Recommendation 9: Monitoring Product and Societal Impacts
Q 1 What is your Recommendation?
Direct the Foundation or other movement body to review the current social and policy impacts of Wikimedia and to identify if, or how, recommended or planned changes to policies, technology choices and product experience and marketing, are or are not “neutral” and what potential risks or opportunities for Wikimedia as a consumer product might arise if the Foundation or other movement bodies make significant changes in these areas. This review should occur on the same cycle as movement wide planning in Technology and Product, for example every 3 years when the Wikimedia Foundation publishes a medium term plan.
Q 2-1 What assumptions are you making about the future context that led you to make this Recommendation?
Wikimedia’s resources and social or political relevance to much of the world is based on the large amount of traffic, and associated revenue, to Wikimedia’s domains. This in turn, relies on public trust in the product and effective balancing of sometimes contentious or even violent political and social disputes. Currently, the Foundation and the movement as a whole have no ongoing capacity to monitor and analyse the real and perceived neutrality and trustworthiness of our projects, and the impact external trends and internal decisions have on ita. As we pursue goals like “knowledge equity”, even if they are morally just and widely supported within the movement, there are potential risks to perception of the products as trustworthy and neutral. And, in the other direction, we also do not have shared capacity or understanding of how political and social trends may limit or support these goals.
Q 2-2 What is your thinking and logic behind this recommendation?
Without a dedicated capacity or clear expectations in this area, the Foundation, affiliates and informal groups will continue to make assumptions about these issues based on limited perspectives and often through their own biased lens. This, in turn, leads to risks due to ignorance or local or culturally specific concerns, and risks which may limit the growth or continued use of our products and knowledge. By creating a globally centered capability to monitor and report on these issues, we hope that individuals, groups and paid staff, will be able to better understand and avoid these risks, as well as identify opportunities to increase the impact of our movement.
Additionally, we expect that the strategy process and recommendations may result in some significant changes to policy, governance and positioning of the movement. We believe it is necessary to consider how these major changes may affect the use of Wikimedia as a consumer product and therefore place our reach and resources at risk.
Q 3-1 What will change because of the Recommendation?
This recommendation will result in paid staff member(s) or paid consultant(s) who will be tasked with reviewing the Foundation’s Medium Term Plan, and recommendations from this process approved by the Board, and identifying risks and opportunities. This would be a new capability, not drawing on the existing functions of the Foundation. The outcome will be regularly recurring reports, published on wiki, and presented to the Foundation and Board for their consideration and incorporation into existing work.
- What will change or shift? (both direct and indirect impact)
This recommendation relies on the assumption that collecting, analysing and sharing information around these issues will reduce the risk of planned changes to software, content or marketing of the Wikimedia projects, and provide expert global guidance towards new opportunities. This relies on the other parts of the movement to engage with these findings and is largely expected to result in indirect impacts on plans by affiliates, the foundation and informal groups in the area of product experience, consumer awareness and technology architecture.
- How will this recommendation change the structures to enable programmatic work towards becoming the support system for the free knowledge movement to be more effective?
Although these issues may (or may not) be considered by existing structures, we believe this capacity, and a global perspective on issues of society, politics and Wikimedia, will help ensure our existing traffic and resources remain healthy, while also potentially enabling more concerted and impactful programmatic work on technology culture and related political policy.
Q 3-2 Who specifically will be influenced by this recommendation?
What is the key target group for the recommendation, e.g. user groups, chapters, WMF, project communities, external partners, individual editors, etc.
This new capability would mainly be focused on influencing the paid decision makers of the movement working in areas of technology, product and marketing. However, by publishing an open finding of fact and analysis of proposed changes, we also hope to influence a broad constituency of developers and participants in the Wikimedia technology ecosystem, including volunteer developers and external partners.
Q 4-1 Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
The most likely “negative” outcome is that the work done in this area, and the assessment of specific proposals would be largely ignored, making the recommendation little more than an academic exercise. Because no enforcement or decision making process is proposed to change, it would be quite possible for the intended audience to proceed with work identified as risky, or to ignore potential opportunities without consequence.
Additionally there is some risk that risks, even manageable ones, identified by this new capability will be used to deny funding or claim “no consensus” on proposed work, essentially weaponizing findings to prevent change, even where that is not actually warranted by the report(s).
Q 4-2 What could be done to mitigate this risk?
We could consider process or other requirements to mitigate the risk of this work being ignored. For example, if a proposal is identified as highly risky to traffic in a certain region (for example, a program that is likely to result in a blanket censoring of the projects), we could put some requirements in place that the proposer provide a risk mitigation strategy or worst case scenario plan, prior to proceeding.
Additionally, the weight and attention the Board and others give this work will have a major influence on how impactful this will be.
Q 5 How does this Recommendation relate to the current structural reality? Does it keep something, change something, stop something, or add something new?
As described above, this need is currently addressed in an ad-hoc fashion, usually in the course of planning for or discussing some specific software, marketing or policy change. These risk and opportunity assessments are therefore often quite local in scope, significantly biased in their understanding, and not available for the wider movement to engage with. This recommendation proposes a new, dedicated capability to bring this work together, make it more widely available, and bring in a balance of perspectives.
Q 6-1 Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations? If yes, how?
Not directly. However it is related to, and similar in form, with our proposal for a Technology Ethics panel.
Q 6-2 Does this Recommendation connect or relate to your Scoping Questions? If yes, how?
Yes. In our scoping questions we identified the lack of shared understanding of political and social impacts on technology and product plans and the potential risks and opportunities we might be missing because of the separation of “social” and “technical” thinking and conversations. This recommendation is our proposal for helping to fill this gap and provide an ongoing capability in this area of our scope.