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Wikimedia Foundation elections/2024/Questions for candidates/Question 4

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Wikimedia Foundation's Annual Plan recognizes multiple trends negative to the Wikimedia movement: decreasing visibility, audiences moving to a novel competition such as artificial intelligence solutions and Internet influencers, increasing information warfare and erosion of trust, necessary technical investments while the revenue growth was flattening. At the same time, the movement's products and processes change very, very slowly. Which bold steps would you recommend to the Wikimedia Foundation?

Bobby Shabangu (Bobbyshabangu)

I think the people contributing and consuming Wikimedia are best placed to recommend a bold step the Wikimedia Foundation can take. The thing that draws people to continue reading and editing Wikipedia should be investigated and strengthened. I also believe part of the answer lie in the Movement strategy document particularly recommendation no1 Increasing the the Sustainability of our Movement which recogises that "Our future is dependent on a healthy, diverse, and collaborative environment and on a continual inflow of contributors. However, we lack mechanisms to assure resources and capacities (e.g. money, partners, facilities) are available equitably across the Movement." and recognise that "Increasing contributor recruitment and retention depend on improving procedures, processes, and frameworks to meet and support varied needs."

Recommendation no2. Evaluate, Iterate and Adapt also recognises that "We need to adapt to meet new and altered situations and challenges by adopting policies and procedures based upon evaluations of the changing Movement and the changing world."

Deon Steyn (Oesjaar)

The first part of the statement can summarized in the following words: accelerated technological innovation and the second part is slow growth in revenue. Bold steps: fight fire with fire- the Foundation has to accelerate the use of technological innovations as well. This included integrating AI and machine learning by collaborating with AI companies for proper attribution and developing AI-powered tools for editors. Improving user interfaces, especially for mobile platforms, can enhance user experience and engagement. The core business of the Foundation is that of an online Encyclopedia and not that of an IT company. Unless a new sister company eg. Wiki-IT is formed, collaboration is the key for success.

With regards to revenue: the days of printed books are numbered for various reasons: costs, impact on environment etc. My vision is that the Foundation collaborate with universities and high schools to provide the very textbooks online, much cheaper! It is by far easier to update changes online whereas textbooks have to be reprinted. The universities and high school can invest in this project as it will be mutually beneficial. The Foundation has the capability of providing textbooks in a variety of languages. The Foundation can then market this project with the universities and schools to potential donors.

Another bold idea: introducing membership program and selling merchandise can create new revenue models.

To expand content and reach - invest more into language support. Improved and easier interfacing, multimedia videos and podcast in all the languages is crucial. Very few languages has specialist dictionaries, this is crucial to grow content in the smaller language Wikipedia's.

Erik Hanberg (Erikemery)

I believe that relative to big-tech, Wikimedia’s slow pace to change products and processes is actually a hidden strength. Yes, it can be frustrating at times. But I would always choose it over the “go fast and break “ things mentality that seems to guide Big Tech. How often have we seen a company like Meta go all in one idea (metaverse, a phone) and then pivot six months later to the new shiny object? Wikimedia must be more thoughtful about any new initiative.

I would certainly embrace a new bold idea where there was a good bet for paying off. Or testing many smaller ideas with the community and its users and readers. But overall, the strength of Wikimedia is the community, its nonprofit status, and its deep trust with readers and users. Like a glacier, it moves slowly, but when it moves, no one can stop it.

Farah Jack Mustaklem (Fjmustak)

No response yet.

Christel Steigenberger (Kritzolina)

For me the boldest step the Wikimedia Foundation can take is one that is not new. The boldest action the Wikimedia Foundation does again and again is to truly trust its creative, intelligent, amazing community of volunteers. I believe the Board should always apply this trust in all its stratgies and should also try and push all stakeholders towards this trust. The community is the true strength of our movement. Wikipedia and its sister projects exist, because we humans bring it "alive" again and again with our contributions. As long as we have healthy vibrant communities across the world, the Wikimedia Movement will prosper and overcome all difficulties to freely sharing our knowledge.

Lane Rasberry (Bluerasberry)

To address all of these challenges, I recommend that the Wikimedia Foundation greatly increase university research partnerships. The least expensive, highest-value option for continuously getting good recommendations is to make research support, data, and documentation up-to-date and easy for researchers to access.

