Introduction about the community
Swahili language community is a large diverse group of people who speak and use the Swahili language. These people mainly come from the African great lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, some parts of Malawi, Somalia, Zambia, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Generally, the Swahili language has become a common and official language for some of the African nations, it serves as a first language of the Swahili people as well it is an official language in some African countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and DRC Congo. The popularity of Swahili language has been increasing since the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) adopted Kiswahili as its fourth official language in 2019. The Wikimedia movement has the Swahili language version of Wikipedia known as Swahili Wikipedia (Wikipedia Ya Kiswahili) and as of 11 May 2020 at 1722Hrs (UTC) Swahili Wikipedia had an average of 137 active editors, 11 admins, 58,868 articles and the size of 120,241 bytes. Some of the official user groups (user groups that are recognized by Wikimedia Foundation) that support editing, content creation, contributions and maintenance of the Swahili Wikipedia include Wikimedia Community User Group Tanzania, Jenga Wikipedia ya Kiswahili and Wikimedia community User Group Uganda. These user groups are composed of people from a diverse background, including women, men, university students, doctors, pastors, astronomers, lecturers, teachers, tech enthusiasts and many other free knowledge advocates.
Status/Summary of behavioural policies in the community
The research conducted in Swahili Wikipedia shows that there are Swahili policies that govern different online activities such as how to contribute to Swahili Wikipedia, notability of topics to be contributed to it as well as how someone should behave while contributing to it. One challenge observed is that this code of conduct is not much known to many of the Swahili contributors, very few active contributors such as admins specifically know about this code of conduct policy. The research shows as well that this policy was created by some of the early sw.wiki community members. Some of them were not native Swahili speakers. Although it is claimed that the policy was created by Swahili community members, its content somehow seems to resemble that of the EnWP giving the possibility that some of the policies were derived and translated from English Wikipedia. This is because of a relatively small number of Swahili Wikipedia contributors as well as a small number of admins (4 out of 11 admins are active) who can actively facilitate the creation and follow up the code of conduct or policy issues.
Most of the Swahili speaking community members are active on the community’s social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook pages. During the community consultation process on the universal code of conduct, a general information link to Swahili discussion page was shared to the WhatsApp group where UCoC discussion was initiated to allow the community members to ask questions for any concern they had in mind concerning the UCoC. Due to the fact that not all Swahili Wikipedia contributors were in the WhatsApp group, some members suggested that the discussion should be shifted into Swahili discussion page where many people can have access to providing their opinions. Therefore the UCoC discussion was transferred into Swahili UCoC discussion page as per some of the members’ advice, it was noted that the response wasn’t satisfactory as few people were able to write their opinions publicly and supposedly it added some complexity for them to ask instant questions for unclear concerns on UCoC before providing their feedback. After that, another new strategy was deployed which was sharing a survey form containing some key questions that aimed to guide the community members to give their feedback, again the response rate was not very satisfactory, only a few people participated.
Those challenges suggested the change of approach into One-to-One consultation methodology whereby many members were reached through phone calls and they were able to give their opinions on UCoC. This method worked out well as it solved many barriers, such as lack of internet connectivity to access social media platforms and Swahili Wiki discussion page, it was a good chance to connect with the community members directly and most of them appreciated the methodology and hence some discussions with them were carried out.
Despite fruitful results of one-to-one consultation methodology, it came with one challenge that not all Swahili contributors phone numbers were known, and that suggested to add mass messaging methodology whereby the invitation messages to invite Swahili Wikimedians to participate in UCoC feedback consultation was sent to at least 106 active Sw Wikimedia contributors through their Swahili Wikipedia userpages. This methodology didn’t bear much fruit in a timely manner. Until the consultation time ended, there was not a satisfactory number of participants who showed up to comment to the Swahili discussion page. Finally, the facilitation was concluded by extending the facilitation process to more Swahili speaking Wikimedia affiliates which include Ugandan, Burundian, Rwandan and Kenyan Wikimedians through the google survey forms through which few opinions and comments from these affiliates were collected and recorded.
Generally, the facilitation went well and a good number of people were able to provide their opinions on UCoC. Most participants said it is a good idea to have something that tries to unite Wikimedians at a basic level as long as it will respect a particular community’s culture as well as the particular country’s laws, rules and regulations. Moreover, they said it will help Wikimedia contributors to feel free in contributing to WMF projects as they will be aware of what is considered right and that is not considered right to do while engaging in WMF projects.
On other hand some of the people who responded said they didn’t see any need for having UCoC as the local Swahili Wikipedia code of conduct is there and that both of two (UCoC and the Swahili code of conduct) seems to work almost the same way, moreover that it will be difficult for people to choose which one to follow among the two code of conduct when controversial points come up. During the consultation process, different people expressed their concerns regarding various matters as explained below.
