- 1 Introducing people-centered principles and culture in Wikimedia (One-page Summary of Rec. 1)
- 2 Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement
- 2.1 Q1. What is your Recommendation?
- 2.1.1 Q2. What assumptions are you making about the future that lead you to make this Recommendation?
- 2.1.2 2.1 Wikipedia is a massively successful content-centered project
- 2.1.3 2.2 We have already started thinking about people
- 2.1.4 2.3 Giving consistency to a people-centered perspective in the movement
- 2.2 Q3a. What will change because of the Recommendation?
- 2.3 Q3b. How does Recommendation relate to the current structural reality?
- 2.4 3.3 Why introducing a new culture is hard and sometimes fails
- 2.5 3.4 Thinking about the learning experience as an end itself
- 2.6 Q4a. Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
- 2.7 Q4b. What could be done to mitigate this risk?
- 2.8 Q5. Why this Recommendation? What assumptions are you making?
- 2.9 Q6. How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?
- 2.10 Q7. Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations?
- 2.11 Q8a. What is the timeframe of this Recommendation in terms of when it should be implemented?
- 2.12 Q8b. Who needs to make a decision on this Recommendation?
- 2.13 Q9. How should the decision be made?
- 2.14 Notes
- 2.1 Q1. What is your Recommendation?
Introducing people-centered principles and culture in Wikimedia (One-page Summary of Rec. 1)
By 2030 we envision that our communities will be larger, more diverse and healthier. This will come as a consequence of understanding the interests and needs of those who have and have not joined the Wikimedia movement yet but may have the will to do it. In order to encourage such change, we want to propose a strategic direction statement to make Wikimedia a space that supports everyone’s learning experience – as a reader or contributor – in its platforms.
Current state: Wikipedia is a successful content-centered project Wikipedia has been called the largest collaborative effort of humanity. Since 2001, the project has been oriented towards achieving “the sum of human knowledge”. Values deeply embedded in Wikipedia, in common with other open content or free software projects, are the hacker ethics. Hackers enjoy overcoming challenges to prove their worth to themselves; their culture is one of self-empowerment. Hacker ethics such as sharing, openness, free access, and world improvement are very present in Wikipedia. Many of the first contributors were willing to learn whatever they needed, to empower themselves with technical and non-technical knowledge, and to find imaginative solutions to the problems to achieve their goals.
However, the current structural reality is the consequence of having reached maturity in the past years. The structure optimizes creating quality content of certain kinds but is preventing new contributors from joining the movement. “If I could learn this, everyone can” is a beautiful claim, but quite far from reality. The encyclopaedia that anyone can edit should not assume that everyone is able to edit. The content is in the center, and all the processes, tools, platforms and even communication channels are orbiting around. The structure is proof of wonder of what has been achieved, but at the same time remains a bigger and bigger challenge to tackle, if we want to include and welcome the rest of humanity.
What we envision for 2030: A people-centered perspective for the Wikimedia movement That the structure is becoming rigid is something that we are all partially aware of, but it is very difficult to tackle in one overarching perspective that we all can envision. When “knowledge equity” became one important piece of the strategy, the whole movement started looking at the world not only to gather knowledge but to understand the challenges people face. This was an important turn towards people. In some parts of the movement, we are slowly transitioning towards a more people-centered perspective with projects that are dedicated to understanding users and breaking barriers rather than focusing on article content. Instead of assuming that the users will do whatever it takes to empower themselves (i.e. the hacker ethics), the focus is what the Wikimedia movement can do to recruit or help people, whatever their activity they wish to do (new article creation, photo uploading, article translation, type fixer, movement advocacy, partnerships seeking, community care). No single person with the will to contribute should ever be stopped by the structure. Imagine Wikimedia as a free space to support every human being's learning. Content in all its forms is certainly an essential piece, but it is not the only dimension necessary to learning. Both the collective atmosphere, the social interactions, the policies, and the technology should be tailored to this purpose. Wikipedia is a story of success and its long-term contributors are anonymous heroes that created the most valuable resource for education we have ever encountered. The suggestion behind this document is to aim at a future for Wikimedia which can be more sustainable and grow healthier and more diverse in types of contributors. We propose paying more attention to the user to change the structure on a continual basis, changing interfaces, documentation, policies, and processes. The Wikimedia movement has a blind spot in thinking about the user. It is assumed that he or she must make an effort to overcome the technical and other sorts of barriers to create content, as this is the original culture (i.e. the hacker ethics). This influences all our designs communication or lack of, etc. To allow the movement to look at people is to make this blind spot disappear and start a change.