Currently the Wikimedia Foundation has no particular option for university research partnerships. I know this, because since 2018 I have been Wikimedian in Residence at the School of Data Science at the University of Virginia, and I have free-of-cost graduate students who want to do machine learning and artificial intelligence projects on Wikimedia datasets. While we have done some research, I have difficulty introducing Wikimedia content to students repeatedly every term because the Wikimedia ecosystem is simply unprepared for student research. Doing research with Wikimedia should be as easy as doing research with large datasets from other tech platforms. Now is the time to develop our infrastructure to support university research.

To all of these questions - how should we respond to artificial intelligence? how do we grow trust in various countries? what investments should we make in technology? what business plans are sensible? - the answer is to tell the world that we want university research partnerships. Many research questions can be answered with our publicly available open data and without need to disturb any editors. In many cases, researchers would like for us to ask them questions, because they only want to do a project that would be helpful to us and that no one else is already doing privately. Researchers appreciate when we recommend ethical guidelines and ask them to adopt open science practices.

Beyond computer science and data science, we need partnerships with schools of law and public policy to protect our values, with schools of commerce and business to review our budgets and investments, with sociologists to conduct Wikimedia reader and user surveys, and with every kind of school for content development of Wikipedia itself.

Lorenzo Losa (Laurentius)

The word wiki means quick in Hawaiian. All our projects were created with the idea of being able to do things quickly. When we look at the processes and the structures that we have put in place, however, I sometimes think that we have lost that idea somewhere along the way.

To be honest, there are good reasons why change can be slow. More than one billion people use our projects: very few websites support as many languages and as many browsers as we do, and even apparently trivial changes can have huge implications. Moreover, we are a widely distributed movement, and changes often require buy-in from multiple parties.

The recommendations I would make are valid for the whole movement, not just the Wikimedia Foundation:

  1. Empower individuals to take direct action when they are not disruptive to others. We are good at this when editing wiki projects; be bold is our motto. This is not always the case for products and processes.
  2. Do not be bound by choices made in the past if they are not relevant anymore. "Easy to start" goes hand-in-hand with "easy to change" and "easy to end". On-wiki, any edit can be reverted; and if this were not the case, it would not be possible to allow everyone to edit, because it would be too risky. Changing products and processes is not so easy, but the principle is the same. Maybe ten years ago someone got a great idea (or what seemed to be a great idea); but maybe what we built at the time is not so good anymore. We need the courage to recognize that - otherwise people will be afraid to experiment, develop and support new ideas.
  3. Find more effective ways to reach - or recognize - community-wide or movement-wide consensus on key decisions. Sometimes things are not happening just because we don't even know whether there is support for them.
  4. Accept that, despite all the efforts, sometimes getting everyone to agree is just not possible - but a decision needs to be taken nevertheless. Back when I was chair of Wikimedia Italy, I remember the first time the board took a non-unanimous decision as a great success. Striving to get everyone to an agreement is essential, but so is recognizing that sometimes you can't get there, and you still have to make a decision, because failing to do so is much worse.

Maciej Artur Nadzikiewicz (Nadzik)

I will argue that the reason for the slow change in our Movement is partially the consequence of the distance and lack of trust between the community and the Wikimedia Foundation. The volunteers do not trust the Foundation (sometimes with good reason), and the staff does not understand the volunteers. Some headway is being made towards that, but it still sometimes feels like "1 step forward, 2 steps backwards". In this atmosphere, even the smallest change proposed can lead to a very cold atmosphere in the Village Pump / Discord / mailing list etc.

The Wikimedia Foundation needs to own up to its mistakes. Many grievances done throughout the years are still felt by some members of the community, because the case was never fully closed. Some official communication was exchanged, but it sometimes feels more like a legal letter than a simple "sorry, we made a mistake". The community is right to expect clear communication and a certain level of responsibility; after all, the Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for its wellbeing. More clear communication and transparency would do wonders; sometimes, "airing dirty laundry" is the only way to have a clear shirt when we need it most.

