This page gives a model for how Wikipedia organizations can review the work of Wikipedians in Residence or any other Wikipedian doing major projects.
Wikipedians, being bold by nature, often find themselves doing projects that help the public, or specific organizations, develop a clearer understanding of what Wikipedia (or Wikimedia) is. They give presentations and interviews, roll up their sleeves and develop articles and tools, host edit-a-thons, design long-term projects, and generally do a great deal to shape the way people think about the Wikimedia projects.
Along with impactful work comes a responsibility not to misrepresent the projects in important ways, not to get newcomers excited about doing things in a less than ideal way, and above all not to do harm to the projects or their ability to fulfill the Wikimedia mission. This is no mere theoretical concern; a number of well-meaning projects have resulted in negative media coverage, in which the motives and methods of good faith Wikipedians have been strongly questioned in the public sphere, to the dismay of many.
This document proposes a framework in which Wikipedians and Wikimedians can somewhat formally seek review of their plans ahead of time, in order to have the benefit of others' insights, and in order to make their projects known and approachable prior to embarking.
Purpose of this guide
If someone is doing a Wikipedia project and...
- it has the potential to have a big impact on many people in the Wikipedia community
- it is something which typical Wikipedians do not do, or is otherwise unusual
- it makes the person doing the project an off-wiki representative of the Wikipedia community
- the project has extra potential to get off-wiki external media coverage
- the project is in affiliation with an organization, and the organization is having a relationship with the Wikipedia community through this project
- the person conducting the project would, for any reason, like to have community review of their project
...then that person should consider contacting a Wikipedia organization and asking them to review their project. This is an informal process and there is no particular organization to contact for review, but this page gives details about how a person could seek and get review to the betterment of their project and the Wikipedia community.
The appropriate Wikipedia organization to contact may be any of the following:
- an ad hoc group of Wikipedia editors
- the members of a WikiProject
- the members of a Wikimedia chapter
- a Wikimedia commission
A check in this process is that the reviewing organization also makes itself available to receive complaints about the Wikipedian which it reviews, and they vouch their good reputation on the good behavior of the Wikipedian who does the project. If anyone is in doubt, they should get opinions and help first! Do not do a project with a big impact on the Wikipedia community and general public and then create a problem which could be prevented!
"Wikipedian in Residence" is a job title for a person who is employed by an organization to help it partner with the Wikipedia community to share content on Wikipedia. Wikipedians in Residence often have the potential to make massive changes to Wikipedia because the job opportunity frees their time to do more on Wikipedia than a volunteer typically would. In addition to that, a Wikipedian in Residence has the resource backing of the sponsoring institution. Because of these and other factors, Wikipedians in Residence often are able to attract disproportionate attention to their actions in comparison to other Wikipedia volunteers.
All Wikipedians have a stake in the reputation of Wikipedia, yet Wikipedians in Residence have more influence over Wikipedia's reputation than most other Wikipedians. Because of this, the Wikipedia community may benefit from offering Wikipedians in Residence a process for submitting to voluntary review to ensure that the messages they project about the nature of Wikipedia actually reflect community consensus.
Cases where something went wrong
The Wikimedia community has problems because unlike a traditional organization, it has no designated or official representatives. Because of this, media and external organizations tend to assume that any individual acting alone is an officially designated representative of some or all of the Wikimedia community.
In September 2012 there were reports about some kind of corruption relating to someone receiving a consulting fee for promoting the creation of Wikipedia content related to Gibraltar and other things. The debate about whether anything about this was right or wrong is irrelevant in the context of preventing misunderstandings, and a major misunderstanding occurred. Consider this timeline:
- On Sept 17 2012, someone posted a complaint on Jimbo's talk page
- on Sept 18 a journalist from outside Wikipedia used that complaint as a basis for writing this negative CNET article
- on Sept 19 in many English news sources repeated the charges in the original article - see Fox News
- also on that day the problem was translated to French - Le Monde
- negative coverage extended until first week of October - Forbes
The chief problem with this is that the reporting in the media did not reflect anything other than a few individuals' conversation in a Wikipedia forum. The media assumed that a few Wikipedians represented the consensus of the community because there was no designated communication channel for them to discuss this project. Someone posted a comment one day, a journalist made a story about it the next day, and the following day it made international multilingual press. The external media is not transparent about its process for investigation into anything, and the decision to condemn Wikipedians was made in hours as compared to the typical on-Wikipedia processes which often takes days and publicly asks for opinions. Irrespective of whether inappropriate actions had occurred, the Wikipedia community at the time of reporting had not itself collected sufficient information on which any reasonable Wikipedia-quality assessment could be made about the extent to which there was "corruption in wikiland" or a "scandal".