We are afraid that if we do not look at people to change parts of the structure, it will continue getting more rigid, not just making it more difficult to have diversity, but also community health. We should move away from today’s static structure whose communities are not aware of its implications towards a dynamic one whose communities are aware of what is necessary to have a positive impact on all types of contributors, newcomers especially. We propose a strategic statement to center the movement on people, which will ultimately help the contributors’ diversity and their activities, whether they are doing content editing, advocating for the movement, building capacity for communities, establishing partnerships or any other activity.
Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement
Q1. What is your Recommendation?
By 2030 we envision that our communities will be larger, more diverse and healthier. This will come as a consequence of focusing on understanding the interests and needs of those who have not joined the Wikimedia movement yet but may have the will to do it.
In order to encourage such change, we want to propose a strategic direction statement to make Wikimedia a space that supports everyone’s learning experience - either as reader or contributor of any kind (article writer, typo fixer, bot developer, photo uploader, event organizer, etc.).
Q2. What assumptions are you making about the future that lead you to make this Recommendation?
2.1 Wikipedia is a massively successful content-centered project
Wikipedia has often been called the largest collaborative effort of humanity and one of the examples of what a connected society can achieve. Since 2001, the project has been oriented towards achieving “the sum of human knowledge” in the form of a multilingual open and editable encyclopedia. What is less documented is the fact that since the very beginning Wikipedia’s deeply embedded values, in common with other open content or free software projects, are the hacker ethics. Hackers enjoy overcoming challenges to prove their worth to themselves; their culture is one of self-empowerment (Gehring, 2004). The principles of the hacker ethics (Levy, 1984) such as sharing, openness, free access, and world improvement are very present in Wikipedia. Many of the first contributors were willing to learn whatever they need, to empower themselves with all sorts of technical and non-technical knowledge, and find imaginative solutions to the problems to achieve their goals.
Wikipedia has grown as a content-centered project. Rules, roles, and tools revolve around the article, which is the part visible to the reader. Some of them are central (notability and neutral point of view) and are essential to give satisfactory quality answers to people’s needs - this is what made the project successful. Other parts of the project such as tools, tutorial pages, and extensions have grown for multiple purposes and as a response to contributors’ needs but are sometimes hidden. Other times they are even in other platforms or even in other domains. When contributing to Wikipedia, it has been assumed that the editor needs to be motivated to understand the structure, find her or his possible niche (i.e. typo fixer, domain expert or images uploader) and finally engage in the project.
During the first five to ten years (2001 - 2010), one could say that contributors were working in exploration mode (“What do we need for this project to work? How can we prove we can give high-quality content to the world?”). Let’s do whatever it takes. Participants created the main pillars and policies, continued with the main editing tools (e.g. templates), designed content roles (admin, bureaucrat, autopatrolled, etc.), developed coordination pages (talk pages and Wikiprojects), and founded local associations, chapters, the Wikimedia Foundation, and conferences like Wikimania. During this phase, the project became massive, popular and the most academically researched site on the Internet. Contributors learned what they needed to learn and were not afraid to try (remember the motto “be bold”). It became a structure: a complex sociotechnical platform suitable to create encyclopedic content that can be replicated with certain variations for tens or hundreds of languages all over the world.
Being in an exploration mode is only possible when the structure is flexible. Everyone can accept each other’s mistakes because everyone is learning their place, their opportunities to grow, and what they can offer to the project. The sister projects (Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikisource, etc.) responded to that exploration phase: some editors wanted to contribute but saw it did not fit the content standards followed by Wikipedia. The exploration phase allowed many young contributors to jump into a relatively successful project, in many places still unknown, between 2005 and 2010 and establish social groups in which to perform these “experiments” together. During those years, the free content values and principles became a “group culture”: yearly rituals were created, cross-language challenges were introduced, and power structures in the form of country-based chapters formed.
