Learning patterns/Community impact

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Community impact
problemYou worked hard on a project you believe in, but no one seemed interested in what you made or wants to carry your work forward.
solutionDesign your project from the start with a clear target audience in mind. Make it easy for other people to sustain your project and use it as a platform for further work.
creatorJmorgan (WMF)
created on30 January, 2014
status:in progress

What problem does this solve?[edit]

The projects we undertake in the Wikimedia movement are always intended to have a lasting impact. This is true for activities focused on increasing participation in our wiki projects and educating people in the value of free culture, and for initiatives aimed at creating high-quality content or any of our other strategic priorities.

However, many well-intentioned projects never achieve the impact they intended, or become inactive when their founding members leave.

What is the solution?[edit]

No one can read minds or predict the future, but projects that have the greatest impact sometimes seem as though they were designed with insights into the future: they seem to know what people want and how to provide it, and to anticipate challenges and opportunities months or years ahead.

Two key factors in their success are the ability to (i) identify a target audience they want to reach, and (ii) make plans for their project to sustain itself and grow without their direct control.

Identify a specific target audience[edit]

Every individual has specific abilities, needs, and desires; the same is true for communities. Many high-impact projects are successful because they have a positive impact on a specific group of people. When planning your project, it's useful to identify a specific group or community that you want to benefit, as well as a specific need they have that your project will address. For example, the PRChina Individual Engagement Grant project focused on Chinese social media users, who are active on the internet but may be unaware of Wikipedia for historical reasons.[1] The Wikipedia Adventure was designed specifically to meet the needs of new editors, who often struggle to Wikipedia's rules and its technology.[2] On the other hand, software projects such as Replay edits[3] and the MediaWiki data browser[4] did not initially identify a specific user base with a clear, unmet need in their project plans, and did not achieve wide adoption and use during their first six months.

Plan for future growth[edit]

Many projects focus on building something—a tool, a curriculum, a community workspace, a strategy proposal. But most of the things we build need time to reach their full potential. At the early stages you should have an idea of how your project can continue to be useful and grow after you've finished building it. It's fine if your growth plans change over the course of the project, but don't lose sight of them. The Wikisource grant project organized a Wikidata task force and cross-language WikiSource user group with 40 members. Both of these groups now have independent workspaces, agendas, and strategic goals of their own, which will make it easier for them to continue the grant-funded work with ongoing community collaborations.[5] Similarly, the WikiArS project built a suite of assignment sheets and instructional materials in conjunction with art school instructors in Spain, who can now re-use these materials with subsequent generations of students and create more high-quality graphical resources for Wikimedia Commons.[6]

General considerations[edit]

  • Document your process, not just your product. Make sure that your project report includes links to information resources you've created that would be useful for someone who wants to replicate or build on your work. Examples include documentation for any software you create, assignment sheets, workshop schedules, and participant contact lists (if that information is public).
  • Recruit as you go. Different phases of a project require different skillsets, and are engaging to different people. People who work with you during the building phase of your project may not be interested in continuing once the tasks they enjoy most have been completed. On the other hand, you may encounter new people at a later stage who are excited to get involved in the next stage. Welcome these new people into your project and give them meaningful work to do so that they are encouraged to stick around. Tip: good recruiting involves the assessment of what each individual is interested in, balancing this against their patterns of availabitlity and the likelihood that the individual will actually get involved when it comes to the time.
  • Provide ongoing support and mentorship. If someone wants to use your work as a platform for further work, or to reproduce it somewhere else (such as another wiki, or another country), let them know that they can contact you if they have questions or want advice. Sometimes even a quick email or telephone call from you can clear something up for someone and save them hours of work. Sometimes, just knowing that you want their project to succeed can give them much-needed confidence.
  • Make sure the time is right. The Pan-Scandinavian Machine-assisted Content Translation project would not have been possible if we didn't already have a lot of ground-work in place, both regarding process (how to create MT systems quickly), technology (Content Translation already exists as a tool, Apertium core development tools are quite established and tested), and resources (existing data sets to re-use).[7] If any of these were missing, we would have to decrease the scope of the project in order to make something that had any impact, otherwise we'd end up just doing this ground-work without reaching measurable results.

When to use[edit]

  • Projects that develop new tools. Whether you're building a game or a guidebook, make sure you document how to use your tool. Make people aware that it exists, and what its purpose is.
  • Projects that form new communities of interest. If you're organizing a community of people to work together collaboratively, provide them with guidelines, goals, and information about useful resources so that they can take the lead on your project once you're no longer directly involved.


See also[edit]

Related patterns[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Individual Engagement Grant: Build an effective method of publicity in PRChina. project proposal
  2. Individual Engagement Grant: The Wikipedia Adventure. project proposal
  3. Individual Engagement Grant: Replay edits. project proposal
  4. Individual Engagement Grant: MediaWiki data browser project proposal
  5. Individual Engagement Grant: Elaborating WikiSource strategic vision. final report
  6. Individual Engagement Grant: Consolidate wikiArS to involve art schools. final report
  7. Grants:IEG/Pan-Scandinavian_Machine-assisted_Content_Translation/Final