Now that the recommendations are out, we wanted to discuss the “behind the scenes” journey. What is on Meta are the recommendations themselves. What is not is the pain that it has taken to write them, the discussions, and the many many ideas that lie embedded in the recommendations. To offer a deeper insight into how the recommendations were developed, we spoke with Marc, who is one of the key figures of this process: he was a member of the Diversity working group before moving into various roles that saw him help write, synthesize, draft, revise, and eventually finalize the Wikimedia 2020 Movement Strategy document. We thought it could be an opportunity to chat with him to understand the various nuances that have gone into making these recommendations.
Marc Miquel holds a doctorate from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona with a thesis centered on Wikipedia and the study of editor engagement, cultural diversity, and identities in different Wikipedia language versions. He has been a member of Amical Wikimedia (Catalan Wikipedia) since 2011. He has given numerous talks on cultural diversity, user experience and editor engagement at Wikimedia events. Recently, he has been leading the research work of the Wikipedia Cultural Diversity Observatory. Additionally, he is one of the writers of the Wikimedia 2030 Movement Strategy document and helped shape the principles, especially people-centeredness, which is a key component of the conversation today, alongside the recommendations themselves. He has been involved in the final writing, refining, and integration of feedback on content.
TH: I am Tanveer Hasan, I work with the Movement Strategy Core Team. Welcome, Marc.
MM: Thank you.
TH: I'm good. Now the recommendations are out and we are receiving feedback. It makes me feel that the work that we did is being considered. So I'm in a very happy place. Marc, how do you feel? How do you feel about the current moment?
MM: I feel enormous pleasure to see these strategic recommendations finally released. It can only grow and it can only get better. And I feel enormous pleasure to see these recommendations finally released and out there. It's been a long long ride, sometimes even bumpy, because we had to deal with some problems. On any big adventure, there are always some episodes of uncertainty and important learnings and I could not be happier with the results we were able to deliver as a movement. I am very positive and hopeful that they will help the movement.
TH: Can you explain the opportunity the recommendations for Wikimedia 2030 bring and what are some of the key problems they address?
MM: Yes, this is a document that includes recommendations, the main guidelines for the movement to strive to grow. So, the recommendations are the key part of the document, but I want to remark that there are principles and a narrative that accompany the recommendations.
The document has different layers to address the different problems that are preventing growth, diversity, of the movement. So it's a set of 10 recommendations with 10 principles, and each recommendation addresses the “what” we need to improve, the “why” so it justifies why this is important, and finally proposes different changes in the “actions and changes”.
TH: So whoever reads or engages with the content should spend time understanding the principles and then look at recommendations. Just reading the recommendation will only present a partial picture of what the discussion is, is that correct Marc?
MM: Yes, sometimes the process is not important and you just take the final product. The principles have been important for the process, but they’re also part of the final product. If this is a building, they are the pillars that are sustaining everything else, including the recommendations. Perhaps some parts of the recommendations may be obsolete after several years, but the principles will stay relevant. That's why they are so important.
TH: So the next obvious question in my head is, what are your favorite principles and recommendations? Do you have any favorites? Or are all of them equally important?
MM: Obviously, I do have favorites because I have had my particular journey in this process. This has been a collective effort. Last summer there were 89 recommendations. From this, we’ve arrived at these 10 recommendations, which are the essential guidelines. It is difficult to only choose one because they relate to each other, but I think that we are dealing with two main goals here: the sustainability and the cohesiveness of the current Movement and the inclusivity and openness for a future more diverse and larger Movement. For the first goal, “equity and decision-making” is the most important recommendation. For the second goal, “improve user experience” and “provide for safety and inclusion”.
I think that we are dealing with two main goals here: the sustainability and the cohesiveness of the current Movement and the inclusivity and openness for a future more diverse and larger Movement.
TH: That's interesting, because the first thoughts when you talk about movement are about resources and about governance. Why are “Improve User Experience” and “Provide for Safety and Inclusion” so important?
MM: Because these are the recommendations that aim to improve our contributing environment and upgrade it to the best possible place we can have for contributing to free knowledge, both in terms of the ease of use of the technology and also a healthy atmosphere. If Wikipedia improves on these qualities, it might be easier to engage newcomers of very different profiles that are not currently in our communities.