The exploration mode ends either when there is an external constraint or when a workable solution is found. A shift is made to optimization mode. In this mode, people focus on what gives them satisfaction and brings them benefits rather than exploring new things. People playing in the casino start the night exploring the slot machines and finish optimizing their time in those that bring more benefits. This exploration-optimization trade-off applies to all sorts of situations in life: it also visible in elderly people, who tend to prefer the same sort of experiences and meet the same people because they have optimized for their well-being. Optimization mode is not bad: it is just more efficient for a certain period of time when the initial energy is gone and knowledge on the context is acquired.
After 2010 Wikipedia entered optimization mode, in which somehow it still is today. This became more visible in large communities, which tend to dominate the discourse and innovations. Everyone got better at producing content, updating large sets of data and collaborating across the different wikis. In this sense, the need for optimizing tasks lead to the content translation tool and the creation of Wikidata, a centralized database for all languages. Some improvements on the citation tools, image uploader, among others, also explain the need for experienced editors to be more efficient. These are notable upgrades for a successful project, but we shouldn’t lose sight that they responded to a specific profile: the long-term editor who joined the project a few years earlier and felt comfortable within it.
The point of maturity which Wikipedia reached during this period is undeniable. It is more evident if we think in terms of social groups and their inner roles and distribution of tasks. For the top language editions, in 2013, the most active editors were still those who joined in 2006 (Geiger & Halfaker, 2013). In fact, in 2016, one sees almost no renewal in terms of flags given to editors (Miquel, 2016), which means that the center of the community both in terms of participation and control remains very similar. In terms of interactions, several research studies analyzed and showed that new policies created by new editors were more often rejected and newbies contributions received more reverts in this new period. This means a certain opacity to community renewal (Suh et al. 2009; Halfaker et al. 2013).
Some proficient work was done in terms of cross-language coordination, quality content and even news coverage (although there is room for improvement in all of these areas)., However, the bureaucratic and technical structure has become increasingly rigid and difficult to change. What served old editors at some point became the standard procedure “they had to learn”, and now poses a bigger challenge to new editors, who have to make their way between a technical structure not as usable as the other tools they use in their daily life to work on documents or to share media. New Wikipedia tools have been properly designed and usable to experienced editors, but the first experiences after registering (which tend to be crucial in many digital platforms such as video games or e-learning tools) remain unguided and chaotic, instead of reinforcing by repetition the learning of the most important processes, policies or tools that any newbie needs to learn. The current project design responds mainly to the current base of editors' needs and expectations.
It is not reasonable to expect that specific types of users automatically know how or where they can start contributing. For example, a photographer who could upload some of his pictures might not know beforehand that Commons is where to do it, if there is no navigation flow or communication directed to him explaining the procedure. It is astonishing that after 18 years, we find in surveys that many long-term users of Wikimedia still do not know the possibility of editing exists - not to mention the workshops or tutorials to learn it. The implications of a content-centered culture and hacker ethics is that many things are implicit, and not necessarily intuitive to others. It is assumed that everyone must be motivated to discover what they can do, and what they need to learn to actually do it.
“If I could learn this, everyone can” is a beautiful claim, but quite far from reality. Since 2016, more and more voices in the movement state that we lack diversity: Where are the women? Where are the old people? Where is the Global South? Not everyone can empower themselves with the necessary education to understand the rules and attain the technical knowledge to overcome the barriers to editing. The encyclopedia that “anyone can edit” should not assume that everyone is able to edit. The foundations for a working structure are there. Yet, the content is still in the center, and all the processes, tools, platforms and even communication channels are orbiting around. The structure is proof of wonder of what has been achieved, but at the same time remains a bigger and bigger challenge to tackle every day that goes by, if we want to include and welcome the rest of humanity.
2.2 We have already started thinking about people
We have reached an impasse in which the structure is giving some clear signs of exhaustion. During optimization mode, it is easier to block any attempt at exploration - in this case, by other newer members - as it presents a challenge to our current possibilities and satisfaction. The structural limitations not only consist of outdated policies, templates or tools presenting unnecessary complexity but also the people willing to use their influence within a group of administrators to block any new article based on criteria that his or her articles may not have passed some years before. Editor retention depends on multiple factors and a collaborative space like Wikipedia relies on the quality of user interactions more than ever to engage newcomers.