A bold step I would recommend to the Wikimedia Foundation is to be more open and vocal in its contacts with the community. There is a process in the UK Parliament [1] in which every petition that gets a certain number of signatures gets a response. I am not advocating for the exact model Westminster uses, but I do recommend the Wikimedia Foundation to start answering the community. These should be reliable statements by someone with authority that could later be referred to. It will take resources, but it will allow us to rebuild the trust we lost along the way. We cannot build things and defend ourselves from the outside world if we don't trust each other.

Mohammed Awal Alhassan (Alhassan Mohammed Awal)

My first recommendation to the Foundation is to embrace AI and Machine Learning. Investmemt develop AI Tools for Content Creation and Curation should be prioritized. That way, AI can be leveraged to assist with content creation, moderation, and curation such as tools for automatic vandalism detection, increasing the quality of articles, and suggesting content improvements. This can also involve using AI to create personalized user experiences, recommending articles and content based on individual interests and browsing history. From the experience I have in my region, the majority of African Wikimedians do not have access to laptops and are using mobile phones to contribute to projects. Therefore, mobile optimization should prioritize the mobile experience to capture the growing audience that primarily uses mobile devices. This includes faster load times, a more intuitive interface, and offline access to content. Also, editimg process should further be simplified to improve the overall user interface to attract and retain new contributors. Equally important for Wikimedia Foundation is to make conscious efforts to partner with Internet influencers, educators, and content creators to promote Wikimedia projects and integrate Wikimedia content into educational curricula and popular media. Wikimedia projects can also be promoted by engaging with major digital platforms and search engines to ensure Wikimedia content is prominently featured and properly attributed. More work should also be done to educate the public about the importance of open knowledge. This can be achieved by launching marketing and public awareness campaigns to highlight the value and reliability of Wikimedia projects and to actively promote high-quality and unique content to attract new readers and contributors.

Foundation should also be willing to provide more resources and support for volunteers, including training programs, recognition, and incentives for active contributors. Funding opportunities for individuals and groups for community-led projects and initiatives that align with Wikimedia’s mission should be increased. Foundation should as well maintain transparent communication with the community about ongoing projects, challenges, and successes and establish regular feedback loops to incorporate community input into decision-making. Closely related to that is the need to strengthen mechanisms for conflict resolution and addressing issues of misinformation and disinformation within the Wikimedia community.

Another thing the foundation may consider is expanding crowdfunding campaigns and exploring partnerships with philanthropic organizations to diversify funding sources. In addressing Information Warfare and Erosion of Trust, the foundation may implement robust fact-checking mechanisms and partnerships with fact-checking organizations to combat misinformation and disinformation. This can be achieved by developing and integrating tools that help users verify the credibility of information and sources.

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight (Rosiestep)

  1. Be more multi-year focused than ever before.
  2. Be more collaborative than ever before, e.g., not only listening and/or gathering feedback (by the way, well done for 2024-25!), but including the community in writing it.
  3. Develop a "Global Annual Plan process" that includes the WMF's Annual Plan as well as that of each Affiliate who meets a certain threshold, e.g., perhaps Chapters and ThOrgs for a start.
  4. Every year, do a “review, iterate, adapt” post-mortem.

Tesleemah Abdulkareem (Tesleemah)

While the product and technology team of WMF are doing well with the way Wikipedia articles displays, for instance I got to know about wikimedia for the first time through random goggle search, I believe the search engine optimisation were top notch among other things put in place. I will recommend that the product and technology team continue to develop innovations that will help these articles reach better audience better. Also, the publicity team should also not stop working on how everybody get access to open knowledge as the mission of the WMF entails.

I recommend that more wiki fan clubs should be established in schools especially higher institutions.

As regards the funds flattening, the call for donation can be more digitalised while funds are spent on more important things; setting priorities and allocating funds based on needs. This will be better implemented

Victoria Doronina (Victoria)

Reduce the bureaucracy and allow staff a possibility of failure. When contacting the on-the-ground WMF staff, I still often see fear of taking action that has not been authorised by their manager. It’s much easier for them to give a non-committal, bureaucratic answer than to try and take action. This is not good for a distributed, open-source movement and creates a barrier between the Wikimedian way of working and WMF- staff should work in an agile, not waterfall way.

Since Maryana Iskander started as CEO in 2022, she has made headway with the C-levels and general management, but the changes have not completely penetrated the on-the-ground staff. The Board should continue helping Maryana complete the organizational transformation.