Movement communications insights/Report/Broadcast on demand

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Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

4. Balance "broadcast" with "on-demand"

Centralize and store movement knowledge so that people can access what they need, when they need it.

Wikimania 2019 aveugle

Many of the participants we spoke to spoke to a “stuffed but starving” problem when it comes to finding the information they need. On the one hand, they’re suffering from total information overload. On the other hand, they are struggling to access the information they are looking for. “I’ve worked in large organisations where you have the same problem,” one participant told us. “More newsletters, forums, etc. get created and hardly anybody reads them because they are all too busy.” It’s a firehose of information, but people are still somehow left thirsty.

One of the participants pointed out that in some ways, tackling this “thirsty firehose” problem is structural. That it is broken in its underlying design. Because there are in fact two different kinds of communications needs they have.

“Forums and newsletters are not good communication solutions,” she told us, because they broadcast information. That is to say, they transmit information widely, of general interest to a large audience. “But what people actually tend to want is the ability to quickly search or Google to get the information they want when they need it.” On-demand.

Just what I am looking for[edit]

Participants told us that they have trouble finding the information they need when they need it. This forces them to constantly monitor many channels to catch information before it is gone. And, because there are not easy ways to follow only specific topic areas of interest, they end up passively consuming a ton of information -- with varying levels of relevance to their work -- and feeling overloaded.

There is a huge information and communication overload, across the movement in general, not just from the Foundation. Sometimes there is just too much that I feel [like] turning off all channels, including mailing list, Telegram, FB etc. but then there is also the fear of missing out on important updates. There needs to be something to streamline communications, and help people to stay aware of what's happening, but not feel overloaded.

Amidst the overload, participants talked about relying on their memory to recall past updates, invitations, or initiatives that may connect to the work they do, and having serious issues finding the information again.

Even for me, with 14 years of experience, information that I need is sometimes still hard to find. Should I look on meta? On the Foundation blog? On the Foundation website? Or somewhere else? ... I'm always glad I have an email archive of 14 years of mail, which sometimes is the place where I can finally find what I was looking for.

Different use cases, different needs[edit]

Broadcast versus on-demand, or “just in case” versus “just in time” as one of the participants put it, are two completely different use cases, supporting two different human needs. They are complementary, and a good communications system uses both.

Broadcast On-demand
"Just in case" "Just in time"
Visible Searchable
Newspaper article Phonebook
Diff post Wikipedia article (when specific topic is searched)
Nightly news News archive
Sent to all Sent to segmented audience/selection

Clogging the airwaves[edit]

When we try to use a single tool for both of these purposes, we end up spamming and clogging. Participants stressed that, without an on-demand information center (like a searchable index, forum, help-desk, support center, etc.), we clog the only communications channels they do have with broadcasting.

Many of the communication channels we use don’t have a reliable, searchable store of information, so broadcasting turns to spamming, when people ask for the information that they need that others may not, and then to rebroadcasting, when information is repeated, clogging the channel even more. And when the channel becomes too saturated, often a new one gets created. This worsens our “too many channels” problem, and making the distribution of information even more fragmented.

Q: Where is [subject1] posted? A:Oh, it's posted place1 and place2. Q: Where is [subject2] posted? A: Oh, it's posted at place3 and place4. Q: Where are things regarding [subject3] posted? A: Oh, you need to look at place5, place6, place7 for that.

On-demand information: a one-stop-shop[edit]

Participants want the Foundation to shift more of our efforts away from “broadcast” / push and towards “on-demand” search / pull. In practice, this could look like a place that automatically centralizes announcements and information with a strong search functionality. That does not mean that there is not room for movement-wide news, storytelling and general updates. Those things are critical for connecting people to new topics they may be interested in, or allowing them to stay informed generally. But we also have to connect people to the information they need, in the moment they need it.