We may not be aware of what a new experience looks like today, because ours was so long ago. Also, we do not know how our structure is for someone who has not been technologically educated because we have been. Some of us have been long-term contributors and members of the movement for many reasons. With our current set of skills, we can optimize our tasks and enjoy the moments of plenitude in the community. Why not? After all, Wikipedia is helping people all over the world to have free education like no project did before. However, this can be blinding to us in our position of privilege. During the exploration phase, some of us have learned to code by testing bots, learned to be critical with sources, learned to write or even learned to organize events. We encountered one project at a particular point in time and had the time, technical skill, and the necessary education to empower ourselves and go to the next level. But we are the exception: most people may not be able to take this learning path in Wikimedia.
That the structure is becoming rigid is something that we are all partially aware, but it is very difficult to tackle in one overarching perspective that we all can envision. This is the reason why since 2017 strategy debate has been occurring. The fact that some members are reluctant to embrace the strategy to change proves their position of comfort in the current structure. Other members want to believe that the project can break some barriers and be more inclusive, especially those who are aware that the self-empowered stereotypical editor has no resemblance to themselves. When “knowledge equity” became one important piece of the strategy, the whole movement started looking at the world not only to gather knowledge but to understand the challenges people face. This was an important turn towards people.
Recent Wikimania 2019 speeches were directed towards not accepting toxic behaviors in the form of harassment and incivility. Katherine Maher’s recent chapter in a book to celebrate 20 years of Wikipedia closes with an appeal to be more inclusive. The Wikimedia Foundation has created roles in its staff dedicated to deal with cases of harassment and to care for editors in state of psychological risk. The focus is no longer solely about protecting content from vandalizing, but on guaranteeing the necessary conditions for editors to collaborate, contribute and enjoy the process of learning to do so. For a couple of years, other Wikimedia Foundation staff has been dedicated to design for managing the initial user experience by creating an “onboarding plan” specific to different profiles. To ensure a satisfactory first-experience, User Experience professionals and User Interface designers put their understanding of the user in the center to design new interfaces. The design was tested with real users and feedback gathered. Modifications and repetitions of the testing was applied as many times as required to reach a good design. These extensions and tools need to be accepted to be implemented, but we can say that we have already started thinking about people.
2.3 Giving consistency to a people-centered perspective in the movement
In some parts of the movement, we are slowly transitioning towards a more people-centered perspective. Some members explain that to grow in the number of languages we need to understand their characteristics and constraints (are they oral and need a way to record their narrations?). Others see that some users may not read and have created ways to transcribe content to speech (e.g. Extension Wikispeech). Still others created the necessary technology to provide free content to places with a lack of Internet access (e.g. Kiwix). Or even create versions of content aimed specifically for children (e.g. Txikipedia, the version of the Basque Wikipedia for kids). In a different way to the classic self-empowered content contributor, these movement leaders have dedicated their attention in understanding users and breaking barriers rather than focusing on article content. This is a clear sign that a new way of understanding the movement is growing, which can renew it and possibly make it more flexible and welcoming than ever.
At the moment, these innovative leaders are peripheral members whose projects are complements to the current structure without changing it. They have not asked for any structural change, though logically the next step is to support much easier software for everyone and to create parallel policies or platforms when needed, in order not to lose anyone’s contributions to the movement. Instead of assuming that the user will empower himself and do whatever it takes (i.e. the hacker ethics), these leaders are thinking about what the movement can do to recruit new people. Because, ideally, no single person with the will to contribute should ever be stopped by the structure.
Perhaps it is too much to expect that every human being involved in education can be a Wikimedian, but the potential is there and we should not forget it. Therefore, the User Interface designers, teachers, mentors, event organizers,... all these profiles with a predisposition towards helping people undertake their tasks are naturally the center of this perspective. They are called to push to find the necessary ways to change and polish the structure so everyone can learn and contribute at their pace. It is no coincidence that in this strategy process there are groups dedicated to community health and diversity, and in Wikimania 2019, there was a session for community growth. We, along with these leaders and user groups, are the counterweight in the general structure.
