Movement communications insights/Report/Use humans

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Connecting the Movement
Communications Insights for the Wikimedia Foundation

2. Use humans

Take a human-centered approach to communications -- as opposed to a tech- or channel-centric approach.

Free knowledge in my country 10


Last year a group of women in my community made a complaint with Trust and Safety,” one of our participants shared with us. “The first response we got from an officer was that if we talk in English, the response would be faster. It was a very complex situation of harassment, and it was very difficult for us to explain it in English.” This made a tense situation even more difficult.

"We were feeling insecure and unsafe,” she told us. "That is why we need a spokesperson that we can speak to and help us translate these issues to the officers in the Foundation, especially for sensitive issues. It is monumental if the [Foundation] wants to maintain a healthy community.”

The human element[edit]

This desire for a local human point of contact or bridge or guide came up over and over again in our discussions. There is a clear sense that investing in this human part of the equation -- as opposed to technical fixes, tooling upgrades, channel strategies -- is arguably the best way to solve for several challenges at the same time. And there is growing familiarity with and support for the “liaison” approach to strengthening communication between the Foundation and communities, and as the connective brain-tissue between various parts of the movement.

Instead of thinking about translating outgoing messages, it would be better if there would be a clear spokesperson who speaks that language… [People] know there is one person in the Foundation that speaks this language and can be contacted. It seems like a better approach than translating general messages to everyone.

This came up repeatedly: the success of local champions, affiliates, spokespeople to bridge gaps, explain what is going on, listen, and build deeper connections. And these local champions are sources of huge trust and appreciation.

[Liaisons] have a proven success record. Huge opportunity for future investment.

Investing in regional communications specialists[edit]

What participants suggested this could mean in practice is this: hiring people with communications and community organizing backgrounds to become the regional face of the Foundation for communities, and act as a communications bridge to the region for Foundation staff.

These specialists can:

  • Listen and engage in their local contexts. “Regional liaisons are so helpful... They have locally relevant knowledge and understand what is happening on the ground.”
  • Localize communications. “These folks should be knowledgeable about the projects, and also knowledgeable about LGBT+ terminology, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, ability in their languages.”
  • Spotlight local work. “Amplifying community voices. eg, [my user group]. But the Foundation has not retweeted / shared our work.”
  • Advocate for local needs. “The annual calendar is designed for the global north. January is the month of summer vacation in South America and I am on my holidays.”
  • Triage local support requests. “...we need a spokesperson that we can speak to and help us translate these issues to the officers in the Foundation, especially sensitive issues.”
  • Connect local to global. Help bridge the local and global, plugging into regional hubs or any other future regional community structures.

Too many channels versus 'meet people where they are': humans are the bridge[edit]

One of the most common pain-points surfaced was: “there are too many channels and platforms!” This often leads to proposals like: “you really should consolidate into a single place.”

But then in the next breath, we often hear what feels like a directly opposite point: “meet people where they are.” That means that if a local user group is using Telegram, we should “meet people where they are,” and use that. So, how might we split the knot on this tension?

...[we need] something centralizing, that can then be re-shared again and again in local channels.

Wikimania 2016 attendees discussing a hackathon

“Share for re-share.” One of the best solutions we heard was to take a “share for reshare” approach. Concretely, it means: sharing news in a clear and concise way in a central space, with some basic tooling to allow for quick translation/localization and reshare across platforms. This approach allows the local representative or human specialist to monitor the Foundation firehose -- and then easily translate and re-share in the local channels and contexts that make sense for a given region and topic, ensuring that the right updates are reaching the communities that want them.

Who talks to the movement? Building capacity and clarifying expectations for staff[edit]

Bringing in regionally specialized communicators and investing in “share for re-share” models are critical to bridging communications gaps that exist. But what about investing in the humans already at the Foundation and already talking to the rest of the movement? One of the things we heard on a recurring basis from participants was that they believe that many Wikimedia Foundation staff they interact with lack knowledge and respect for the “Wikimedia way of doing things.” Many of them cited this lack of Wikimedia-specific knowledge or understanding as a top obstacle in their interactions with the Foundation -- both in our communications and more generally.


“[There is] a sense that WMF staff are not closely integrated with community and out of step with community norms”

This was a concern we heard echoed amongst the Foundation staff we spoke with, too. Staff talked about having been hired to do a job that felt doable based on their previous experience, and then quickly facing a huge number of complexities related to working with the movement. Without training or experience in that regard, they often become lost or confused.

Dive in or delegate?[edit]

Faced with complexities around movement communications, staff described a “dive in or delegate” situation, where they either dive in head-first to talking with the movement and learn by doing, or delegate that work to someone with that experience. Both have clear drawbacks. Diving in leads to mis-steps that communities and staff need to step in to fix:

“Often, staff does not have the time to learn this prior to launching projects and spends time correcting mistakes that were made because of this lack of information/training/understanding.” --Foundation staffer

Delegating gives the impression that the “real decision makers” are staying mostly removed from communities:

The WMF has a habit of putting project leads out on a branch and abandoning them to the Community, which is unfair on both sides… The project lead doesn’t have the authority.

This creates a lot of community fatigue. Sometimes communities have been working on a specific problem or part of the project for years. When Foundation staff turns over, the burden falls on communities to educate new staff. And they get tired of it.

[The Foundation hires] a lot of people who are not knowledgeable about the jobs they are supposed to be doing...Volunteers have to expend emotional labor continuing to correct staff.

How might we tackle this challenge?[edit]

We asked, “If you were a C-level at the Foundation, what would you do? How would you solve this?” Staff participants in particular came back with four suggestions:

Communicating with the movement as part of everyone’s job. For some it will be a bigger part of their role than others -- but the recommendation we got was: co-ownership. Give everyone a bit of exposure so that they understand the experience.

[As a C-Level, I would] adjust the job descriptions of people in my department so that it is explicitly part of their roles to engage with communities. Then it's not an "extra" thing or outside of anyone's scope. -- Foundation staffer

Prioritize hiring for community organizing / movement organizing experience at all levels. The hiring process should highly value skills in this area. Whenever possible, look for candidates with comparable experience in movement contexts.

Our HR processes [should] prioritize the kinds of candidates that have comparable work experience in spaces like this. Open source communities, academia, knowledge production, movement organizing, movement communication work... which is *the* thing that people have the hardest time learning. --Foundation staffer

Humanize leaders as part of the movement. Host office hours occasionally, show up on Diff or Meta-Wiki and, perhaps most importantly, create space for informal, unstructured time with community members to get to know each other and share experiences, whether in person or online. These small signals matter. They show we are interested in building relationships.

[If I were a C-level, I would] build in 10-15% of my time -- forever -- to do community facing work. Holding office hours, reading forums, going to community events. Then talk with other C-levels about the community regularly, to we're aligned on how to engage. -- Foundation staffer

Onboarding. Onboarding programs should give people a clear framework for how the Foundation fits into the rest of the movement (see: Clarify, connect and reflect). They should incorporate training to teach new staff to edit, and show them around the projects and places communities talk to one another.

There is such intricacy around how the movement works and so much to learn. I think we can be really deliberate when people come in about some orientation or some process of understanding the most important elements. I, for one, had to figure it out on my own. I can imagine lots of people have done that, too, and that leads to more missteps and more distrust.” --Foundation staffer

Connecting with the rest of the movement is a key part of almost everything that the Foundation does. Taking a human-centered approach to communications will help deepen those connections and enable the Foundation to better support the communities that will grow our movement most in the years to come.

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