It is important to engage the communities in requesting changes to make the platform more and more usable and improving the environment so it becomes more inclusive. We need to involve as many people as possible in understanding the current rate of retention of newcomers and the reasons why some profiles (with low technical skills and not acquainted with the philosophy of free knowledge) leave before they understand how it works. Validating the designs with a more diversified base 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, this is what we should do. Provide design alternatives and test them until those profiles consider editing something they can do without the effort it takes them now.
It is the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit", but we should not assume that everyone who wants to contribute is able to edit in this current platform. It should be as easy as writing a blog post in the Wordpress blog editor, co-creating a document in Google Docs, because that's what everyone is used to - we need a top Visual editor that guides you in your learning at the beginning and helps you be more efficient later. We are not there yet.
TH: Let's try and explore this a little more because the usual argument is let's not fix something that's not broken. You are a contributor, I am a contributor. And we have been able to pick up these skills organically. So why are we trying to fix something that is, quote unquote, not broken?
MM: I think the idea of fixing is not very exact. We have to think in terms of improving and providing a point of engagement that is suitable to every profile. To make an analogy with content: we create articles that have different parts. There’s the introduction, then there are sections and even other articles that expand the topic. People pick what they need to learn - they’re not forced to read it all. We usually do not fix the articles, we improve them. Here, we should do the same with the platform design. We should aim for everyone to be able to learn what they need, whether it is just the minimum to make a few edits every now and then or to be a leader on a specific topic. We should be able to have a platform design for every profile that is not in the community.
Some editors might say “If I could learn Wikitext or anything specific, everyone can”. It is a beautiful claim and sounds very empowering but it is far from reality. Some of those who say this perhaps started editing when the Internet was a bit more technical, or even when Wikipedia was easier and there were fewer rules, fewer templates, and no Wikidata. Perhaps they were very motivated to do it in the “hacker ethical” sense, you know, this idea of “overcoming challenges to prove their worth and contribute to a greater good”. This “extra motivation” should not be a requirement today.
We lack diversity: where are the women? Where are the older people? Where are the people from 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. It is the encyclopedia that “anyone can edit”, but we should not assume that everyone who wants to contribute is able to edit in this current platform. It should be as easy as writing a blog post in the Wordpress blog editor, co-creating a document in Google Docs, because that’s what everyone is used to - we need a top Visual editor that guides you in your learning at the beginning and helps you be more efficient later. We are not there yet.
TH: One of the things that interests me is also a statement from the document: “Our goal by 2030 is to eliminate the gender gap and focus on the inclusion of underrepresented groups in our communities and projects”. Is this possible?
MM: I think I cannot give you a yes or no answer, as it really depends on the context. I do not think that we can go further than the cultural and legal limitations that women have in some countries - in some societies, culture change is a matter of one or two generations, and this will produce disruptions in their legal systems too. However, in some other countries, there are reasons to think that women could even be a majority (especially, when there are countries where women outnumber men in universities, like the UK, Argentina, Sri Lanka, among others). This means that there’s a long road to travel to include women in Wikipedia, and we can do it with the two recommendations we mentioned (“Improve User Experience” and “Provide for Safety and Inclusion”).
Possibly the current groups of women in the movement think that the major problem is safety, because there has been some increase in harassment, and they may experience some of it. And they are already in the movement. It is undeniably an important problem, but academic studies published during the past 5 to 7 years (I remember one from Hargittai and Shaw) show that the gender gap is exacerbated by a similarly significant technical skills gap. Other studies also prove the importance of conflict in driving women away. So, as a Movement, we need to work in both areas to take care of the needs of women so that they feel comfortable and excited to contribute regularly or more occasionally.
TH: I know this from my interactions with you that you have been a very strong advocate of being people-centered. Just to read from the document: “People-centeredness means that every aspect of our Movement must address the needs and challenges of the people who power the movement and whom it serves so that each one can contribute in their best way to the sum of human knowledge.” My question is, can you explain this a little more? Can you unpack this idea of people-centeredness?
