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Movement communications insights/Report/Clarify connect reflect

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Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

6. Clarify, connect and reflect

Use the Foundation’s platforms to tell the movement’s story centered on these key themes.

WMEG Strategy Salon 02

The medium and the message[edit]

When we set out on these focus groups, a big part of what we wanted to understand was how we could better talk about the work happening across the movement. What stories would best showcase work of the communities? What stories can we tell about the role the Foundation plays in advancing the movement’s mission? What stories would best support the work we are trying to do together? We thought what we put in the story would be insight #1 / the most important thing. But what we learned is that, in many ways, it is not.

We often hear that, when collaborating and making decisions with others, the process is as important as the product -- or, “the process is the product.” What we learned about movement communications is that “telling a better story” isn’t just about the story -- it is about the who, how and when that surround the story. Whether the story is told in your local language, in a context that matters to you, by a voice you trust. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that effective movement storytelling is mostly about getting the words and themes just right, when, in fact, the medium is as important (or more important) than the message. While the narrative is vitally important, we also need to look at the ways our communications can better support the movement through the lens of:

  • Who -- Who is the storyteller? Do they speak my language? Are they relatable? Do I know / trust them? Do they understand my experience? (See: Use humans)
  • How -- How do we tell these stories? How do we speak in the right voice, in the right places, using the right formats? Telling our movement story in a local language carries more weight for connection and belonging than trying to perfect the words. (See: Speak human)
  • How -- As in “How To.” How do I do / find / solve for x? It’s not necessarily a “story” they’re looking for -- but more like a solution to a problem. Or help when they are stuck. How we coordinate internally to build that story and keep it consistent. (See: Balance “broadcast” with “on-demand”)
  • Where -- *Finding* the story. A single front-door for finding stories, submitting stories, and getting the information they need. (See: Build a better front door)
  • When -- When do we communicate with the rest of the movement about a project? Is it the right time, given other priorities and work, both within the Foundation and the larger movement? (See: Coordinate, then communicate)
  • Why -- Why are we communicating with the rest of the movement about this? Why this project? Why now? Is the Foundation clear internally? Is the story or message consistent? (See: Coordinate, then communicate)

Establishing these priorities and understanding the entire process as the product allows us to then turn our attention to the “what” -- the content that goes into the message. Participants had many ideas for the type of messaging that would be most helpful to them in their work, and suggestions for how to evolve beyond the current story.

Typing on a computer with Wikipedia stickers

Different audience, different story[edit]

We heard many times that what we say about the movement is not only not resonating with lots of communities, it is actively building bad feelings. Participants told us about areas of our storytelling that makes us look removed, incompetent, contradictory, self-congratulatory, or lacking in self-awareness (see Appendix 1: The Foundation as a Storyteller). And this makes sense: we have mostly focused on telling the story for external audiences (readers, donors, and partners) and their priorities, interests, and attention to detail are just different. But telling our shared movement story, for the movement, means different audience, different story. The key issues that participants identified in our current storytelling were:

The current story oversimplifies who does what work. This means we at times give the impression that we are taking credit for volunteer efforts on the projects.

[At a party, the Foundation would be the person who] Raised money to host the party but only gave a tiny fraction to the people who actually organized it, then took credit for its success.

The current story oversimplifies how different parts of the movement relate. This means it is not useful in supporting movement leaders or Foundation staff in explaining their roles to movement outsiders such as governments or potential partners, or in understanding how they fit in conceptually as part of a larger movement.

When I was a cofounder of [my user group], we didn’t get any information about: What is a user group? What are the mandates that the user group has? What can we do? Can we talk in the name of the Foundation? Are we Wikimedia representatives? To clarify this… would be something good for the future.

As a newer Wikimedian and Foundation employee, I think something that I would have severely benefitted from is an internal alignment in terms of what our relationship to the community is… are they users? Are they clients? Are they customers? Are they a trusted partner? Even just a simple decision on that front would really help.

The current story does not showcase what the Foundation does for the rest of the movement, and how it interacts with the rest of the movement. This means we miss out on the opportunity to be more transparent and more relatable partners.

