke with members of the Wikimedia Movement from different parts of the world to better understand the challenges the communities faces when it comes to innovating in Free Knowledge. In this brief overview, we would like to share with you the current state of innovation within the Movement.

First, we created a stakeholder map of people, initiatives and affiliates involved in innovation in Free Knowledge in some capacity. We then reached out to our stakeholders through in-depth 1:1 interviews, and sent out a survey to all stakeholders who were not interviewed (More on the process here). The map below displays where the participating stakeholders are currently active.

World map with dots showing where the stakeholders we interviewed are active
Sissela Björk (WMDE), Weltkarte Umfrageteilnehmende, CC BY-SA 4.0

Our two main questions during this exploration were:

“What are the challenges for individuals of your communities to innovate?”

“What is missing in your context to foster innovation”

The responses we have received from the Movement were clear, we identified more than a few challenges that hinder us in innovating in Free Knowledge. Some of the initial insights of the qualitative research may be bundled in the following thematic clusters which we have put together with some of illustrative quotes from Movement members:

Those who are new might not know how to meaningfully get involved.

“People don’t know how to edit, to contribute to Wikimedia projects; if they know, their articles on Wikipedia get deleted because of the sources they used that are not recognized by the admins.”

There is need for creating a more welcoming (tech, cultural etc.) atmosphere for newcomers 

“To make it easier for people to participate in the free knowledge ecosystem”

There is a disconnect between those in the movement and the outside world and other movements 

“Connection or partnership that facilitates the reuse of Wikimedia projects in other contexts”

There is an avoidance to be political 

“How can we leverage the passion from activism?”

Limitations of volunteerism 

“Also want to improve the sense of making edits that are meaningful, not just create little fixes; It demotivates; This is true for individual and institutional contributors”

Lack of technically skilled people in the movement/who wants to stay in the movement

“Sometimes the movement is very hobbyist technically speaking and enthusiasm-driven. There is room to make them more professionalized! However, this does not guarantee that they will remain with us if professionalized)”

There is a gap between having innovative ideas and the technical skills needed to realize them.

“Lack of skills in general: there are many people with ideas but they don’t have the right skills to turn their ideas into real projects/products”

There is a perceived lack of training opportunities available to Movement members.

“Training on new innovations is missing”

Staying on top of current developments and changes

“Trying to deal with the growing AI challenges or making use of them”

Financial resources are not accessible for everyone within the movement 

“Mostly larger financial support is missing to underrepresented communities and user groups”

Screen shot from some of the answers we got, divided in categories
Sissela Björk (WMDE), Cluster Survey insight, CC BY-SA 4.0

There is a gap between having innovative ideas and the resources needed to realize them.

“Financial, organizational, structural and legal support for working cross border is missing”

There is a lot of potential for innovation within the Wikimedia Movement that many might not be aware of.

“There are so many possibilities to reuse our content on platforms beyond Wikimedia so that new cool things happen; but the community does not know about it and just stay in their bubble”

Critical reflection on the limitation of what has been created

“Wikimedia has reached its peak, can now only continue to grow by taking into account the realities of those still underrepresented (especially those in the Global South)”

There seems to be a one-size-fits-all approach that does not consider context-specific needs

“Understand the real needs of each community and prioritize which tools could impact the greatest number of volunteers”

Resistance to change

“We may probably be more used to following known paths than able to push our boundaries to explore new options”

Lack of incentive/urgency to change

“If there are no incentives for change, then it’s very hard for things to be made differently”

No culture of embracing failure and experimentation

“When people want to innovate, are they met with support or skepticism from their fellow Wikimedians?”

The current structure and governance model of Wikimedia Movement sometimes stands in the way of innovation initiatives.

“Disconnect between chapters and community: the Foundation and chapters get the money, they create programs and others but these programs are not serving the community”

Lack of collaboration

“Too much silo thinking”

There is a lack of knowledge on how to get started with innovation processes.

“Encouraging participation in the innovation process is essential for innovation to occur, but this can be difficult.”

This is only a first insight into our qualitative research. The information gathered thus far will assist us as we further analyze and then move into the next phase of our innovation journey, where we will generate initial ideas that we hope can offer solutions to some of these challenges listed here. You can find the full report here.

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