Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/2019 Community Conversations/Strategy Salons/Reports/BLT
Date and location of event
August 13th, 2019 Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
- Jina Valentine, Co-Founder BLT
- Eliza Myrie, BLT Wiki project mgr
- January Arnall, MCA Chicago, curator
- Brian Choo, Wikimedians of Chicago
- Sierra Council, BYP 100
- Selena Ingram, CAA and Columbia College
- Mike Norse, HPAC, Education Director
- Hilesh Patel, Field Foundation, officer
- Gibran Villalobos, MCA Chicago, curator
- LaTasha Pollard, UIC Women’s Center
- Kevin Whitneir, BLT
- Chris, HPAC teacher
- Malika, HPAC student
A brief description of what happened during the event
On Tuesday, August 13th, twelve people gathered at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, IL to discuss Wikipedia’s 2030 initiative and the work of Black Lunch Table(BLT). Over dinner, we looked at the interrelated concerns of revenue streams and diversity and how the Foundation can be accountable and transparent to its content creators(editors) and the larger read-only community as it intends to grow both groups and the platform in the future.
We began the evening with a brief presentation about the goals and questions posed by the Foundation for these Salon events as they related to concerns of diversity and revenue streams. We also presented the work of BLT and how we imagine engaging work on a local level that could activate these strategic goals.
Our group of Salon participants was diverse in many senses, age, gender, occupation, and engagement with Wikipedia. This made for an especially informative conversation for the members of Black Lunch Table, it pointed to important concerns about Wikipedia’s intentions at large, how that affects our engagement with communities and how we can move forward with the Foundation in ways that supports Wikipedia’s efforts while also attending to the systemic inequities we see as part of the structure of the platform.
We hosted an event spanning three hours and because of time restraints, we choose a few questions we thought would be most relevant to the expertise of those in the room. The following outlines the questions that we pulled from the longer scoping documents presented to the group and charged them with engaging for the evening.
- Tell the Foundation why accepting corporate funding may be risky.
- Tell the Foundation why corporate funding may be useful.
- The Foundation’s collaboration with Google.
- How can the foundation help local groups fundraise for smaller projects?
- How can these smaller projects direct the Foundation’s mission?
- How do you feel about an earned income model for Wiki? i.e selling Wiki swag at various events, paid training, paid etc… Paid internships for students?
- Compensation for folks who demonstrate need?
- Scholarships to reward students for time invested?
- Need to create something more complex than just $-$
- Diversity is an extremely broad topic
- What do you mean when you say “diversity?”
- ethnic/racial diversity?
- Ability related diversity?
- Minority languages?
- Economic/access diversity?
- Diverse = all things that are not related to white, cis-male, western world, higher institution educated, folks with time, 75% of the world.
- The issue is that it is defined by tech bros. 010101 … how can we use human logic within the platform?
- Why does the Foundation assume that inclusion (encouraging diversity) will necessitate a radical transformation of the platform/structure?
- And what if it did? This assumes that the calcified structure is the right one for everyone.
- How do we then reimagining wiki for the actual new future users, mobile?
After initial introductions/outlines, we quickly realized based on participants questions, that before we could deeply dive into consideration of our topics we had to discuss the entity of Wikipedia itself. While each of our partners/participants was familiar with Wikipedia, especially as users, there was some confusion about the Foundation, the variety of Wiki named products Wikimedia, Wikidata, etc. how they all interacted and the governing structures of the Wikipedia editor community as well as the affiliate/user group structure.
- G: What are the differences between Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Wikidata [...]
- B: [...] different facets of the same model of like volunteers contributing information.
- B: ...but like Wikipedia is like an encyclopedia model so like you write articles on there.
- B: Wiktionary for example. it's like a dictionary.
- B:It's a 501 3 C non-profit organization with membership only accessible through board what's a 25 million-dollar endowment and about 300 staff. The own the products Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikipedia Commons, wikidata, wikiquote, wikibooks, wikisource () wikiversity
There were questions and skepticism about the Foundation’s intentions as it relates to the 2030 Movement Strategy and the organization generally as it attempts to more directly connect to users in the future. Important Q’s users/participants are seeking re: WMF
- WHO is Wikipedia? Beyond board members and 990’s, what is their narrative/origin story? What is the cost of business? Is Wikimedia trying to be THE home base for knowledge?
- Who is at the table(diversity of voices) and to a greater degree who is empowered to make decisions at every level of the organization should be available and apparent.
- The younger generation of users/consumers requires morality and transparency with the brands they engage. They want their consumption/use to align with their own values, otherwise, they will go elsewhere.
