Learning with Wikibase Partners Outside the EU and North America

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The Data Partnerships team at Wikimedia Deutschland is committed to helping diversify the Linked Open Data web, in line with the wider Wikimedia Movement strategy. To that end, in close collaboration with partner organizations, during 2023 we explored concrete opportunities for diversifying the Wikibase Ecosystem, with a focus on improving the conditions that lead to more equity and inclusion. We are pleased to release our report on the subject, “Learning with Wikibase Partners Outside the EU and North America,” which encapsulates our findings. This blog post provides an overview of our key learnings and reflections that came from this work.

Purpose and Limitations

As we recognize the need for a more inclusive ecosystem, we also acknowledge the limitations of relying solely on geographic location as a parameter (see below, Key learnings and considerations). However, using this admittedly narrow approach has provided a pragmatic pathway for us to engage with a wider audience and understand their unique needs, aspirations, and challenges. Our report emphasizes the importance of approaching this endeavour with care and caution, of cultivating an ecosystem that is not only diverse but also equitable.

Summary of the Process

Having closely collaborated in five Wikibase-oriented projects active outside the EU and US, the Partnerships team strove to understand the intricacies of their operations. This involved identifying not only their requirements but also their hopes, aspirations and frustrations, as well as collaboratively exploring ways to provide meaningful support. Engaging in detailed discussions, providing feedback on funding applications and offering technical and content consulting have played integral parts of this journey. This iterative process has yielded invaluable insights, prompting us to rethink our approaches and reflect on our practices.

Key Learnings and Considerations:

  1. A nuanced approach:

We saw the need to take a nuanced approach with smaller organizations and those dealing with underrepresented knowledge. It is essential to do extensive research into each organization to learn about their aims, their capacities, and the socio-cultural milieu that surrounds them, as is clear communication around Wikibase’s affordances.

  1. Diversity

Every organization is unique; a one-size-fits-all approach is very much inadequate. Although we may share a geographic or legal context with a given organization, they may have unique needs and challenges. Broad, generic documents run the risk of simplifying an organization into nothingness; instead, we endeavored to present our findings as nuanced principles and ethical approaches rather than rigid guidelines.

  1. Flexibility

Smaller organizations often require more flexibility due to limited resources and volunteer-run operations. We must be ready to adapt our internal processes and communication channels to their needs. In addition, we found that in order to offer the right kind of support to partners with limited resources, we need robust and speedy internal communication. 

  1. Meaningful support

We tried to strike a balance between impactful and realistic support pathways for partners, ranging from technical advice to project plan reviews. With a focus on flexibility, we consider the challenges of scaling up support and the need for careful consideration in responding to the various partners’ diverse needs, aspirations and expectations.

  1. Defining and understanding underrepresented knowledge

When it comes to underrepresented knowledge, we found it essential to reflect critically on our approach. In the report we warn against potentially reproducing colonial power structures and advocate for broader and more inclusive perspectives. We recognize that, in order to cultivate an inclusive, equitable and diverse ecosystem, we need an approach that does not simply rely on the facts of geographic location.

Learning Experiments:

  1. Learning Experiment #1 – Train the Trainers Modules:

Our goal was to extend Wikibase community capacity by increasing the number of trainers and facilitators. The experiment involved workshops in Nigeria, designed to introduce Wikibase to librarians. While it required considerable effort, we regard the outcomes as successful, with positive impacts on capacity building, awareness, and engagement.

  1. Learning Experiment #2 – Match a Trainee with an Institution:

This experiment paired an institution in India with an aspiring engineer unfamiliar with Wikibase, allowing the trainee engineer to learn how to set up a Wikibase instance. We found that the format shows promise for further evaluation. Potential positive outcomes include an engineer receiving Wikibase training, an institution acquiring a Wikibase instance, and increased capacity among the institution’s staff.

Closing Remarks

Thus far our collaborations have provided us with insights, challenges, and meaningful synergies. However, the work is ongoing, and we look forward to working and learning together with organizations around the world as the Wikibase Ecosystem expands and becomes more inclusive. If you have comments or ideas to discuss, we encourage you to get in touch with us at: swe_partnerships@wikimedia.de. We look forward to hearing from you.

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