If there is a problem in the Wikipedia community then the external media should be free to report it. If there is not a problem in the Wikipedia community then the Wikipedia community should take steps to prevent media misunderstandings. The reported issue may or may not be newsworthy now but it was not newsworthy when it was reported.
Campus ambassador program
The Wikipedia Education program encourages "campus ambassadors" to go to a university class representing the Wikipedia community. The campus ambassador is supposed to help the students in the class complete a project in which they all make contributions to Wikipedia as part of their course instruction.
Since the campus ambassadors are volunteers, they do not have direct managers. There have been cases when a class has made a complaint about a campus ambassador. As of the end of 2012, there was no particular designated way for a class to communicate a complaint to anyone who regulated the actions of a campus ambassador. The communication channel for complaining about a campus ambassador is typically only to that campus ambassador. All campus ambassadors are, to some extent, self-designated free actors who do as they think is best. Usually this is fine but for complicated outreach problems it becomes more prone to problems.
The problem of disappointing a given class could be prevented if there were a volunteer management system in place, perhaps with each campus ambassador affiliating with a reviewing chapter or otherwise some channel for getting other opinions in case of a problem. There is serious, high-impact harm in having people who purport to represent the Wikipedia community go to public forums, speak on behalf of the community, and disappoint the audience seemingly with Wikipedia community backing. The community has a stake in preventing this.
Belfer Center Wikipedian in Residence program
Best practices for designing, recruiting for, and executing a Wikipedian in Residence program were disregarded, resulting in criticism from the GLAM-Wiki community and the Wikimedia community at large.
If some Wikipedian is acting as a representative of the Wikipedia community to people outside the Wikipedia community, and for whatever reason anyone would like to complain about that Wikipedian, then the complainers should have a channel in which they can submit their complaint for immediate acknowledgement and a quick response. If such a channel existed, problems with in-person outreach would be curbed.
Wikipedia organizations should offer Wikipedians the opportunity to affiliate by volunteering to submit their public, off-wiki outreach projects for review by the Wikipedia organization. In this review, the Wikipedia organization would issue a statement saying something like, "This project seems to reflect the expectations of the consensus of the Wikipedia community" and offer to be a supervising entity to the Wikipedian in Residence. In return, the Wikipedian in Residence could get organizational backing and be removed from the mediation of any dispute resolution process should there ever be a complaint about their Wikipedia project. Both the Wikipedian in Residence and the reviewing organization would share in the responsibility for problems and the credit for success resulting from the affiliating Wikipedian's work.
In all cases, be available for review from the general Wikimedia community. After that, seek review from people who are likely to have particular interest or knowledge about the project to be featured.
General Wikimedia community
Wikimedia projects have a "village pump", which is a forum for any general community discussion. Here are some pumps:
- en:Wikipedia:Village pump is for English Wikipedia, but there are also pumps for every other language
- Commons:Village pump for all non-text media discussions
- Wikimedia:Village pump for all discussions related to established outreach programs
Consider checking the WikiProjects in any language's Wikipedia.
- The WikiProject Council's Directory can direct one to forums where editors meet by topic.
- The en:Wikipedia:Regional notice boards or Regional WikiProjects can direct one to forums where editors meet by location.
If you do not know where to post your notice for review, go to the en:WP:HELP board, make a post, and someone will assist you.
Reviews from Wikimedia organizations
Perhaps the ideal organization to review a Wikipedian in Residence is a Wikimedia chapter. Each Wikipedian in Residence could affiliate with a chapter and if anyone wants to complain to the Wikipedian's managing entities, the Wikipedia chapter would be one of their options.
Some organizations which could review Wikipedians in Residence include the following:
- the regional chapter managing a Wikipedian's geographical area;
- for Wikipedians in the United States
- the Research Committee for people doing research which could affect the user experience of Wikipedians.
