One-page Summary of Rec. 2
A dynamic and self-aware Wikimedia for community growth, health, and diversity
By 2030 we envision the Wikimedia movement to be aware and able to continually and dynamically upgrade its socio-technical structure. We want decision-making points to favor changes that support a healthier community with more diverse types of users and different learning experiences in Wikimedia.
Current state: a content-centered culture
In the beginning, Wikimedia appeared as both the principle (1) of gathering free content that represented “the sum of human knowledge” and (2) the initial technology to enable collaborative editing (wiki). This was the minimal structure upon which (3) policies and roles were created to ensure its proper functioning, along with structures, including (4) the flow of meta-information on the project goals and functioning to provide feedback and help motivate editors with a sense of progress (e.g. articles milestones).
We propose to re-think and complement the necessary parts of this structure to focus on each type of user’s interests and capabilities. We believe that doing it from a people-centered focus is the only way to allow a content-centered project to grow to its potential in terms of community and contributions. Because no single person with the will to contribute should ever be stopped by the structure.
What we envision for 2030: A people-centered culture
We want the Wikimedia movement to be able to continually change its structure in order to support everyone’s learning experience within Wikimedia either as a reader or as a contributor. Proposing that the structure (from the technological interfaces to the policies and governance bodies) is constantly evaluated and what works is kept and what does not work is discarded is another way of looking at the iterative processes proposed.
This can be primarily done through:
- An iterative process that proposes changes in technology, policies and all the governance system, when possible, validate them through research and testing,
- A good information flow raising awareness on the research results and the impact of every change (and every barrier) in the entire movement and,
- A network of liaisons with a people-centered mindset in every community to ensure the proper information flow, conflict resolution and also to facilitate change.
For any proposed change, it is necessary to identify whose users it is for and their intent (new article creation, movement advocacy, partnerships seeking, photo uploading, article translation, type fixer, community care, etc.), to later evaluate and measure its effectiveness in terms of participation and diversity of users. Only through iteration and research can we achieve a much more dynamic and aware community with the will and the power to self-regulate the structure in a dynamic design process.
However, we argue that not everyone needs to be people-focused and be willing to care for the community or stimulate changes, but it is necessary to have a critical mass to have the necessary debates that continuously push the changes. In fact, it is expected that some members will be more likely to continue operating according to content goals (quality, gaps, etc.) and some others will operate according to these people or community goals (newcomers, diversity of profiles, more partnerships, etc.). With a people-centered culture settled in Wikimedia, the will to demand changes to improve the structure can come from any part of the movement.
We envision a Wikimedia where everyone can become aware of the effectiveness of any ‘part of the structure’ (i.e. a registration process, a tutorial, a tool, etc.) by revising who it is designed for (the type of user) along with the latest user-related data (e.g. diversity and retention metrics or other user research results), and be able to demand or propose enhancements. We imagine a movement with people willing to help other people.
There is no limit to this people-centered culture, it needs keeping the contributor types in mind, raising awareness on the structural needs, and iterating the changes. This leads ultimately to an empowered movement responsible for a multilayered platform that both takes care and serves the activities of all types of contributors.
Reaching a self-aware and dynamic structure aimed at community diversity and health
Q1. What is your Recommendation?
By 2030 we envision Wikimedia movement to be aware and able to continually and dynamically upgrade its socio-technical structure (from any tool User Interface design, tutorials, policies and community roles) in order to foster community diversity and health.
To encourage this, we propose a strategic direction which lays the foundation for understanding people’s needs and interests in the first part of this document named Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement.
In this document we extend such a recommendation with three requirements (processes, information and roles) to allow a people-centered culture to settle in Wikimedia. In short, we want that decision-making points to favor changes that are directed towards sustaining a healthy and welcoming platform for more diverse types of users and their experiences.
Q2. What assumptions are you making about the future that lead you to make this Recommendation?
We want the movement to be able to continually change its structure in order to “support everyone’s learning experience within Wikimedia platforms either as a reader or as a contributor”. The structure comprises everything that makes Wikimedia work: the technology, the policies, the editors’ interactions, etc. We need to change everything that is necessary, or provide alternatives, so that anyone willing to contribute can do so.
One strategic statement to favour people-centered values may not be enough, even though it is essential in order to multiply its effects and serve as catalysts for new ideas. If we rely on just a declaration of intent or a strategy direction statement and expect to reach the goal, we are naive. Changing one of the largest collaborative structures in history by making one more statement is also wishful thinking. We need processes that reinforce themselves to make changes in the right direction, and also the sufficient awareness in the Wikimedia movement to ensure they are understood and supported in their intent.
