Movement communications insights/Report/Front door

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Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

1. Build a better front door

Create a single point of entry for support, information and resources from the Foundation.

Seated people, some rising hand.

One of the participants we spoke with had a problem -- as a Wikimedia affiliate leader, she had a serious financial issue that threatened the stability of her affiliate. She needed the Foundation’s advice, but she didn’t know who to ask, or how to get help. “As a representative, I needed to contact and meet with some Foundation staff in relation to finances, to see how we could navigate a sticky patch. But despite repeated email requests with a number of individuals CC’ed, I NEVER received any response.

Her experience was similar to many of the community members we heard from -- community members with a particular need or question for the Foundation, who were unsure how to get support. The recurring pattern that emerged from many of these stories was:

  • Moment of need. Ranging from legal support to feature development -- trying to figure out how to do something, or in need of help navigating a complex system or problem.
  • Unsure where to go. Searching through (often out of date) Meta pages and the Foundation website, usually ending in frustration.
  • Struggling to find and contact the right Foundation staff. In the absence of finding what they need, participants attempt to find a human to help. Often relying on their own or other personal connections.
  • Not hearing back. Or not receiving a reply in a timely way, or getting the specific answer they were looking for.
  • Feeling frustrated. And often taking away the impression that Foundation staff are unresponsive or do not care.

Creating a single “front door”[edit]

Three people in front of a wall covered with notes.

The proposed solution we heard most often was simple: create a single “front door” for the Foundation. Something clear, well-lit, and welcoming. A single entry point to the Foundation’s work so that movement members can start their experience in the right place.

In the absence of this clear starting point or front door, what we observe instead is a series of improvised side-doors, winding paths leading nowhere, and frustrated people trying to crawl in through the windows instead. Participants emphasized that the lack of a clear front door for the Foundation’s work prevents communities from partnering with us. They cannot easily find basic information about who we are and what we do. They do not know where to turn for questions, concerns, and support requests. This lack of clarity breeds a certain level of mistrust.

From the outside, it's nearly impossible to tell what people actually do at the Foundation… It's harder to assume good faith that WMF staff is doing the right thing when you don't have any idea what they're doing.

What do participants most want?[edit]

A good front door is predictable–it’s clear, and it opens to where you are trying to go. Where should this front door lead? Here’s what participants said:

  • Foundation support. How to get help.
  • Foundation departments, teams & initiatives. Basic organizational chart with roles and responsibilities.
  • Foundation news & announcements. Important updates, stories and invites from the Foundation.
  • Capacity-building resources. Topics most commonly mentioned: conflict resolution, dealing with online harassment, media and communications guides, grant resources, sockpuppet detection, and retaining volunteers.
  • Communications channels map. A crowdsourced map of places where different communities talk.
  • Calendar. A place to track in-person and online events across the movement.
  • Movement directory. An online directory of movement groups and initiatives that is searchable and sortable by group, location and topic of interest.

Deep dive: Support from the front door[edit]

Participants talked about Foundation support looking like a single, responsive, multilingual point of contact. A sort of “Wiki Concierge” in the form of a single email address and a wiki page. Friendly, knowledgeable humans behind it would triage and respond to requests within a set amount of time.

In a dream world, I imagine a place where there’s some sort of help desk or triage entrypoint for the Foundation. Where any community member can speak to a single point of contact. It could be an email address or what not. Where they can say ‘I have X problem, take me to X thing’ or ‘What can I do with this or that?’...And then, tied to that, the possibility that people could write in their own language.

Similar efforts have been undertaken in the past (like the Wikimedia Resource Center) but they weren’t resourced, maintained or promoted to the point of meeting this need. The front door of the organization isn’t an after-thought or a side project. Participants stressed that it is crucial, and, as with any lasting communications improvement, must be continuously resourced, maintained and promoted in order to be effective. Only through ongoing commitment and prioritization will the front door of the Foundation be able to provide more comprehensive, equitable, and scalable support.

Growing past our workarounds[edit]

One of the recurring themes in the stories we heard from participants is that personal relationships are often the workaround people use to get help. These strong personal relationships have been central to the movement in many ways -- but they are not a sustainable solution, and they provide no easy remedy when staff change.

Because there’s a high rate of turnover, today you could be dealing with this person, tomorrow they leave the Foundation. It’s like you're dealing with personalities, you're not dealing with a unit... [When someone leaves] I start from scratch.

Without a clear front door, community members are forced to over-rely on personal connections in the Foundation to get things done. This reinforces inequities in the movement, with those with the most personal connections having better access to resources.

Different levels of access to different Foundation staff is problematic. [It] should not be privileged, [the Foundation] should have an easy approach to understand who to talk to.

Access to Foundation staff: two different use cases and motivations[edit]

Understanding the context around the desire for a clear “front door” helps us to better understand another frequent request we heard from participants: the desire for better, clearer understanding of Foundation staff, directory and departments. Sometimes this request is related to transparency and working open, but often it comes from community members seeking specific points of contact primarily because they don’t know where else to turn or how else to get help. These needs are not mutually exclusive, and we can do both. But the point is: in some instances, we want to make it easier for people to get support without having to navigate the complexity of Foundation teams, departments and org charts.

My main problem with WMF so far has been when contacting the Foundation… [the problem] is that WMF has no direct channels [for] particular issues, so sometimes I ended up pinging "people" who might be related to my worry or particular demand, rather than addressing an actual door.

Creating a better front door for triaging these requests can make life easier on everyone -- community members more easily get what they need, and staff are allocated in the ways that can provide the best use of their time and support.

I work in a company. And if all customers came directly to me, I would go freaking crazy.

"It's not rocket science"[edit]

When we asked one of our participants for an example of what the ideal front door might look like, her response was frank:

Speaking as a librarian, this isn’t rocket science.

The point being: participants are not looking for perfection, or for complex technical solutions. We may have let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The key ingredients will be to commit to seeing it through in the longer term, invest in the design and human resources to make it good, and work to continuously update and improve.

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