To infuse the movement with people-centered values, all the creativity and exploration that took place before to find ways to accommodate and grow content, could now appear again to understand the necessary changes at all levels, and invite more people in. Imagine Wikimedia as a free space to support every human being's learning experience - and by everyone, we mean everyone. Content in all its forms is certainly an essential piece, but it is not the only dimension necessary to learning. Both the collective atmosphere, the social interactions, the policies, and the technology should be tailored to this purpose. We need to change Wikimedia to create and reach the right conditions. We have already started thinking about people, we now need to make it more explicit.
Q3a. What will change because of the Recommendation?
This document advocates for making a clear strategy statement in favor of centering the movement on people’s needs to facilitate change.
We want to give better focus for those who want to make Wikimedia the place that welcomes more and more diverse profiles and supports everyone’s learning experiences. Giving more consistency to a people-centered culture and uniting them in one direction will aid leaders in envision the changes and fighting for them.
This strategy statement is needed to ease the path for the necessary changes for growth and diversity. However, it must be clear that turning the focus on people does not imply giving up any prior goal or principle, but is a necessary step to reorganize the structure for the next few years.
If such a statement is made and these leaders are being supported, there are different ways in which we will be able to perceive that a people-centered perspective will have taken over and changed the movement.
So by 2030, we expect to see a cultural change that brings:
Community growth in size and diversity of profiles
Proposing changes in the structure (especially the User Interface and communication) and testing all of them with a wide variety of user profiles will enable a much more usable platform. Ideally, every person should only learn what he or she needs to learn for their specific purpose (to upload a picture, to correct a typo, etc.). When allowing this layered platform we will have a much healthier base of contributors. Instead of depending on few very active contributors, Wikimedia will be able to attract many more types of interactions from more sporadic contributors.
New projects based on other types of non-encyclopedic content
By incorporating more diverse types of contributors, it is expected that some content types will emerge that do not fit the standards of what we consider valid for a platform like Wikipedia, Commons or Wikidata. Therefore, it will be necessary to create more platforms whose goal will continue to be storing knowledge of different kinds. We should be open to understanding that what worked for Wikipedia may not be the general rule for another platform. We should support it as long as it serves the movement goals.
The way to measure success in the movement changes
If our focus is centered on people (i.e. mentors, User Interface designers, community care, etc.) the measure of success cannot be measured in terms of the number of articles, content gaps or quality rankings. Instead, it will be weighed by the number of new people that join the community, the diversity of age or their progress in terms of the capacity they grew through organizing events, the number of new readers in certain countries, or the rate of use of Wikipedia in education. In a similar way that communities pay attention today to the milestones in the number of articles, the new types of milestones based on people will be celebrated publicly in Wikimania and other venues. We will be more multidimensional in our celebrations.
A more self-aware and self-regulating community
When putting people first permeates the wider movement, the whole community will be more empowered. Accessing the stats on the number of readers, new editors and the retention rate will be common. Likewise, indicators of successful mentorship and positive interactions will also be applauded and people will be less likely to behave uncivilly toward others.
Demand for platform change coming from communities
Even though most contributors will still be focused on content, debating on how easy is each part of the platform and how effective is at teaching any process (i.e. learning the main rules) will be usual. It will no longer be assumed that everyone should learn things the way they are because they were created this way. There will be a constant questioning on the implications of the structure on community health, growth and diversity.
Communities will require the Wikimedia movement to research the changes needed to grow larger and more diverse. Rather than a focus being the Wikimedia Foundation the main agent for software change that needs to be implemented, the demands for change to widen the movement will come from community members more aware of the implications and barriers new members encounter. Currently, there are already community members asking for change, but they need the channels to be heard.
We move away from today’s static structure whose community is not aware of its implications towards a self-upgrading structure whose communities are aware of what is necessary to change to have a positive impact on all types of newcomers.
This will imply a different way of developing software (and any change) based on clarifying which kind of users it favors and a continual task of raising awareness in the communities for them to understand the needs and implications.
In this moment, the community will continue creating content, but will have understood that the processes to change the structures need to be people-centered in order to be effective and reach the maximum potential.
Q3b. How does Recommendation relate to the current structural reality?