- S: I also think they underestimate, like, what people-I think that’s why I’m also having a hard time grasping because there are so many initiatives that are now challenging the status quo of how things are done. Like, yes, it is about, oh, this is a space for public knowledge. Give it about 5, 10 years and there’ll be another space for public knowledge. I think that we’re at a space where people are starting to challenge it and so in order to remain competitive, you have to be able to say, like, “Oh, this is why you should be my friend.” This is why you should remain invested in our values and what we stand for because in order for us to be sustainable-it’s hard for people to latch onto () giving a dollar or even just wanting to edit or be a part of the conversation when, like, I can just go and create my own space with my own community of people and that validates it in the places that I want it to be validated in...Like, you know, this is one of what my goals are, this is the way I want to see it. Here’s my own creative and innovative route to doing that because nowadays, we don’t have to go the traditional route. There’s too much technology and too many ways to do it different.
- How does Wikipedia communicate its brand? This includes things aesthetics and usability.These are facets of being accountable and transparent to their constituency. Users recognize that because the Wikipedia model is not traditionally transactional and ostensibly operating as a resource, WMF may feel less inclined to this expressed want, but they have to consider this earnestly if they want to engage new/different publics.
- What are Wikipedia’s intentions/politics and how do they demonstrate that beyond the digital.
There was a brief discussion about the community of editors and the notability standards that exist on Wikipedia, especially as it relates to marginalized people.
- B: Yeah so, we’re talking about notability as defined on the English language Wikipedia? That’s where Black Lunch Table works right? Uh, and that’s usually the Wikipedia that we access. We don’t access like Chinese Wikipedia or Spanish Wikipedia but the English Wikipedia, I guess, like we all know, was built whoever wants to build it. Like, whoever can just go on and write something and when it first started out, like, a community of people like, formed, right? Volunteers who decided that they liked writing Wikipedia and they came together and decided what was deemed notable. So, notability was not defined by some Wikimedia Foundation or something. It was decided by whoever decided to participate in the conversation and of course, that means, like a lot of people () existed, a lot of people who didn’t have time to like, log on Wikipedia and like, edit. I didn’t participate in that conversation but notability, as defined in the English Wikipedia, is basically-it has been hashed out just by volunteers who have argued with each other over what they consider notable.
- H: Is notability arbitrary?
- B: Volunteers who decided they liked writing on Wikipedia in forums. Notability wasn’t defined by Wikimedia, but by whoever decided to participate in the forum. It has been defined by whoever wanted to talk about it.
- H: Is the definition of notability static or malleable?
- B: It’s a bit of both. It's written up, but people can also recommend changes in standards. Arbitration. Community built policy but who is the community?
The conversation delves a bit further into the hierarchy of editors and notability. For instance, who can edit Barack Obama’s page(those who have made a certain number of edits) and the ways that the discussion/talk pages function. Participants are interested in the fact that much of the conversation around the kinds of knowledge on any page are seemingly invisible to those who are not editors, the 99% of users. Citations and chats about what should or should not be included on any given page as objective knowledge/information/fact.
- G: So, this is, like, the really important minutiae of Wikipedia, which is like, you know there is a hierarchy that exists, even though there’s like this position that is volunteer-based. Like, you have to be a special kind of volunteer. You have to have been volunteering for so long that you’re a gold star volunteer in order to, like, deal with certain things but, like, who gets to decide that? And especially if it’s not the Foundation who is doing it, then who are the players involved? …sure, revenue and diversity are like, great conversations to have but if no one knows what your, like, mechanism is for arbitrating these discussions is or like who is a gold star volunteer and who is like a regular volunteer, then we can’t really ever get into how you diversify your Wikipedia base. Um, and if Wikimedia is not () then how is Wikipedia as a community of people are, like, dealing with this? And who is this community of invisible people that none of us really have, like, a way to break into who they are. Like it’s not-if it’s a community, community is built upon knowing who each other are and being able to, like, advocate for this person.
The conversation about Wikipedia at large was critical to being able to consider the questions central to our salon. The refrain from participants was that if we are to consider how an entity as large, and to some degree opaque, as Wikipedia can be engaged on a local level, where change ultimately will take place in diversity and revenue stream arenas, those who would be expected to participate need to know the Foundations true intentions.
Importantly, we followed with the question, how do you come to trust an organization?
