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

Changes to institutions’ culture and self-perception

How the organisation sees itself internally is also deeply affected by the work done by a resident. Our research demonstrates that residencies durably transformed participating institutions’ culture and self-perception to become more open and connected with its audiences. Changing people’s attitudes and perceptions takes a lot of time and repeated conversations, which the WIR can do while they are in post. This gives the changes more staying power compared with a one off training session with Wikimedia UK, for example. Residencies promote awareness of open knowledge and convince staff and other stakeholders of its benefits, which can open the door for further projects and collaborations once the residency is over.

A residency can start a conversation on what it means to become a more open organisation, prompting debate on the role of museums and collections within the digital world beyond the ‘standard’ museum websites (Museums Galleries Scotland). It can also move the argument faster, becoming a catalyst for change:

Having a Wikimedian in Residence at the Natural History Museum coincided with a paradigm shift in how we think about our digital content and the start of a project to rapidly digitise the museum’s collection of more than 80 million specimens at an industrial scale. Having an advocate for Open Science and a culture of reusable content helped us to frame these projects in a context that makes this work useful to a wider audience. We have also raised the institution’s internal understanding of the benefits of open data.
--Vince Smith (Research Leader, Natural History Museum, WIR’s line manager), residency final report May 2014

The influence over institutional policy and culture has been enduring in the case of Natural History Museum, where the WIR sparked off an ongoing debate about public engagement at the institution, and influenced a decision to openly license millions of its specimens currently being digitised.

A residency can help shift culture to open by default, addressing scepticism and concerns from stakeholders across the whole of the organisation:

Having the resident hugely increased understanding within the organisation in its role in the open knowledge movement. By actively participating in this programme the Library drove its thinking about openness, policies, across the organisation. That’s extremely long lasting and is continuing as the organisation moves towards embracing public domain.
-- Andrew McDougall (Organisational Development Partner, National Library of Scotland, involved in the WIR project), impact interview June 2017

The work that a Wikimedian in Residence does is often disruptive in nature, and aims to break down barriers between audiences and institutions. In a traditional cultural heritage environment, those two groups are often very clearly delineated, however a resident will work to make audiences the co-producers rather than just passive consumers of knowledge held by their host institution. The experience of hosting a resident can make it clear that people’s expectations towards an institution is for it to be open, immediately accessible and close to its audiences - and at the same time accessible to anyone in the world, not just to people who physically come to the institution. To highlight just a brief example, in January 2015 the National Library of Wales began a collaboration with Wikimedia to release some of its digital content on an open licence to Wikimedia commons. This has led to a notable increase in reuse of digital images by members of the public, showing a need for this openness and a global interest in the Library’s content.

Working with a Wikimedian in Residence can help to shift an organisation’s internal approach to their own collections, moving from the role of guardian to distributor of knowledge and underlining the potential for a global reach:

The biggest change that the residency introduced was more focus on digital engagement for visitors and visitor co-creation of collections. That change of thinking and perspective was more important than reaching high targets during the residency.
-- Martin Fell (Digital Team Leader, York Museums Trust, WIR’s line manager), impact interview June 2017

Also, this change of perspective feeds into motivation for doing more content sharing projects, feeding into the growth of collection’s reach.

These changes can be solidified by internal policy or procedure changes, as was the case with Natural History Museum and its approach to data:

Open Data Exceptions Policy was influenced by WIR, particularly by his work assessing the impact of Picture Library content versus the commercial value to the organisation. The residency questioned the commercial value of data, as some parts of the organisation strongly believed that all data has commercial value and that our data and digital assets should be closed by default. Now the policy includes official statements on our exceptions, along with examples, and a group responsible for arbitrating over internal disputes, should they arise.
-- Laurence Livermore (Project Manager, Natural History Museum, involved in the WIR project), impact interview July 2017

This type of impact can take place even in organisations where there has been a lot of initial resistance to working with open knowledge. Embarking on a residency forces the organisation to have a serious, practical conversation about openness. Having a tangible project happening within the organisation, with Wikimedia UK regularly evaluating it for concrete outputs, creates a push factor for assessing institution’s commitment to open.

On a very practical level, for some organisations it might not have been obvious how to engage with open knowledge prior to their residency. An effective resident will be able to demonstrate tangible ways of working with open knowledge, and change attitudes, policy and practice in the longer term.