3.1 A new culture to start exploring again
The current structural reality is the consequence of having reached maturity in the past years. The structure optimizes creating quality content of certain kinds but is preventing new contributors from joining the movement.
During the past few years the movement has already started thinking about people and some peripheral leaders and projects emerged. This is the consequence of both seeing the limits of the current structure and the opportunities for creating a better space.
We believe we need to give support to these leaders and put them in the center of the debate. Thinking about “knowledge equity” and “knowledge as a service” are steps in this direction but a more explicit endorsement as a strategic goal will be more definitive to trigger change.
Change will occur at all levels, but it needs to start with the movement assuming a goal as it did with “the sum of human knowledge”. We need to think of Wikimedia as the space to support everyone’s learning experience.
Supporting everyone’s learning experience means that we provide the necessary knowledge so that all participants can find what they were looking for, but also people willing to contribute will find a place which helps them to do so at the pace they wish.
Setting such a direction is necessary for the structure to reorganize itself. It will provoke changes in a similar order just like in the very first years of the movement when policies were created, followed by roles, tools, and power structures. Everything starts with the goal being endorsed by the movement. One new start.
We can expect structural changes everywhere: in the platforms to enable non-technical users, in the communication to make people understand it is a place where they can do more than just edit, in different roles to have more leaders dedicated to community care, in resource allocation to be more effective in the different parts of the globe, and in fostering diversity, etc.
It is important to set the direction to “people’s needs” so everyone feels supported and secure, allowing a safe space to start exploring again the necessary changes to reach a more diverse and healthier community.
3.2 Being people-centered is not *only* about resource allocation
Without making a strategy direction statement to support a people-centered culture many possible good proposals for change may not have the same transformative effect, either due to the current structural barriers or the content-centered culture. For instance, one may think that ‘resource allocation’ needs to change and be more distributed over the globe, especially on what is considered to be the Global South (including countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, parts of Oceania, and Eastern Europe).
This seems quite an intuitive idea: distributing resources can help the movement grow on those areas in which it has not. Or as it is suggested by many political trends, rich areas can ensure equity by supporting growth in poorer areas. Whether the past recommendations discussions suggested 50% or 30% to be allocated in the Global South, this idea cannot be simply transported to Wikimedia. It would be doomed to failure.
Certainly more resources can be helpful in many senses in such contexts, but they do not imply a real durable growth for Wikimedia per se. It really depends on how these resources are used and in what order. Some activities such as digitization of sources may be essential, but growing local chapters employee staff is not necessarily a people-centered approach.
Instead, we would need to first ask ourselves “what does supporting everyone’s learning experience with Wikimedia entail in this country?”. We would need to understand the barriers that prevent people from volunteering for the movement and take these opportunities for personal growth. Is it a lack of free time? Is it the lack of digital or education?
Even though there may be some variability in these barriers, we always need to start testing Wikipedia with such potential contributors. The reason behind this is that we want to be sure of which barriers are not internal. The experience of Wikipedia is mostly determined by the interfaces, paths of interaction within the rules, the location of external tools, among others.
If we’d like Wikipedia to grow in Cameroon where the general technical and digital literacy is X, we need to be sure we have an optimal design for these profiles needs. Because resources dedicated to tearing down an internal barrier (a design one) will always create a higher impact in the final engagement and community growth. We need to start by changing the technological and community barriers and then try to change the external ones more related to knowledge or even to the technological infrastructure.
Perhaps there comes a point in which a re-design of the platform hardly makes a difference anymore in attracting and helping users, a point in which any possible progress just depends on users understanding of sources and other content quality-related aspects. Then we may extend the approach and try to break external barriers up to a certain point.
Don’t we want that Wikimedia to support everyone’s learning experience? To do so we may need to think in establishing the digital literacy conditions (by introducing Wikipedia into formal education or creating roles in the chapter staff to give classes) so that the newer member may have the chance to contribute in a longer-term if they wish.
Having a people-centered approach implies taking the opposite path a Wikipedian normally takes. Instead of empowering ourselves to learn anything it requires to contribute (from wikitext to any Wikidata tool), we should want to understand how we can redesign Wikimedia platforms structure in order not to lose any possible contribution and welcome everyone to take a learning path.