The UCoC should be a self-defining guidelines tool. Due to the lack of knowledge on harassment-related issues, it was suggested that UCoC should try to educate people by providing a clear definition of what ‘‘Harassment’’ really means especially when it comes to Wikimedia platforms. According to some participants, this will help to increase the understanding of harassment topics as currently it is believed that a very low number of Wikimedians have an understanding of what harassment means. There is also little understanding of what things are considered harassment. In line with that, some people suggested that there should be some form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with its respective answers about UCoC so as to provide quick response and understanding of common questions people might be in need of quick answers.
A relatively large number of participants who provided their feedback suggested that the UCoC should consider respect, balance and maintain the diversity of social, cultural, religious conducts as well it should be compatible with a particular community or country’s laws, rules and regulations. In addition, it should not include policies and endorsements that generalize/universalize culture, according to participants, this will help to avoid legal conflicts with local authorities. Coming to privacy issues some people suggested that for the case of harassment issues there should not be any public disclosure of personal identification such as who did what, rather a grace period should be given for people to correct themselves.
Some people expressed their opinions that most of the Wiki projects resources such as policies and Wikiprojects guidelines for contributions aren't known by most of the Wikimedians except the experienced ones. Therefore the suggestion was given that the UCoC should contain important Wikiprojects resources such as WMF online learning tools and materials that will help contributors to be knowledgeable of right things to do and hence that will help to avoid violation of the UCoC and other related code of conducts unknowingly.
Ensuring that the UCoC should be understandable by everyone, some suggested that there should be some easy to understand instructions in terms of DOs and DON’Ts with some explanations as to why it is considered acceptable or not acceptable. In addition to that, some of the Swahili speaking community suggested that there should be a Swahili version of UCoC for easier understanding of the UCoC content.
In order to ensure there is a quality contribution to Wikimedia projects, UCoC should not forbid people to give their constructive criticism for important topics which may seem to be misleading or ambiguous. Criticism should be looked carefully whether it is given for good faith and for its benefit on the improvement of Wikimedia projects.
Although it is still unclear how the actual UCoC will look like, some members advised that the UCoC should use language as simple as possible, customizable, understandable to all people from the grassroots levels to higher levels and it should fit the local communities while at the same time maintaining international standards. Along with that, there should be an equal endorsement of this policy to both communities also it should not be biased based on country, community, race, gender, education level and any other form of discriminative or bias factor.
Apart from the concerns raised above, the following are the generalized suggestions that were given by different members during the community consultation process.
The UCoC should be available in local languages so that different communities can understand better what is required. In order to ensure timely reporting of harassment issues, it was suggested that there should be a means of communication such as active page(s), phone number(s), email(s), to a very specialized person/team/ board or committee that will be handling harassment-related issues. This will likely encourage people to report any abuse/harassment issues. In line with that, some suggested that there should be a specialized board that reviews regularly harassment-related matters and provides resolutions in a timely manner.
UCoC content should mostly keep the global volunteer community together by not having too many restrictions to the extent that Wikimedians will see no possibility to engage in contributing to Wiki projects. In addition to that, to ensure community engagement in policymaking as well as decision making, there should be a regular checkup of community members because some people may have some queries, advice, recommendations and opinions about different WMF related matters but aren’t that open to comment things publicly.
WMF should widen the range of its activities not to base only on editing and adding contents to its projects, but also to support other indirect activities that bring Wikimedians together and that promote Wikimedians community health. Examples of those activities are sports and developers hackathons to support innovative ideas about new Wikimedia tools that can help to engage more people with the movement.
WMF should come up with ways that inspire, cheer up, motivate and recognize volunteers' contribution to its projects. Elaborating more about this some members said currently there are few ways of acknowledgement or appreciation to people who are active in contributing to WMF projects. Hence some people, even though they are passionate about free contribution to the open knowledge through WMF projects, at some point they get discouraged as they feel like no one cares for their incredible contributions.
Also, it was suggested that WMF should prepare a sample (demo) of UCoC so that community members can see how it will look like. It was expressed that it will help the community to give more feedback and suggestions with respect to the real thing they will see.
Finally, some of the East African WMF affiliates suggested that due to some difficulties that some communities face in the implementation of WMF projects in their local countries, the Wikimedia Foundation could help these communities to be legalized by having supportive working documents especially to governments that have little understanding or negative mindset about WMF projects as some of them associates WMF projects with their political matters.