- S: It’s like-I think I was following a little bit. I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase this but, like, why does this matter to them? Because, I guess, my thing is-I guess-I come from a generation that never thought that Wikipedia was accurate at all. Like, I never thought Wikipedia was meant to be a space for accurate knowledge. It’s like-also, a space that wasn’t for us, when I think about the schools that I grew up in. () I was taught like oh, Wikipedia, like if you want to know how long Will Smith was like, married to Jada Pinkett-Smith, you know, like you’d check Wikipedia. It could be accurate or it could be not, but it wasn’t meant to be a space for actual research or accurate information and then also, it was just a common understanding that it wasn’t meant for Black and brown folks at all. So, I think, for me, I’m trying to-because I’m coming from that perspective-and not from the perspective that it’s supposed to be a home base for knowledge. I’m just like, is that the goal for Wikipedia? Like, do they want to present themselves as a homebase for knowledge and how do they do that more accurately with like, diverse-like is that what the goal is?
- J: There is an attempt to have an objective voice on Wikipedia. Despite the fact that we know its collective but we don’t know who is participating and how they are participating
- S: How do they want us to work at a local level when I don’t even know if I trust the larger organization? The dialogue around that knowledge ownership doesn’t matter if the information is valid or accurate, but about the ownership of information.
- M: People in Chicago, especially, don’t really appreciate people coming from the outside to tell them about how great their foundation is. Rightful reservations about participating in this. And on the other side, every day when your work is not in this particular discourse is another day that people don’t know about someone creating important work. Do you try to buy into Chicago in a meaningful authentic way?
- J: I think it would be interesting if you guys, as a part of this conversation, thought about how Wikipedia has served the Black Lunch Table’s interests or that-this project’s interests when we’re talking about how it could serve the larger interests of our community or the people’s interest. () The mission that you all started with versus how you use Wikipedia to service that mission--it’s interesting to this larger conversation () can do, you know, in this space.
- S: I was gonna ask how is Wikimedia or Wikipedia-whichever-being transparent around their limitations? Because I think-I’m coming from like a mixed media context, like a production context-and I think this conversation about, “Who’s at the table,” comes up all the time when you’re producing or doing media work and I think-and journalism work-there becomes like this understood thing where it’s like not every voice that needs to be at the table will actually be at the table and that’s just the reality because of the system and the structure of, like, the journalism industry, production industry. It just cannot do () doing that right now. There’s a lot to break down before the right voices or all the voices are actually going to be at the table in the way that why should. So () the question does fall on the other side with a more immediate concern () how do you be transparent about what you can’t do. Because there shouldn’t be this assumption that if you’re having-I’m going to throw something out there- but () like Black-ish, even though Black-ish is like, created by someone who is Black but you wouldn’t know who’s at the table. You don’t know who’s writing the stories. You don’t know any of that stuff so how are we being more transparent with the limitations while we’re in the process of making those things better. Because you have more transparency, then you have more accountability as well. So, I think it’s partially an answer to your question but also it’s () in general. Like, how does Wikipedia be transparent around their limitations and then to the point where people can now hold them accountable if they even want a platform that isn’t () because I don’t know if everybody wants that-if people want a platform that is more accurate or is more representative or whatever the case may be. How do you even know who is behind the scenes?
- E: How does transparency manifest for you?
- S: Yeah. I mean, I think- I think I’m talking about journalism and how sometimes newsrooms do like, “here we have so many people of colour in the space”, I think that I often challenge who actually has the power in the decision making, just because like when you’re working in film or production, like we may have like, a Black director and a Black producer or whatever the case may be but actually, the executive producer is the one who makes decisions. So, it’s cool that you had Black DPs or Black camera people, Black editors, whatever, but if the executive producer from whatever production is the one who ultimately says yes or no, it doesn’t really matter how many people of colour there are on the team because they only have but so much power. And so I think it also becomes a question of like how many people and like who has power? Who has leverage? How is that power being distributed differently because I think that people are very comfortable-I’m thinking very much media industry now-but they’re very comfortable with certain hierarchies of power because it’s convenient and that’s what you’re used to but how willing are people to disrupt those hierarchies of power and do something different which also comes from accountability. Um, I think there’s some really great community engagement journalism that’s doing () cool things right now, just about how do we disrupt-like you know, you might have a journalist who may be writing the story and they’re the one telling the narrative. How are we breaking that up and maybe having the person who you’re interviewing be the editor? Like how are we switching that up? Um, so I think that () there’s a lot of ways that people are creatively trying to decide what that might look like but it does often () like more than just who’s in the room who has the power to make decisions.
Deeply important to the participants is the feeling that for them to invest in the goals of WMF or any large organization, they want to be assured by that organization that they are valued and that the organization is not being opportunistic. That means that engagements should be long term, community lead, and responsive to community needs.
- G: Like, () “You should do it our way. () What have you got there? Community, cultural capital? Just do this and everything will be great. No, seriously, it’ll be great.” But it never is and people are upset about that all the time. So, I think there is rightful reservations about, um, participating in this, um. () I understand and on the other hand, the same thing we were talking about before: where every day that, you know, we are, your work-let’s say that every day it takes to get artists’ names out there; every day it takes to () participating in this particular discourse and 40 million articles or something like that, uh, is a day that some people out there are not knowing about somebody who is doing important work.
