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.