Any Wikipedian in Residence could have review from multiple organizations.
Anyone can edit Wikipedia; no one needs particular permission to do so. For that reason, anyone who wants to edit articles and call themselves a Wikipedian may do so without getting review from anyone.
However, if a Wikipedian in Residence wants to be reviewed by a chapter, then that Wikipedian can ask a Wikipedia organization for review. The Wikipedia organization may agree to this. The organization may make such demands as the following:
- Publicly post a description of your project
- Be transparent about what you do
- Follow community guidelines
- If anyone complains to you about your work, inform the reviewing organization immediately
- Inform the reviewing organization of any third-party media relating to the work. Media attention for Wikipedia projects is a shared concern of all Wikipedians.
Submitting to the review process is voluntary. Many Wikipedians in Residence may be doing work for which there would be no obvious good fit for a reviewing organization, in which case this affiliation offer may not be an appropriate fit for their project.
Models to emulate
The following models for project review may be useful as analogies in designing appropriate processes for reviewing Wikimedia projects.
Request for comment
English Wikipedia has a process called "request for comment" (RfC). Whenever anyone wants to get comments on something, they can make a request and people from the community respond. This outreach review process is modeled after RfC in that it allows people who propose projects to get community feedback on the project.
Volunteer manager / Community organizer
Many nonprofit organizations have staff managers who support that organization's volunteer community. This person helps the volunteers do what they want to do in their volunteer work, but also acts as a liaison between the organization and the community of volunteers. There is one aspect of this job which is analogous to this project - the volunteer manager supervises the circumstances under which and the extent to which the volunteers may say that they are representing the organization.
There is no existing process for interfacing between the Wikimedia community and any given organization. This "Outreach review" page serves the function of either a volunteer manager or a community organization only in one aspect - it gives guidance on the extent to which any Wikipedian may state that they are representing the Wikimedia community. The default representation that anyone may make is "I am a Wikimedia participant acting independently". With this review process, someone may be able to additionally say, "...I sought out review for my project in every reasonable way in accord with community practice and people posted their feedback for my proposal here at this link. It is my interpretation of this feedback that the consensus of the community is that no objection prevents my proceeding with this project."
Wikimedia UK has staff offerings for UK-based community organizers here:
Medical research review
Imagine the field of medical research, in which someone has developed a drug or treatment which they want to test. In the United States and elsewhere, medical research is a regulated industry because testing new treatments, like drugs, is risky for both people accepting the treatments and the communities in which they are tested. To encourage research while protecting people who take new treatments, there is a research review process coordinated by an entity called an "institutional review board" (IRB) and sometimes also a "community advisory board." (CAB) For the purposes of this analogy, these groups have the same goal of protecting people and the difference between them is that the IRB consists of designated third-party professional reviewers and the CAB is suppose to coordinate review from anyone from the community even if they are not professional prepared to review research.
In the review process the IRB and the CAB seek to do the following:
- Read the researchers’ project proposal to see that they have adequately described what they are going to do before they do it
- Check to see that the researchers have described all ways that the research could reasonably go wrong and harm something or someone
- Make as assessment as to whether the researchers have done due diligence in preparing their projects
- Weigh potential benefits with potential costs
- Act as a check on fairness. One model for determining fairness is the Belmont Report
- Remain available as a permanent channel for receiving public complaints about the research
The IRB and the CAB do not do the following:
- Design projects for researchers to do, as the researchers decide what to do with their own time and resources
- Join the research project, as the researchers need review from third parties
The IRB typically does not give endorsements or positive value judgments on a project, but may give any kind of statement on the quality of the submission for review. The CAB is encouraged to model itself after an IRB but since CABs are typically volunteers from all backgrounds, it is more important that they express anything they like than they conform to any particular standard.
The outreach review project could be modeled after the medical research review method. Whenever possible, the researchers should identify and recruit subject matter experts should review and publicly give comments on a project submission. However, at any time anyone regardless of background or getting an invitation from the researchers should be able to appear and give publicly recorded comments about the project at any time.
Links to other discussions
- Suggestions for chapters supporting Wikipedian in Residences
- Affiliation Committee's requirements for groups - Similar, but for groups of three and in the context of using trademarks. The commonality is a person representing Wikipedians off-site.