What could happen if this people-approach is not implemented correctly? We may subsidize some local communities without any real impact on growing neither the pool of volunteers either allowing more people to have the background education on how to contribute. To avoid this it is essential to have one principle, some research to understand the users is carried on, design processes are aimed at changing the structure for them and iterate, over and over again.
3.3 Why introducing a new culture is hard and sometimes fails
As seen, one structural change (having a more distributed resource allocation) may not have the desired impact if the final processes are not driven to improve the structure and adapt it to support people. Yet introducing such a people-centered culture is not an easy thing either. Multiple big organizations struggle to embrace a user-centered approach (Tomer, 2012). It must be practiced actively at many different levels and the learning must imply structural change and drive innovation.
What happens when a big organization does not listen to its users or potential users? Sooner or later some other company does and gains a new market. It may have the necessary technology or resources to adapt to the future, but it simply does not have the right culture or the internal processes to do it. It is notable the case of Kodak, which created the first digital camera in 1989 but never made use of it and went bankrupt in 2012. But there are many other organizations (Harford 2018) whose departments knew what the future looked like, but their ideas were lost into their existing decision-making structures.
We don’t believe Wikipedia created content can ever be lost. At the same time, as long as there are the right freedom conditions in the Western world, there will be people willing to contribute through free licenses. Nonetheless, the process of maturing in which Wikipedia is currently established may not just accelerate and block its potential growth in developed societies, but completely waste its potential impact in educating less-developed societies.
To prevent this we need to make the new people-centered perspective extensive to as many areas of the movement as possible. Introducing such a new principle will not be immediate in the core of the existing communities, which may even be skeptical. For them, recognizing the limits of the current structure and the impossibility of everyone assuming the hacker ethics may be a blindspot. Because their current position is partially dependant on it.
We believe the changes will not be stopped by the core of the communities if they see the value in it and the positivity that will emanate by other members resonating with them. The reorganization of the movement will come by assuming these people-centered values and drive change in the structure in depth. Not substituting the main movement values on free content, but to complement them with others such as caring about every interaction.
3.4 Thinking about the learning experience as an end itself
The content-centered and the people-centered values or perspectives are both independent and relevant to each other, i.e. they are complementary. For instance, one could think that all this new turn to people could be just one strategy to make the community grow and reach “the sum of human knowledge”.
Even though the link between people and content diversity is undeniable, this is a content-centered interpretation. One that relegates people as a means to get more diverse content. Instead, a people-centered interpretation would say the opposite: obtaining “the sum of human knowledge” is just a means to educate people on their process of understanding the world, their heritage, and respect for all expressions of knowledge.
The people-centered perspective would also defend that it is not just important to accumulate knowledge in the platform, but the process itself by which this occurs, and all the learnings every Wikipedian takes from any interaction with the movement. Wikipedia is often presented as the largest human-made repository of knowledge, but it is also the platform that helped more people to educate themselves while creating it. People’s learning is an end in itself.
Wikimedia is often a central place to start learning and researching on any topic. But if we think about all the content gathered in the Wikimedia platforms, it is just information until someone interacts with it and, in the best case, it becomes part of their knowledge. Without thinking about and recognizing people, content remains as only information. We need to find ways to carefully design the way content is presented to readers (text and images layout may be insufficient in the future), and also pay attention to each possible interaction they can encounter (the network of hyperlinks is just one part) in order to best facilitate the learning path they want to take.
For instance, we are used to thinking in terms of ‘sister projects’. The fact that content is in one platform or another is only relevant if it influences (helps or hinders) the process of answering the question we have in mind. If I want to learn about Beethoven, I should get a quick access to his original compositions (Wikisource), media (Commons), maybe full books (Wikibooks), extra references (Wikidata), and even other new ways of interacting that external platforms provide (e.g. WikiHow to learn how to play or video tutorials), etc.
Why should we need an ecosystem of six platforms if they are not connected to provide the best learning experience? Every person interacting with Wikimedia may have a slightly different learning process on a topic based on their interests or previous knowledge. If we get to understand them we will be able to re-design our platforms and the navigation flows between them to provide the best match for every person. This may not seem evident to many Wikipedians, but the content stored can be as key to the reader’s learning as the interface designed to find it. Giving the best learning experience can only be made if we get to develop a people-centered culture into our movement.