This can be primarily done through:
- an iterative design process that proposes changes in technology, policies and all the governance system, when possible, validates them through research and testing,
- a good information flow raising awareness on the research results and the impact of every change (and every barrier) in the entire movement and,
- a network of liaisons with a people-centered mindset in every community to ensure the proper information flow, conflict resolution and also to facilitate change.
It is important to reinforce that this is not a recommendation of a single change but of these three requirements for a people-centered culture to be implemented and ensure that every change (including other recommendations) is in favor of community diversity and health. The implementation of these requirements will create a dynamic structure which continually improves itself.
Q3a. What will change because of the Recommendation?
3.1 From one new principle to new processes, information flow and roles
How can we get to a vision of a self-aware and dynamic structure which favors a healthy, wider and more diverse community? It takes new processes, information flows and roles to grow and reach critical mass to end up changing the entire Wikimedia movement.
In the beginning Wikimedia appeared as both the principle (1) of gathering free content that represented “the sum of human knowledge” and (2) the initial technology to enable collaborative editing (wiki). This was the minimal structure upon which (3) policies and roles were created to ensure its proper functioning, along with many other structures, including (4) the flow of meta-information on the project goals and functioning to provide feedback and help motivate editors with a sense of progress (e.g. articles milestones).
Now we need to complement this structure and focus on:
- Structure under continual re-design in terms of technology, policies, roles and bodies (methodology and requirements)
- Community health and diversity awareness in the whole movement (information flow)
- Ombudspersons to support relationships and partnership to facilitate information and changes (roles and responsibilities)
Here is an introduction:
- a) Structure under continual re-design (methodology and requirements)
- Be conscious about what problems you are solving, for who (which kind of user) and why.
- Any design is subject to continual examination; any product design is temporary while it is being tested with more profiles.
- It is important to establish a routine of evaluating the product rapidly and discard what is not working; what does not work adds unnecessary complexity to the structure.
- Work on and prioritize the most usual activities and problems users encounter first.
The main Wikimedia aspect that challenges these methodological requirements in the technological platforms is the lack of a central design direction to control all the user navigation flows. In the worst case, this turns into the accumulation of parallel designs (unnecessary complexity to the user) and satellization of tools, tutorials and workflows which are hard to find (no guided experience the user). While these are challenges inherent to free software development, they can be worked out with more modularity (to substitute/complement software more easily) and more clarity about who each design is for.
Currently some user-centered design approaches are being used to develop tools and Mediawiki extensions, but the risk of them is that they are not system-wide applications (i.e. not for all types of users), or they do not focus attention on the usual activities and problems which newcomers and sporadic contributors encounter. Validating the designs with a more diversified based of users is key (from the current base to more unusual profiles such as older women or teenagers). If we want the community to be larger and more diverse, we should test our tools and structures assuming this larger community. Perhaps we should already consider them (including readers) part of the community. More in-depth exploration on this can be read in Redesigning the platforms for more diversity of people and content experiences.
There should be clarity on the different types of contributors (based on their personal characteristics and their type of contribution) and everyone in the movement should know what is designed for whom and its impact - more importantly when it constitutes a barrier. This way it will be easier to measure its effectiveness and address problems, limitations and gaps. If we can reach a technological platform that does not require specialized technical knowledge, anyone can participate.
Likewise, it is important to state that this iterative process is not limited to the technological platform but to the entire structure, which also includes policies, governing bodies and many other processes. For instance, the deletion or introduction of policies should be treated like any other software change to be tested and examined. It is necessary to know the impact of current policies on the different types of users and to set some expectations on how and where a new policy or change can provide improvement to the structure.
We think it is necessary to set a protocol that works to keep the user in mind while proposing any kind of change. These are some questions that should be answered for any change in the structure.
USER METADATA FOR A STRUCTURE CHANGE
- What is the part to change?
- Is it something new or a redesign of an existing part?
- What is the current situation in relation to the users? (that can be answered with diversity metrics and qualitative reports)
- Is there any data showing there is a barrier to participation and diversity in this part to change?
- What is the proposed change? Could you clarify the intent?
- Which types of user does this change should favor?
- How do you implement such a change?
- How is this change going to be validated with user testing?
- How does current data support the change favors the users to which it was targeted?
Once the prototype is monitored and evaluated, its implementation can be deployed on a wider scale across projects.