People of different backgrounds, especially women seem to be left behind in decision making in many societies and in the provision of opinions concerning different aspects of the communities. Adding to this point it was noted that in most cases women (especially newbies) are holding back to participate fully in different leadership and decision making roles as they are afraid of expressing their ideas publicly. This may be due to a mindset of thinking perhaps they do not know enough to take roles. Due to that situation, some people suggested that there should be a team for every community that will be specific for reaching out to each individual member of the Swahili language community, as well as all other WMF Wikimedians communities so as to learn the challenges they face and ideologies they have about contributing to WMF projects. According to the participants, that will help to change any negative ideologies people have on thinking they need to be experts on every topic they want to contribute or role to play towards making the Wikimedia movement move forward.
Also during the Universal code of conduct community (UCoC) consultation process, one of the experienced editors of both Swahili and English Wikipedia said the journey of contributing to English Wikipedia wasn't so easy as there was and still there is a sense of bias for content acceptance into Wikipedia when it comes to content from Africa. The person added that he has been frequently entering arguments with English administrators who (the person believes) aren’t sure of what is notable in Africa in both the subject/topic itself as well as the notability of its accompanying references. The person added that at one of the occasions, he contributed about one of the notable musicians in Tanzania who had reliable references but still the Enwiki admin rejected it by commenting that no reasonable notability was seen for the musician to have an article on Wikipedia. Based on similar occasions an editor faced while contributing to other different topics, that made the editor think perhaps Wikipedia is meant just for some people only as notability and references factors (according to the editor) are used to bar content contributions for African topics.
A statistical representation of the data
The Universal Code of Conduct facilitation process involved as many people as possible to offer a chance for them to provide their opinions based on their perspective angle they belong to in relation to their involvement and interaction with the Wikimedia Foundation projects. During the process, at least 304 people in total were reached in different ways. Among the ways used to obtain the community’s feedback on UCoC includes on-wiki discussions (7 people engaged), 57 responded through WhatsApp, 73 phone call responses, 3 responses from google survey forms, 3 responses from East Africa WMF affiliates, and 42 people were reached along with 22 engagements in social media pages.
Among those who were reached out, 103 people were able to give their feedback on a set of Universal code of conduct survey questions which helped to understand the general community’s concerns on UCoC. Going in more details in terms of demographic categorization on the involvement of the participants, all 103 people who responded to the UCoC survey and facilitation process were anonymous in gender, 7 newbies, 3 Swahili Wikipedia Administrators and 3 Other Wiki rights holders. Generally the results for the main and key question that asked for the people’s opinion about what they had in mind concerning the idea of implementing a Universal code of conduct, 64 people expressed support, 25 people expressed some concerns and 14 people seemed to be neutral about the idea.
The Universal Code of conduct consultation process played a great role in being an opportunity for Swahili language community not only to give the feedback on UCoC but also to share different experiences which Wikimedians have while using and contributing to WMF projects. Through this process, invaluable contributions, advice, recommendations and opinions were obtained, most of those with a great purpose of making the WMF movement thrive and move forward.
The UCoC facilitation process has served as a great chance for people to engage in decision and policy-making within the WMF movement. This has resulted in improved networking and connection with the community members as most of the people who were engaged in this UCoC community consultation process felt valued by being given the chance to provide their opinions during the process of making the UCoC, a policy which is expected to help in the growth of WMF projects. Some members suggested that the culture of checking up on the individual members should be sustained and can be a good approach for making more people engage in policy and decision-making processes.
Again through the UCoC facilitation process, it was possible to evaluate some of the effective engaging ways for opinion collection from the community members concerning different matters that relate to policymaking. Among other ways that were used during the consultation process, one to one consultation was one of the best ways that showed convenience to many as it gives freedom to people to instantly ask questions to any areas seeming unclear to them and then thereafter they have an opportunity to provide their feedback due to increased understanding.
On the other hand, the UCoC consultation helped to understand the possible challenges that the community faces. One of the challenges noticed was the lack of internet connectivity to some members hence that problem in some way affects the ability of people to explore things online as well as it affects the on-wiki participation of community members in different on-wiki discussions. Apart from discussing community-related matters, the UCoC facilitation process served as an opportunity for community members to provide their opinions and advice to the Wikimedia movement as a whole. Some of the opinions/advice to WMF was the creation of a specific board or committee for resolving harassment issues and a suggestion that WMF should have some kind of supportive documents that can help Wikimedia communities in different countries operate without any difficulties in legal issues.
The Swahili language community thanks and appreciates the WMF for involving it in this important policy-making process as it considers itself to be honoured and valued. Also, special appreciation goes to all Swahili language communities including Tanzanian, Ugandan, Rwandan, Burundian, Kenyan Wikimedians and all others for their active participation in this process and for their invaluable contribution and feedback and for readiness to participate in this process considering that the facilitation was carried out during the challenging time of COVID-19 pandemic.