Grants:Impact/Community/Wikimedia Israel

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Impact of Grants
Building trust
Location:  Israel
Grantee:  Wikimedia Israel
Grant information
  • Program: Full Annual Plan Grants
  • Fiscal year: 2013 and ongoing

Every community has a set of normative behaviors (or norms) that define what is “acceptable” or “normal” within the group. They can describe values (e.g. the value of Equality), attitudes (e.g. “I believe in equality of opportunity.”), or behaviors (e.g. “I will vote for everyone to have to ability to marry.”), in both positive and negative ways.

Indirect reciprocity offers a simple explanation for the cooperation among unrelated individuals. By helping someone, an individual may increase their reputation, which may change the pre-disposition of others to help her/him in the future. This, however, depends on what is reckoned as a good or a bad action.

We learn these norms over the course of our lives; sometimes we are explicitly told what to do (or not do), but often we observe what is acceptable (or not). For example, in Ghana when greeting a group of people, its customary to begin with the right-most-person in the room (moving right to left), and always with your right hand. The right to left order occurs regardless of the status, age or gender.[2]

Because norms are often undocumented, they create invisible expectations which might become barriers to building rapport, connection, and community. This problem becomes exponentially harder in an international or multi-cultural context, where people of one society are interacting with another.

Israel is an excellent example of a multicultural and multilingual society governed by a complex system of interconnected norms. Due to its immigration policy, Israel is home to any Jewish person (whether by birth or conversion) and Palestinian citizens. This means Amharic-speaking Ethiopians, Tigrigna-speaking Eritreans, and people of French descent speaking different ethnic languages are just a few of the examples of Israelis.

Wikimedia Israel understands that the only way to “build community” successfully in this multicultural environment is to gain the trust of each community they work with. And in order to do this, they have to understand and respect these invisible norms.

Over the last five years, they have focused on specific communities, such as Hebrew Wikitionary and Hebrew language Wikipedia. Each of these communities presented different challenges.

In order to do their work, Wikimedia Israel has defined and redefined fundamental concepts such as “What is community?” and “What is community building?”. They’ve done this by asking hard, provocative questions - such as “If we have no hope of changing the culture of a community, can we build community?” - and challenging established mentalities or approaches within Wikimedia.

For instance, community development for Wikimedia Israel has included stopping ostensibly successful programs, because they were undermining the sustainability of community. This was the case with the Hebrew Wikitionary community, a community that has 2-3 regular editors. Because of the Wikimedia Israel’s programs, participation within the community was dramatically increasing. But despite this success, Wikimedia Israel realized that the community was becoming dependent on them to run everything. More importantly, they realized that by undermining the independence of the community they were actually doing more harm than good. In the end, this realization lead them to stop their program, until they could find a to engage with the Hebrew Wikitionary community in a healthy way.

Seventh Wikipedia Academy

Building trust with the Hebrew Wikipedia community has largely meant doing the “small, small” things really well. For instance, in their Education program, Wikimedia Israel had long-time Hebrew Wikipedia editors to identify and approve the list of articles for student to edit, which ensured that same editors were more likely to take care of the articles once they were published. Wikimedia Israel also put into place a feedback loop so that experienced editors could provide guidance at every step in the students’ content creation process. All of these “small, small” actions have meant that the articles published through Wikimedia Israel’s education program are rarely deleted. This was a dramatic improvement: in the past, articles published through the education program was largely deleted.

Overall, community building has not been straightforward for Wikimedia Israel. Instead it has included moments of success and failure, self-reflection and compromise, action and inaction. It's meant constantly experimenting to illuminate the unspoken norms within the each community.

It has meant focusing on trust, not output: doing “small, small actions" really, really well.

Now that you've read this case study, consider...

How do our metrics around "community building" today (e.g. number of participants, editors, etc.) miss this outcome of "building trust"? How do can we capture an "increase in trust" between people?


  1. Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (p. 33). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.