Many of the recommendations coming out of this strategy process should be analyzed with critical questions which keep the user in mind. Such clarity is essential in order to know whether current or future changes are aimed at more diverse profiles or not. Likewise it is important to notice that changes related to technology, policies and communication have a much more direct impact on the immediate Wikimedian experience than those related to other parts in the structure (roles and responsibilities, in revenue streams, resource allocation, partnerships and advocacy). Their evaluation is essential but their impact should be measured very differently.
We envision a place in Wikimedia where everyone can retrieve this data (the answers to these questions) about any ‘part of the structure’ (i.e. a registration process, a tutorial, etc.), revise which kind of users it is designed for, access the latest user research testing results, and finally be able propose a change along with the intent and type of user the change impacts. Clarifying the type of user and the intent is necessary to evaluate both the need and measure the effectiveness of the proposed change.
Only through iteration and research disclosure we can achieve a much more dynamic community with the will and the power to self-regulate the structure in such an iterative design process.
- b) Community health and diversity awareness (information flow)
Another essential aspect of a people-centered culture in any big organization is to continually share user insights, stories from testing, or the final synthesis of research conclusions with the entire team. This information flow helps every team member to be aware they are not designing according to their own perspective, but rather everyone else’s.
For example, examining the flow of information in regards to newcomers' experiences would be an essential aspect to convince long-term editors that some central parts of the structure need to be re-designed. This can either be the user page, the use of templates or even the wikitext itself. The flow of information is not a curiosity but a necessity for sustaining the people-centered approach. This is even more necessary in a collaborative decentralized decision-making project.
Identifying “who is missing”, “who you want to design for” and “who will never use your platform” are essential. Once defined, it is possible to develop metrics and measure the rates of success. Clarity on this information will guide the continual redesign processes. What in e-commerce is the rate of conversion (how many orders divided by how many visits), in an open movement is the rate of editor survival or retention. These are aspects of Wikimedia that have been studied by scholars and by the Wikimedia Foundation for years but have never been used by communities to empower them and be proactive with change.
When the communities embrace people-centered values, debates on which part of the structure needs deeper redesign, which profiles are missing, which activities can make the community grow, or which content can raise the number of readers we can proliferate and drive effective changes. The information flow is the most essential activity to ensure that everyone in the movement has the potential contributors in mind. All potential contributors are essential, not just the ones that are missing, but the ones that are under-represented or poorly represented, and even those that are over-represented. All bring different perspectives that need to be put into the mix.
- c) Ombudsperson or liaisons (roles and responsibilities)
Engaging everyone in understanding the problems together with user needs and interests is recommended for any organization that wants to cultivate a people-centered culture and create successful products and services. It is also suggested that hiring people with such a mindset to ease the path during the first months or year. Basically to have people already with the clear mindset always facilitates the information flow. In the Wikimedia movement, it would be necessary to create a new role in each community which we could call the “ombudsperson”.
This role would be one bridge between platforms and the communities as well as the product design and research teams. He or she would be selected by agreement between both parts. The “ombudsperson” could intervene especially in cases of a) new software adoption to explain the benefits and to facilitate implementation, b) to prevent and deal with situations of harassment and conflict, or c) to make communities aware of movement strategies, surveys, and research. We need better communication systems to make the flow of ideas and information seamless between and across projects, and having dedicated roles seems a guarantee.
Ombudspeople could be critical in embedding a people-centered culture in the movement. After implementation, the role shifts to maintaining the information stream between the different parts of the movement and allowing the porous flow between the different actors in the movement.
The better the “ombudspersons” are at facilitating the information flow and raising awareness on the challenges and the opportunities, the more it will feel we are a united movement with a group identity. As soon as the debates on how to support everyone’s learning experience are more common, community leaders inclined to think about people will gain more visibility. At this point, the movement will be more harmonized on the two different perspectives, content and people.
Please read the Ombudsperson Appendix for further thoughts on this topic.
Q3b. How does Recommendation relate to the current structural reality?
A people-centered process is the opposite of a ‘silver bullet’ change
It is important to note that this is not a simple recommendation. To have a structure that supports everyone’s learning experience it requires providing people with a safe space to act, finding mentors who can help other people grow, and providing user interfaces that are easy to use and does not require technical expertise to contribute. However, there is no silver bullet to find the right changes to accomplish these requirements. This is why we propose this iterative process.