MM: Yes, this is the key component of the strategy that explains best the two recommendations we were talking about. The origin of this principle is the realization that repeating the concept of diversity, like “we want diversity” or “we want to bridge the gender gap”, hundreds of times is not going to get us much farther than where we are now. We must be specific, and this is where addressing the “needs and challenges” of everyone come in. People-centeredness is a fundamental principle because it basically says that in case of doubt, look at those who are not able to contribute and try to tear down the barriers that prevent them from doing so.
To be able to bridge the gender gap and to reach more diversity in the community, we not only need user groups for women or other underrepresented groups that give them visibility; we need to make their needs a priority. So when we hear this group of women (for example, Wikiwomen or Wikidonne) explaining some difficulties they have come across lately with some conflicts, we don’t hear “ah, it’s just their stuff, I’m fine”. No, it’s everyone’s stuff. It is in all the Movement’s interest.
Contributing to “free knowledge” is an act of generosity, changing Wikimedia to support its current communities and include more people is an act of empathy.
TH: I understand that any movement, any community, people are a key component. But why do you think people are so strategically important for the Wikimedia movement?
MM: Because in a movement mostly powered by volunteering efforts, its sustainability depends on the people who believe in its value and who are able to invest time and effort, react, adapt, and continue to make it grow. It is surprising to note that the most active part of the Community are still those who were active eight to ten or twelve years ago. It is a matter of sustainability and these are the two areas for this. As a Movement, reaching representation that reflects humanity as much as possible should be a priority that comes right after collecting the sum of human knowledge. In fact, I doubt we can do the latter without doing the former.
Over the years we have perfected our tools, upgraded our technical and political structure in order to be able to coordinate better towards the goal of contributing to free knowledge. The next logical step is that we also do the same to take care of the current communities and include more and more diverse people in the future. Contributing to “free knowledge” is an act of generosity, changing Wikimedia to support its current communities and include more people is an act of empathy.
I believe that generally communities want an easier platform and a better atmosphere for collaboration, but they don’t know how to get there. [...] Now we need to build the steps and processes to improve the environment by ourselves. The Code of Conduct is for community health as essential as notability or sources policies are for article topics.
TH: So if I can add to this, I also feel that people are the most important component of our movement. So much so that all of the other questions become peripheral in nature, the primary object of interest or the primary area of interest for our movement should be investing in people. The question of governance, the question of resources, the question of advocacy, all take a backseat. Not that they are not important, but I think the primary object of our interest, the primary area of our work, should be in the domain of people; it should be what you earlier described as being people-centered. That to me is extremely important.
MM:People-centeredness is a principle that it is multilayered: if we look at other principles like equity, participation, subsidiarity, empowerment, inclusivity – the focus is always on people. We can say that they’re interrelated and when inclusivity applies to technology and our websites, we need to think in terms of usability and accessibility so that it is easy and people with disabilities can still contribute. When we think about resource allocation, equity and participation become essential in order to be able to address contextual problems. We need to deploy a culture of understanding who is in, who is out, proposing changes, and monitoring the results to see if they’re in the direction we want, and we need to socialize this.
I believe that generally communities want an easier platform and a better atmosphere for collaboration, but they don’t know how to get there. We don’t have the steps and rules to do that. Rules are not as clear as with content. We created the steps and criteria to build articles: Notability, Sources, etc. Now we need to build the steps and processes to improve the environment by ourselves. The Code of Conduct is for community health as essential as notability or sources are for article topics. It is great news that it has been supported by the WMF Board of Trustees and it moves forward. Part of this strategic document is about this: building the steps to be people-centered, support all contributors and grow in larger and more diverse communities.
I am going to give you an example. I’m a game designer myself. In video games, game balancing is the process by which game designers and developers tweak the different rules and mechanics in order to improve the user experience of the game, so that it is adjusted to the target player (e.g. a kid, an adult, a family, etc.) and keeps it engaged. Massive Multiplayer Online Games are played by thousands and thousands of gamers online in virtual worlds, some of them it takes dozens of hours to learn them, but they are no different. When there is a risk of losing players, these games need to be balanced or adjusted. They need to be balanced in real-time (introduce new characters, objects, currencies, etc.). There’s an asymmetrical position: the video game company feasibility depends on it and they have the data on the number of players and the way they play. The player has no idea what is going on. If they enjoy the game, they go along with it.
