Long term impact of Wikimedians in Residence (2018)/summary
This report takes a longer term perspective on Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedian in Residence programme to identify how partner institutions’ activities and cultures changed over time - up to three years after the projects formally ended. Building on end-of-project reviews we conduct and adding further reflections by the people involved, the study looks to find where impact was short lived and where it has proved more durable and with broader effects than previously understood.
The nature and capacity of the partner organisations involved in the programme over the past few years has been quite varied, however all were nationally or regionally important cultural or educational institutions. Whilst the benefits of individual residencies emerged over time and not always as expected, the scale and nature of the impact achieved has largely exceeded the expectations of both Wikimedia and the host organisations. Evidence from partner organisations and others involved in the programme would justify the following long-term positive conclusions:
- WIR has extended the reach of existing collections (media, data) to new audiences, thus strengthening institutions’ mission to share their knowledge. The reach has continued to increase after the residencies ended.
- 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 This can bring institutions out of a persistent, historical image of being outdated and out of sync with the needs of its users and potential users.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.
Sustainability had been one of the desired outcomes of the WIR collaborations from their inception. Our understanding of ‘sustainability’ itself evolved - from expecting the same level of activity, to ensuring that the changes introduced during the project remain in place. We have been able to see sustainability in the openness of past hosts to engage with Wikimedia again and in the skills that were transferred within the organisation and within the sector. An experience with Wikimedia enabled know-how for mass uploads, digitisation or data management projects that can be utilised if needed. Policies on open knowledge were influenced and maintained.
- Best practice
This research highlighted a series of best practice recommendations which, if implemented before or during the residency, give a much higher chance of sustaining changes delivered during the project:
- Ensure there is clarity about what impact is expected from the programme, both in the view of Wikimedia UK and the host organisation
- During set up, establish the digital skills level of the partner organisation
- Ensure project visibility by having a showcase early on during the programme
- Timing challenges are hard to anticipate - building communication, transparency and trust early on helps mitigate problems and take opportunities
- Recruit for soft skills when placing a WIR and build technical skills within the host organisation to carry on WIR work after they leave
- Shaping projects in a way that actually makes host organisations’ staff work more efficient and effective promotes sustainability, as does demonstrating the financial value of releasing content openly.