Long term impact of Wikimedians in Residence (2018)/impact of WIRs

Diversity of partner organisations

The institutions that hosted residencies varied significantly, and included umbrella organisations looking to facilitate more openness amongst their their members rather than within their own institution. Every partner institution had a different starting point and very different attitudes towards open content from the outset. The environments that residents were operating within also differed, for example in the levels of resource available for staff development or organisational learning.

Evolution of expectations

What we now see as the most significant impact of the residencies is in many cases quite different to what we thought the projects would achieve when we were setting them up. Looking at the initial project agreements (which specified expected outcomes), summary reports at the point of a residency’s conclusion, and the recent impact interviews, we also discovered that the perception of a residency’s impact tended to change significantly with time. Therefore on a basic level the residencies sometimes didn’t meet the expectations set at the beginning of the project. It also suggests that we had a limited vision of what could be possible and what deep changes the project could bring. It many cases the interviews conducted several years after the end of a residency revealed different outcomes to those perceived immediately after the residency. Our view of the programme’s impact evolved even beyond the formal ending of a project. The strategy of Wikimedia UK has also evolved, providing additional clarity of the purpose of the residency programme and how this fits into our overall strategic framework.

For example, with the British Library, we initially planned for the creation of Wikipedia articles as the main deliverable, with Wikipedia skills training for BL staff to enable them to generate content as well. At the point of the project’s conclusion, the resident saw image releases and staff awareness training as the most significant outcomes. From today’s perspective, four years after the conclusion of the residency, the BL feels that the project’s enduring legacy is that it has helped redefine its public and internal image. Staff training remained significant, but for a different reason, as it made people trust open knowledge experimentations.

The vision of WIR impact moved from practical outputs at first (delivering training, organising public workshops, working with the community to upload collections content), to outcomes like reach of collections uploaded online, to wider reaching awareness in the institution’s user community, advocacy, and attitude changes within the organisation. The residencies which focused on immediate deliverables and stayed at the output level throughout their project tended not to reach longer term impact as they didn’t include change management activities within the projects.


We should mention that, due to its long-term nature, impact is a complex phenomenon to attribute, and although we can say that WMUK influenced the changes set out below, there were almost certainly other, independent contributing factors too. Still, we have found that:

  • WIR has extended the reach of existing collections (media, data) to new audiences, thus strengthening institutions’ mission to share their knowledge.
  • WIR has brought about significant, far reaching positive changes to institutions’ external image in their respective sectors and with existing and new audiences. This can bring institutions out of a persistent, historical image of being outdated and out of sync with the needs of its users and potential users.
  • WIR has durably transformed the institutions’ culture and self-perception to become more open and connected with its audiences. In some cases changes were strengthened by internal policy changes.
  • The WIR collaborations had a wider focus than just the partner institutions themselves and evidence shows that the projects often had a sectoral impact, creating a multiplier effect for the programme.