In Wikimedia, there is no asymmetrical relationship and we are transparent. We are all participants of our shared future and we decide by consensus the main actions we take. So we need, first, better information on our state of community health, diversity, and growth, and, second, mechanisms in order to make collective decisions to improve on that. We need to become more self-aware and have more information on what is helping retain newcomers and what is driving editors to drop-off. Every community member needs to be able to access community metrics, access new interface testing results, etc.
In this sense, I am involved as an advisor to a research project called Community Health metrics directed towards understanding why editors drop off (the causes). With it, we also want to give a set of metrics so it can be readily understood which communities do better than others. We need to build these giant mirrors that reflect how well we do in our community's health and growth and make them part of our daily routines as Wikipedians. Like when we look ourselves in the mirror every morning. I envision a more self-aware movement.
Milestones based on community health, growth and diversity will be celebrated publicly in Wikimania and other venues.
TH: I have a slight doubt here. Wouldn't this move towards transparency expose the editors and have dangerous effects on the movement on the editors themselves.
MM: Yes, this is an issue to take into account. Transparency in some contexts can put people at risk. This is why we have our principles of “safety and security” and “contextualization”. However, when I say giant community health mirrors, I mean community-based metrics in order to understand whether they are effectively engaging with newcomers to retain them, whether they are implementing the changes in the Visual Editor that help newcomers, etc.
The simple fact of knowing our current state of health changes our behavior and what we can measure so we can improve it. Did you know that the invention of the cash register was one of the great contributions to civilizations? It’s a wonderful story. After it was invented, it became useful and companies using them made more profit simply because it was easier to do the math and also because transactions were recorded. Information changes behavior. If we know that we could do better at retention by creating certain supporting roles, welcoming messages and implementing interface changes, and we check at the end of the month the retention rate, I am sure that we as communities will try to do a better job at retention of new editors.
Then, most importantly, we can also celebrate it. Celebration is a very important part of a community's culture. It creates virtuous cycles in which growth encourages growth. In a similar way that we pay attention today to the milestones in the number of articles, I am sure the new types of milestones based on community health, growth and diversity will be celebrated publicly in Wikimania and other venues.
TH: Metrics can help us talk about growth. Is that the right way to indicate inclusivity? And more importantly, does it mean that a one-time increase would guarantee or would initiate a practice of continuing these things?
MM: I think you're right in pointing out the limitations of metrics. I think metrics have the advantage that they simplify things. But metrics like the number of articles are also limited to understanding whether Wikipedia is getting better or just larger. So we need more nuanced data. We need the user stories, we need people explaining diversity in affiliates, we need diversity in the conferences. So, I totally agree that metrics are not enough, but they are the most visible part and that makes them essential.
TH: There is a recommendation on investing on skills and another on curating internal knowledge.
MM: But when we talk about people-centeredness, we do not only refer to the needs of those who are not here yet, but those who are here and could do better. It is very important. These strategy recommendations are a fine balance at addressing the needs of the current and future communities.
There has been a huge demand for skills, yes, and there’s a recommendation dedicated to curating the internal knowledge produced in our Movement. It asks to ensure it is findable and usable by any participant to facilitate learning and growth. It asks to establish a knowledge base for internal knowledge (new or upgrade what we have), dedicated staff to improve discoverability, and supplemented services for peer matchmaking. In our movement, we tend to reinvent the wheel very often because we do not curate our internal knowledge.
I think it is ironic that we are the main knowledge provider for humanity but comparably, we are terrible at managing our internal functioning knowledge. We are reinventing the wheel because many people are working alone and not deploying the spaces to collaborate on creating resources and building skills. Instead, when we create a piece of knowledge that helps someone else, the impact of our work is multiplied several times. If we make supporting people a priority, we need to have a knowledge base that enables finding resources much more easily than Meta. It should be a centralized place, multilingual, with multiple kinds of content, much more modular, with structured data, and possibilities to index external content, etcetera.
The idea that supporting current and missing contributors needs compounds is something that we are not taking into account enough. More and more diverse people will result in more and more diverse topics and types of free knowledge!