Q4a. Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
Leaders or movement members in general who focus on people in their different facets (community health, diversity, etc.) are increasing. Awareness has been growing to the point that such a strategy direction is possible. It will be seen as unnecessary by some parts of the movement, specifically those who focus on content creation and have been members for a long time.
It is likely that conflict will emerge when changes are proposed or when it is necessary to dedicate more resources to change current software for newcomers. Some movement members will be blindsided because of their position of privilege or because of their lack of understanding of these different interpretations of software and structure development. They will not see the need. Pedagogy and conflict resolution will be required.
Q4b. What could be done to mitigate this risk?
We should make clear that the structure should aim at welcoming everyone willing to contribute. No change is done to favor one part of the movement but the entire movement.
We should convince the community of the need to care for everyone’s learning experience in Wikimedia platforms. Once changes demonstrate that the community is growing bigger and more diverse it will be easier to follow this path.
Centering the movement on people requires starting to celebrate other aspects that have not been central up to this point. Fortunately, this is a gradual process we have already started.
It also does not require that people give up a focus on content, but rather broadens the focus. Contributors can continue to focus entirely on content if that is their desire.
Q5. Why this Recommendation? What assumptions are you making?
Final notes This recommendation is based on an analysis of Wikipedia as the structure shaped by the movement values and dynamics since its beginnings. Wikipedia is a story of success and its long-term contributors are anonymous heroes that created the most valuable resource for education we have ever encountered.
The suggestion behind this document is to aim at a new state of equilibrium in which the future of Wikipedia can be more sustainable and grow healthier and more diverse. For this, we need to change interfaces, documentation, policies, and processes. We propose paying more attention to the user to change the structure on a continual basis.
The Wikimedia movement has a blindspot in thinking about the user. It is generally assumed that he or she must make an effort to overcome the technical and other sorts of barriers to create content, as this is the culture that lead to the creation of Wikipedia (i.e. the hacker ethics). This influences all our designs, communication or lack of, among others. Making one statement to allow the movement to look at people is a way to make this blindspot disappear and start changing things. We are afraid that if we do not look at people to change parts of the structure, it will continue maturing and getting more rigid, not just making it more difficult to have community diversity, but also sustaining community health.
One theory that can explain what it means to think about people is the design philosophy of thinking about the user (“user-centered design” by Norman (1986)). This is used to design the processes, technology or products that are behind the success of all current software and websites. User-centered design or User Experience has grown and risen as valuable approaches to design during the past ten years (so, at the same time Wikipedia was maturing tools to be more efficient at creating quality content), but have not nearly permeated the movement.
In the Wikimedia movement, we have the challenge and opportunity to design the structure collaboratively and in a transparent way. During their involvement with the movement, every Wikimedian has become educated on sources. It is time to get more educated on how people interact with information, technology and the rest of structures.
Not everyone needs to be people-focused, but it is necessary to have a critical mass with that focus to have the necessary debates that push in the right direction. In fact, it is expected that some members would be more likely to continue operating according to content goals (quality, gaps, etc.) and some others will operate according to community goals (newcomers, diversity of profiles, etc.). Once the people-centered culture has settled in, most will be mindful about both. This is the vision we want to work upon.
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Q6. How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?
Giving support to centering the movement’s attention on people’s needs will be both positive to working groups areas of diversity, community health, advocacy and capacity building.
If diversity works well in the community, it is likely that everything else works well.
Q7. Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations?
This recommendation is the backdrop to other recommendations aimed at finding ways to widen the community diversity and community health.
The implementation of a people-centered culture is in this document named Reaching a self-aware and dynamic structure aimed at community diversity and health.
Q8a. What is the timeframe of this Recommendation in terms of when it should be implemented?
The strategic direction statement should be emitted in a short-term period, when is seen suitable according to the current strategic process.
Q8b. Who needs to make a decision on this Recommendation?
Suggestion for who could be the decision-maker for the Recommendation. The right body may not exist and the decision could be related to another WG.
We understand that the strategic statement we recommend should come and be supported by as many parts as possible (WMF and Board of Trustees).
Q9. How should the decision be made?
Everyone with a voice can give support to this strategic direction.