Having a people-centered dynamic process implies the acceptance of constant revision and learning what works according to the people it is being designed for. In this sense, change doesn’t come from a “think tank environment” but is learned from seeing people in action and obtain data. In this sense, we envision that once having implemented a people-centered culture, change will be a constant part of the movement - one more aware and intentional than today. Most of the proposals for any change will be discussed and contributors will be used to understanding the implications they have on people. Big strategic discussion will only appear useful when the situation requires a greater analysis of the main trends in the Internet and in the world.
People-centered practices need to be exercised continuously
There is no real final destination for a people-centered culture. A people-centered culture is a set of practices that need to be exercised continuously by as many actors as possible, and whose impact in Wikimedia will be noticed primarily in community health and diversity. It is a pragmatic choice that brings adaptability.
Likewise, there is no single way to implement people-centered practices in big organizations, as it depends on the previous structure and culture (Craig Tomlin, 2009). Some models, like the Keikedo Model (Carraro, 2014), examine the degree of maturity of the organization depending on how they incorporate these elements: cultural values and the will to understand the user, an iterative design process that needs to be validated with user testing and research, methodologies to evaluate impact and its relation to success, and some specific roles in disseminating the practice and information.
In Wikimedia, we have the opportunity to implement a people-centered culture within a decentralized and collaborative decision-making. This can set an example for open “user experience” practices and help many other platforms. It is exciting to think that Wikimedia can be a reference to the world of design and technology.
Introducing a people-centered culture is based on a set of beliefs and activities that must be practiced continuously by both the product team, the researcher and the manager. What is the uniqueness the Wikimedia movement brings to the table? Mainly, the product team and the researchers are employed by the Wikimedia Foundation while the manager (the one who accepts or rejects change) is a community of volunteers.
The implications of having such a Wikimedian division of labor/responsibilities makes introducing a people-centered culture a bigger challenge than usual, mainly because more people need to be aware of the need for any change for the decision-making to work well and be effective. In the end, the volunteer base is the one making the decision on the implementations. If they are not aware of the need to change the parts of the structure to favor certain users, it will either stop at the beginning or the end. This reinforces the need for defining roles and protocols for the research results for every change and barrier to flow in the Wikimedia movement.
The rest of the implementation is similar to one that any tech or service design company would make to develop a people-centered culture. There is always an iterative design process validated with user testing and information flow.
People-centered values are positive to create a united movement
We aim for the Wikimedia movement to embrace such values and be able to create built-in empathy with all the users of its platforms, to establish rituals in order to understand and commit to more usable processes, to celebrate the successes of every new member in whichever activity they can contribute, either as an editor or in any other role.
It is essential that the movement celebrates new achievements centered on people: new readers, more diverse types of contributors, etc. This iterative process of change requires everyone recognizing all the parts involved as essential and having trust in them (the users demanding change, the researchers providing evidence and the designers/developers people or whoever provides a solution).
We refer to the Wikimedia movement as the sum of the communities, the user groups and chapters, and the Wikimedia Foundation, i.e. all stakeholders. However, we believe that assuming people-centered values will help in bringing them closer together and establishing a group identity with relationships based on trust and mutual requirements, rather than on some sort of distant tolerance.
The more user-centered values in the community the more its members will value the work of designers, researchers and any external professional based in the Foundation or any other stakeholder, because their work will have a direct impact on the community growth or simply improve the user experience. Because of this, deadlocks or entrenched acceptance of outdated structures will be less likely to occur.
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Q4a. Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
Ideally movement stakeholders would welcome a structure focused on human needs and interactions. By having diverse communities, everyone benefits from the wider range of skills and knowledge, the cultural insights, and better representation of a global perspective. But change is always stressful because it takes people outside of their ingrained comfort patterns and proposing that the structure remain in a dynamic state of change will create stress.
On the other hand, the stagnation that occurs when structures become outdated, inflexible, and entrenched, also creates frustration and a sense that change is impossible to achieve. Proposing that the structure is constantly evaluated and what works is kept and what does not work is discarded is another way of looking at the iterative processes proposed.
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. Introducing the information by inviting people to address the systemic challenges we currently have, rather than imposing participation, should be the focus. Highlighting the benefits and explaining how to interpret research results and their implications through improved communication channels will be key to engage the communities into thinking about improving the structure.
Q5. Why this Recommendation? What assumptions are you making?
See Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement for the developmental rationale.
Q6. How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?
As it requires a redefinition of the identity and a shift of the organizational focus, it impacts all other working groups.
Q7. Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations?
It depends on acceptance of Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement and is connected to all other recommendations of the working group.
Q8a. What is the timeframe of this Recommendation in terms of when it should be implemented?
As soon as possible as it is a foundational shift in our thinking and guides the overall changes of our movement.