TH: You said something really remarkable when you were responding to the earlier question that for a movement that provides a lot of knowledge and information to the rest of the world, we are not doing a good job of maintaining our own knowledge. But my question is: who do you think should be working on building such internal knowledge base?
MM: I think everyone can be involved in one degree or another. But we know that with just a coordinated minority taking responsibility, with the right philosophy and approach it is enough. The majority can continue operating according to content goals (quality, gaps, etc.) and this minority according to the community or people-centered goals like curating internal knowledge and mentoring newcomers. We will get more educated on how people interact with information, technology and the rest of the structures to improve them. Being a Wikimedian is and should be more diverse than creating articles.
Imagine you are about to make one last contribution. If you can only commit to one last project with Wikimedia? You can either choose to create a bot that makes 100,000 valuable articles, a new interface upgrade, or some learning resources for this internal knowledge base that would open the door to 20,000 editors this year: women of all ages, students, librarians, photographers, etc. What would you choose?
Many Wikipedians would fancy the idea of leaving a legacy of 100,000 relevant articles. However, 20,000 new editors are a value that can compound much more. Because these new editors can create more articles, make connections between them, and even create bots similar to the one you might have had in mind. The idea that supporting current and missing contributors needs compounds is something that we are not taking into account enough. More and more diverse people will result in more and more diverse topics and types of free knowledge!
TH: Very interesting. Let me just pick up what you said about the choice or the decision that you want to make. One of the key recommendations is “Equity in Decision-Making”. I know that you have been associated with that and you thought a lot about it. Could you talk about it?
MM: It is a very complex recommendation because it involves how every organized actor relates to one another in order to stay inclusive and make decisions with the lenses of equity and subsidiarity. The so-called “power structures” are an uncomfortable discussion because they require every actor to re-think its position. I like the fact that there is a solution to give better representation to the whole Movement, which is the Global Council.
Then, there are the regional structures or thematic hubs, which are a good opportunity for collaboration around specific areas and topics and can really implement the principle of subsidiarity and self-management, that is, that decisions need to be made at the most immediate or local level wherever possible because local communities are able to better understand their context. This is a principle that is countered by the principle of efficiency because sometimes centralization can give more efficient results. In general, I think this recommendation will be expanded during the implementation, but it is a great starting point for 2030.
Without trust, there is the possibility of rejecting possible proposals without really being able to ponder the benefits for the entire Movement, and this is something that we should not allow to happen if we want to reach strategy goals.
TH: I really liked the point that you made about how these recommendations need to be understood. I also understand that there are a lot of good ideas embedded in the recommendations. But what about concrete measures?
MM: The creation of these specific structures along with the Movement Charter, whose goal is to lay the values, principles, roles, and policies for the Movement, is a way to do what we can say is a process of “movement-building”.
With them, we aim to be more cohesive and coordinated in our cultural and economical differences. We are becoming more structured and we can only do so by recognizing each others’ needs and differences. This is why in a way we need to be people-centered to make this movement-building possible. I’m optimistic. I think that there will be greater trust between the different actors when the Global Council is deployed because it will fill a gap in movement conversations that are now only happening in some scattered places like the Wikimedia-l mailing list and meta, and it is important that we all have a better understanding of the weight of the different perspectives in the entire Movement.
I think this is how it ties together. More clarity in the positions the different actors have and more recognition and inclusiveness in the decision-making processes will bring more trust in the Movement. If there is more trust between actors, it will be easier to collaborate between them. It is essential that, let’s say the Wikimedia Foundation’s research department, product design, data analytics, and the communities collaborate in order to understand community health and then implement the changes necessary to be more inclusive and improve editor retention. Otherwise, without trust, there is the possibility of rejecting possible proposals without really being able to ponder the benefits for the entire Movement, and this is something that we should not allow to happen if we want to reach strategy goals.
TH: I completely agree with what you said. One of the key things that strikes me as important to be associated with strategy is interest or agency. We know that a lot of people are either tired of strategy or are worried and anxious about what the strategy would lead to. Because there is still another phase of strategy that is going to unfold very soon. So do you have any thoughts around that?
