Long term impact of Wikimedians in Residence (2018)/impact of WIRs/scalability across sector
- External collaborations and scale
The WIR collaborations had a wider focus than just the partner institutions themselves and evidence shows that the projects often had a sectoral impact. These impacts beyond the partner organisations provide a multiplier effect. Through the process of running a Wikimedian in Residence programme, the host organisations often became spokespeople for open knowledge, sharing the experience gained through the programme, and motivated by internal cultural changes towards openness. This supports Wikimedia UK’s strategic objective of advocating for open knowledge on a sectoral level.
All of the institutions involved are influential within their field or sector, and with some residencies a sector impact was built into the expected outcomes. Museums Galleries Scotland, itself an infrastructure body, signed up to the WIR programme in order to “improve awareness of the benefits of open knowledge through education within the Scottish museum sector”. This indeed has been achieved and continues to be delivered now:
The biggest benefit of having the WIR was building awareness of open knowledge within the museum and galleries sector in Scotland. Organisations are increasingly seeking advice from MGS on e.g. digitisation projects – that’s become very popular, possibly because widening access is so important now in the sector. The advice given is linked to the open knowledge because staff have gained expertise in it through the residency. For MGS, the big change has been increased confidence in speaking about licences.
-- Kelly Forbes (Digital Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland, WIR’s line manager), impact interview June 2017
Another partner, National Library of Scotland, wanted to make a positive difference to access and understanding of Scottish culture, and in the course of the residency moved from direct delivery within the Library to advocating for open knowledge within Scotland. This culminated in the residency managers at the Library writing a new book, Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage, published in 2017; with the need for the book emerging from growing internal and external interest in open knowledge. Through their partnership with Wikimedia UK and their subsequent advocacy work to promote open knowledge, the National Library has therefore changed its internal practices, improved its external image and helped to disseminate awareness and understanding of the benefits of (and practical approaches to) the creation of free, open content across the library sector in Scotland. Apart from creating the book, the Library also supported individual institutions to work on open knowledge - e.g. their WIR supported Museums Galleries Scotland in setting up a Residency, which formed a part of a growing network of activities in Scotland.
To illustrate how this network works, we could look at the University of Edinburgh’s residency - which in a sense started at the University of Oxford. Melissa Highton, Director of Academic IT at University of Oxford at the time, led a team which attended a Wikipedia editing event to improve articles on WW1. Oxford holds the Great War Archive, so this was a great match (this event in itself was inspired by an editathon run by Wikimedia UK in 2011). In 2013 Oxford hosted its first editathon for Ada Lovelace Day, and a few years later set up a WIR partnership with Wikimedia UK.
In 2014 Melissa had moved jobs to become Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh. There had not yet been any Wikipedia editathons at Edinburgh so Melissa brought her teams to the Edinburgh EduWiki 2014 conference - run by Wikimedia UK - to find out more. National Library of Scotland’s WIR spoke at the event, which led to them supporting an Innovative Learning Week editathon in 2015. Following this a business case was put together for a WIR at the University, something which was implemented several months later.
This story isn’t unusual in how one residency can spread its influence. At Natural History Museum, the Resident leveraged the prestige of his host institutions to run collaborative projects with other organisations. A brief selection of the many joint projects delivered include Wellcome Collection discussions (several years later developing into a WIR project), advising the Royal Society on hosting a WIR (led to the setup of the project), Wikipedia events with Medical Research Council, Office for National Statistics, Collections Trust.
This means that Wikimedia UK is crucially placed to join up residencies, make connections between projects, and carry on ideas and new links once a WIR project ends. Residents active at any one time also often work on areas that can compliment each other, but without knowledge exchange between WIRs those opportunities can be lost. We now place much more emphasis on networking between WIRs.
External sector advocacy was widely seen as one of the key impacts of residencies. Interestingly, often the residencies weren’t originally set up for advocacy (rather, for encouraging content creation). In some cases this developed as institutions gained experience and insight they wanted to share, while in others the Residents moved to advocacy work when they experienced long standing, internal barriers in delivering their primary goals such as releasing collections.
Similarly, some Residents moved to external advocacy when they discovered that they can’t make changes within their host institutions unless they change the settings within which those operate. For example, Natural History Museum was bound by the conditions of its Department for Culture, Media and Sport funding - it stipulated that the performance metrics for their content can only be counted on NHM websites, and not externally. So the huge reach of any released images would not be included in NHM’s achievements.