It took a significant portion of the evening to get to the possibility of the diversity/ revenue streams conversation. The learning curve about the Foundation and this movement to those not already deeply enmeshed with WMF as an affiliate or Wikimedian is steep. This is not to say that there is a lack of interest rather there is a lack of information about WMF presented by WMF.
Briefly, we were able to return to our Diversity/Revenue stream questions with the following input. Re revenue streams generally:
- G:Right, but what it should say-what one of these slides should say is that we have a 35 million dollar endowment. Let’s start with that. I think being a little bit more upfront about () because in this case, it’s like, yeah. You can look at these on the face and be like well these are good questions, we should help you answer them but () don’t really know what the context is.
- J: Or what their costs are...
- S: There’s also a-I mean, just not to add more fuel to this but I think () also, that when we’re talking about trust that there’s a trickle-down, right? It’s like you’re asking me in this space to be able to trust how this could be done on a localized level and how to get suggestions, but yeah, I can’t trust the original, like, head of this because I don’t know where the money is coming from. I don’t know-like, there’s an aspect there-I guess my question becomes, I guess, like what are they doing to address, I mean, with their employees and their money and their whoever is at the top-like, what are they doing to be able to address their own diversity problems up top, not like, here.
The group returns to notability as an extension of trust/truthiness of Wikipedia in general and the ethics of writing pages for people you know. This is clearly a limiting factor in who engages the platform and what kind of expertise you have when you are not able to write pages on people/things in a community you may be an active participant/expert on. This extends the conversation about validating the resources of marginalized communities in a process like the 2030 movement strategy. How do they know they are not being taken advantage of when they do not have transparency with the organization and the instances they do have about defining value in resources i.e. notability, they are shaky or inapplicable. The participation of all groups and building trust and engagement with all is important to everyone on the platform. Further, there are instances, especially between generations, where one may not know that the information that another generation or group is important yet, this should not be a deterrent for those of any group/generation/etc to not include their information because it is not correctly valued at the moment.
- J: This is just a comment. I’m gonna go thinking about how we make sure that this work is relevant by a community of people who are being served, even if they are not of that African diaspora or identifying as Black artists that it’s important to me and my work that there be a repository of Black artists on Wikipedia in the public space and that these names are named in a public space. That it’s important to many more of us than those who identify as specific racial space that it’s not a boring conversation just because we don’t identify as and it’s something that I can talk about when we have a Wikipedia edit-a-thon with the Black Lunch Table. How do we make sure that our audience knows () all of us.
The conversation must wrap up due to time constraints but ends with a stimulating conversation about the longevity and importance of articles about black artists specifically as a way to truly alter the record and perspectives of users. Further, we discuss the possible implications of the inclusion of these articles in arenas, policy specifically, that can radically shift how our world is shaped.
- G: Maybe one way we can think about it in a more expansive way: () we’re putting in the context of the arts and now that I see more artists as administrators and administrators as community organizers, there is a connection to policy. And I’m interested in how do we trace how people find policy. How does the community organize when I propose this change? That might also be a-speaking of artists- this may be like a () where you probably won’t put policy in your artistic resume but I will find it on Wikipedia. And I think that as I see more and more administrators coming up the pipelines of policymaking, this is crucial. At least for me where-I don’t have a resume on policymaking, right?
Any reflections from participants or partners about what the event meant for them or for your affiliate community
In addition to the discussion, we asked the participants to turn in a written postcard with room for two types of feedback. One side said: Please use this space to offer feedback on WMF issues addressed tonight. Comments will be sent directly to the Foundation. On the reverse three questions: What Chicagoland communities would you like to bring BLT & Wiki to? Who should be at this table? Other potential partners for this project/Wiki? How might your organization be involved in the future?
We have uploaded all of the scanned postcards to Commons as a part of our report. Briefly, some of the most resonant feedback from participants are highlighted below.
- Transparency is critical-most people are not aware of the “voices”/editors behind the information
- Re scoping documents, Language in questions is very obtuse. Needs common clarity in language to engage more community groups.
- Have more conversations about truth & value, Wikipedia is one aspect but also stepping back to foundational principles(in communities)
A short statement on your budget, listing the total amount of your grant and how much of that was spent
BLT was granted 1500 to host a Strategy Salon of which 1494.35 was spent. The bulk of this grant went to support the venue and dinner for the thirteen participants, following with facilitation fees for organizing, transcription, discussion, and notetaking. Finally, funds were used for supplies like notepads, pens, chart paper, and markers.