MM: Afraid and tired are two different things. Haha! I think that being tired is partly expected, because it has been a long process that required many discussions as well as the preparation of different phases aimed at composing groups by topics, organizing tasks of introducing feedback,...I must thank Katherine, the Core Team, and Ryan and everyone who accompanied us in this process, because they showed courage and trusted that this was possible. By that I mean a collaborative strategy process that takes into account the entire movement. I think not only was it possible, but it was the best way to do it and be respectful of the nature and values we have. We can see this clearly now, but it was not obvious some time ago.
The problem here has been that many of the trust problems that we had as a movement have accumulated new communication problems and the result has been some unfortunate situations. But the complexity of involving so many people in so many languages is an unprecedented effort. In fact, the idea of separating a group of representative members of the Movement to create the strategy has allowed for an in-depth view of the problems and helped us create a document whose strong points are its clarity at stating the needs, refinement in terms of a common language, and rich in-depth insight with the principles and final actions to execute. This could not be obtained by involving all the Movement in discussions for this same period of time, by locking 4-5 people in a room for two months or calling an external agency. I understand some people are tired. Even those who have been more involved in writing for the past year are tired as well. However, now that the recommendations have set clear ideas, it will be easier to progress. Creating strategy is uncomfortable, but this movement-building stage that will happen in the implementation can be more liberating.
TH: I remember that Ryan in one of his conversations during the Wikimedia Summit had said something very similar that creating strategy is difficult because you're now choosing from good things. So it makes it even more difficult than a normal decision. I think you're right because if we were to make this movement people-centered, I think we should also have space for people to say very clearly that they are tired or that they are anxious, all of these things need to be acknowledged, in a very honest way possible. I have one last question for you, Marc: What are your thoughts? What do you want to say to people who are worried about implementation who don't have clarity at this point? What are some of the things that you are thinking about around implementation?
MM: I think the document has gone through different stages of feedback which allowed us to understand the different angles of the problems we address. It is also written in a way that allows many decisions to be considered and made respectfully of the context. Implementation will require a period of alignment to understand better what it means. I think there is a need to validate some statements with data, establish measurable indicators, and delegate responsibilities. But this is something that should not make anyone afraid - if the strategy is collaborative and participatory, the implementation needs to be done in the same manner.
Possibly we have two kinds of people worried here. Those who might not trust the main actors of the Movement and who want to see that this is “real” and that we want them involved and value their contribution. Then there are those who have invested so much and have obtained a position of power in the Movement and might feel that it is at risk.
As I said before, I think that contributing to free knowledge is a great act of generosity and long-time editors have shown enormous generosity. These new values and principles of people-centeredness, equity or inclusivity require empathy. Editors who might feel their influence or power position is diminished should be aware that, when changes will benefit the growth and diversity of the people of the movement, not opposing them (even though it does not necessarily mean encouraging them) can also be a great contribution. I’d like to tell them that they should not stop believing that this Movement and this project that is Wikipedia and free knowledge can be even better than it is today, and we should do it together.
TH: Yes, absolutely. We should definitely do it together. And I would like to echo what you said that the strategic recommendations and the implementation is an opportunity for us to make our movement much better, much more sustainable, much more people-centered than it already is, and to think of all of the things that the recommendations point out. What I would also like to reiterate is the fact that this has always been an open process and it is because of your participation and I would particularly want to acknowledge your participation, Marc, and all of the people who have contributed in the different phases in the working group phase, the harmonization phase, the writing phase and the integration phase. Thanks to them, the strategic recommendations are where they are today. It is not by one person, it is not by an external agency. It is from the people of the movement and for the movement. So, this is a remarkable start. And I would want to believe that the implementation is going to be equally important and equally fascinating, both in terms of conversations and discussions, but also in terms of concrete, tangible changes that it is going to produce.
Marc, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge for sharing your experience, and more importantly, sharing the story behind the recommendations. How are some of these recommendations? How did they come about? What do they talk about? What is the story behind it? What are the thoughts that went into these recommendations during the session? Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. It's been a pleasure.
MM: It's been a pleasure to me as well. I think that we could have talked for hours.
TH: Yeah. Thank you so much, Marc, hoping that your support and your active participation will be present with us even during the implementation phase. Thank you.