We [the Foundation] don’t take ownership with pride of the ways we do support.

The current story is US-centric (in both coverage of English Wikipedia and coverage of US political events). This means many communities do not feel reflected or valued in the global strategy.

If you choose to have a political positioning, then you need a fairer distribution of this positioning outside of the US… the Foundation might as well just become the USA chapter. We don’t matter to them.

The current story overfocuses on spotlighting individuals over other types of contributions. This means we miss telling stories about the collective.

I prefer to contribute behind the scenes. I don’t want to be spotlighted personally. I do want to hear about the impact I’m contributing to, though.

The current story overfocuses on idealistic messaging. This means we miss speaking to volunteers motivated by more pragmatic things, like being useful to others and a sense of duty. We should tell those stories, too.

[I am motivated by] a sense of responsibility for the limited set of articles I feel invested in.

Towards a better story: Clarify, connect and reflect[edit]

[You need to] get people to understand how their work in whatever location they are in helps the [movement] grow. Everyone needs to know how much of an impact they’re making. It’s very inspiring to know that you’re making a difference.

Participants told us in many different terms that they want stories about the movement that enhance their awareness and understanding and that accurately celebrate the work they do. They want to be brought closer to other communities and feel a sense of shared impact and of belonging. They want to understand how their work moves Wikimedia forward. They want movement storytelling that:

  • Clarifies the different roles in the movement for generating global impact;
  • Connects the local to the global by highlighting people across regions, languages, initiatives and projects. And connects the tactical to the strategic by relating projects to one another and to our movement goals;
  • Reflects the work they do by recognizing diverse motivations and diverse contributions.

Concretely, these recommendations could mean:

Clarify: Define the relationships. Build a metaphor or a simple explanation for how the Foundation relates to the rest of the movement. This metaphor will help ensure we give credit where credit is due. It can also be useful for movement members in explaining what they are and are not responsible for to movement outsiders, and in helping both newcomers and the general public understand the ways in which different parts of the movement interact.

We should have clarity [on] who is community and what other roles exist within the movement and how they interact.

Connect: Link the local with the global. Use the Foundation's platforms to bring local news to a global audience. Spotlight regional Wikimedia activities and other regional activities with significance for movement members.

We would like the Wikimedia Foundation to highlight our projects… Just ask [affiliates]: What would you like to highlight in the next month?

Connect: Link initiatives to movement goals and strategy. Call out the work that has been formative for each project. Tell stories in a way that clearly shows the throughline between the movement’s strategic work, our goals, and each individual project or contribution. Build a sense of collective momentum, that people can feel and get behind.

When there is provocative or exciting or strategic work happening, it’s rarely connecting back to the strategic process that the Foundation has initiated. I do not see Movement Strategy in most of our communications… it’s not being surfaced in how we communicate. -- Foundation staffer

Reflect: Celebrate unsung heroes. Tell stories that reflect and speak to people with different motivations. Spotlight different types of contributions to the projects. This means highlighting technical contributors as well as content contributions, collective contributions as well as individual, and work driven by pragmatism in addition to work driven by idealism.

Lots of volunteer developers… do a lot of very important work that doesn’t get any recognition.

Most of the community does a lot of work that’s hands-on, small behaviors. So the baseline knowledge that is shared is small contributions to the movement. A lot of the communications from the Foundation are never connected back to that.

These recommendations help us understand why movement communications is, in many ways, fundamentally different from the Foundation’s communications strategy more broadly. The message, the emphasis, and tone are different. The medium is different, too. They outline why the Foundation’s movement communications strategy needs to be built from the ground up, using insights from and tactics that support movement audiences.

Taken together, participants’ recommendations point to how we might begin to build this new strategy. The recommendations are about strengthening the two-way exchange between the Foundation and communities. They are about building a foundation to have complex and sometimes difficult conversations. They are about listening, celebrating and creating shared understanding. By building our front door, using human-centered strategies, speaking human, centralizing movement knowledge, coordinating amongst ourselves, and telling stories that celebrate all corners of the movement, participants believe we can work towards communications that will support the work we are all trying to do as a movement, together.

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