Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/2019 Community Conversations/Community Health

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Scoping format[edit]

What is your area of inquiry?[edit]

The working group is examining how we as users and communities can collaborate better, which role our community cultures play in shaping user behavior, and which processes and tools might need to be utilized, built or improved in safeguarding a thriving movement.

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What is the current situation?[edit]

Current community culture creates challenges for various aspects of community health. The challenges create social barriers to participation. These barriers include, but are not limited to, persistence of bad behavior, guidelines and procedures lacking clarity or flexibility or both, and underprepared leadership to handle situations of a diverse, passionate online community. These challenges will be outlined in the following paragraphs.

Participation in our online projects and offline spaces is currently seen as something everyone can equally access on a level playing field. In reality, participation is a privilege enjoyed only by relatively few contributors compared to our global readership. The current movement culture presents social as well as technical barriers to participation. Contributors sometimes use their power and privilege to silence other voices. This can be seen in discussions about changing existing community processes and structures. The culture in the Wikimedia movement does not adequately address inequities in process. Although community decision making processes are open to all contributors on most projects, many do not participate. This is due to poor culture that exists in our community. Participating in discussions or decision-making feels unsafe to some contributors. To contribute could mean anything from harsh words in the discussion thread to doxxing or other forms of harassment or bullying. As a global community, we do not focus enough on the social dimension of our projects, focusing instead on content. On the journey towards knowledge equity outlined in the 2030 direction, our focus needs to center on the social side of our movement and the technical environments we largely collaborate with each other in.

In the same spirit, we have to clarify responsibility for community health issues. The Wikimedia movement suffers from an over-reliance on insufficiently trained  and resourced volunteer leadership. The community wiki projects are run by volunteers, but not all volunteers behave in a way that is healthy for the community. The problem has been recognised for a long time but so far there have been very few successful attempts to find a structural remedy that fosters equitable participation chances. We currently lack insight into the psychological and social processes that motivate and often reward persistent bad behaviour in our different cultural contexts. Our communities of volunteers rarely have the skills, support systems and resources to tackle this issue.

Behaviour that is disrespectful, discriminatory, threatening, bullying or otherwise disruptive and damaging is a huge problem in our communities. It can occur online or offline. It is adversely impacting our community health, and resulting in burnout for existing community members and is discouraging to new members. Many contributors hesitate to speak out or take action against bad behavior because of the real risk of becoming a target themselves. This is inhibiting the mission to achieve knowledge equity as it contributes to the exclusion of marginalised groups.

These are established barriers in communities both large and small. Most significantly from a knowledge equity point of view, there are groups that are excluded from access to our projects altogether. Not able to become readers, there is little chance they will become contributors. This makes it difficult for marginalised voices and groups to participate in our movement both online and offline to share their knowledge with it and through its infrastructure the world at-large. The persistence of these barriers makes their participation even less likely. If we have any hope of truly fulfilling our mission, we need to dismantle these barriers and help these groups facilitate access to our projects.

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Why this scope?[edit]

In every social grouping, community health is an ongoing process and Wikimedia has explored many aspects of this topic area during the 2017  and 2018 community consultation cycles. The Community Health Working Group felt it was best in evaluating the structural problems detailed above to build on these community inputs and  the three following aspects known to impact community health:

Decision making processes that better support the wellbeing of contributors and make the projects more welcoming, would greatly benefit the Wikimedia mission and local project communities on their journey towards 2030. The lack of essential structures, such as universal basic rules for behaviour, mean we still don't have a basis to determine what is healthy behaviour. This speaks strongly to several of the challenges noted in “current situation” section. Designing structures, policies, processes and resources in a way that effectively support community health will bring us closer to enabling our Wikimedia 2030 goals and the thriving movement needed to actually achieve them.

Rules and structures will not be effective in guiding decision making if they are not supported by a culture of zero-tolerance for unacceptable behaviour in the community. It is essential that community leaders have the ability and support to gain the skills needed to address unacceptable behaviour and that there are adequate resources and tools to aid them in this crucial and often not very rewarding work.

Inclusion of marginalised voices is a good design principle as what works well for the most disadvantaged members of any group tends to work at least equally well for most of its members. This is a sound approach towards equitable participation in a thriving movement and making it easier for (potential) contributors from all backgrounds to participate is one of the essential building blocks in the next ten years. This includes simplifying processes for new and old users, providing resources to support individual health and focusing more on smaller communities in underserved areas in order to gain and retain new voices in our community.

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Scoping questions[edit]

What are the key questions within the scope of the Working Group?[edit]

  • What are the social and technical challenges within the current administrative and decision-making systems that hinder the creation and maintenance of community health?
  • How can the ability of communities to govern themselves within the broad framework of the Foundation’s Terms of Use be improved  while also respecting the dignity of everyone involved and their contributions towards our shared goals?
  • How can access to our projects be improved as access is the first essential step towards participation in a thriving movement?
  • How can structures create, support and reinforce universally acceptable behavior across our communities?
  • How can cultural shift in communities be initiated to make contributing a more positive experience for everyone participating in good faith?
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