In January 2017, we, the constituents of Wikimedia, started an ambitious discussion about our collective future. We reflected on our past sixteen years together and imagined the impact we could have in the world in the next decades. Our aim was to identify a common strategic direction that would unite and inspire people across our movement on our way to 2030, and help us make decisions.
From on-wiki discussions, to large conferences, to small meetups, to expert interviews, to research, the process has been exhaustive, messy, and fascinating. It did not take long to confirm that the greatest strength of Wikimedia is the talent, dedication, and integrity of its members. Any successful strategy must accommodate the diversity of the people in our communities, including our particular interests, motivations, and contributions. Some of us write encyclopedia articles. Some of us develop software. Some of us donate money, time, or expertise. Some curate data, sources, or media. Some organize events, advocate for copyright reform, or remix artwork. Some are community organizers, educators, or copy editors. Some of us do all of the above, and more.
What brings us together is not what we do; it’s why we do it.
We are all part of this movement because we share a belief that free knowledge makes the world a better place. Every human being deserves easy access to knowledge. And every human being should have an opportunity to participate in compiling and sharing back their own knowledge.
Our strategic direction: Service and Equity
What comes next
By endorsing this strategic direction, we declare our intent to work together towards this future. We commit to participating in the next phase of this discussion in good faith and to define, by Wikimania 2018, how to come to an agreement, on roles, responsibilities, and organizational strategies that enable us to implement that future.
We pledge to consider the needs of our movement above our own, and to find the structures, processes, and resources for our movement that enable us to best move towards our common direction.
Reasoning: Why we will move in this strategic direction
Aspirations: What we all want
Our collective adventure started as an experiment: a drafting space where anyone could contribute information for inclusion in a free encyclopedia reviewed by experts. Wikipedia soon became much more than its origin story, and today it is considered by many as a source for information whose role is to collect knowledge. Wikimedia communities now stand for ideals of freedom of information and social progress fueled by free knowledge for everyone. The vision of the Wikimedia movement describes this expanded scope well: “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.” Beyond the encyclopedia, our common aspiration has three components: creating a body of knowledge that is comprehensive, reliable, and of high quality; doing so in a participatory way, open to everyone; and engaging everyone across the globe.
Strengths of Wikimedia: What we shouldn't change
The original premise of Wikimedia is that knowledge is built by people, who form communities. Good-faith collaboration is the best way we know to create knowledge of high reliability or quality, and it's at the core of the Wikimedia culture. The idea that anyone can edit is so radical that we joke that it can only work in practice, not in theory. And yet, it does: What we have accomplished in our first 16 years shows the success of this approach. Wikimedia communities have been able to go from nothing to millions of pages, media files, and data items, in hundreds of languages. Beyond the web, communities have self-organized in groups and are advancing the efforts of the movement around the world. All those approaches are strengths that we must preserve.
Limits of Wikimedia: What we should improve
We are still far from having collected the sum of all knowledge. Most of the content we have created is in the form of long-form encyclopedia articles and still images, which leaves out many other types of knowledge. Our current communities don't represent the diversity of the human population, notably in terms of gender. This lack of representation and diversity has created gaps of knowledge and systemic biases. Readers often question the reliability of the content we create, notably because it is not accurate, not comprehensive, not neutral, or because they don't understand how it is produced, and by whom.
In terms of collaboration, joining and participating in Wikimedia communities can be challenging. The low barrier for entry from our early years has now become insurmountable for many newcomers. Some communities, cultures, and minorities have suffered from this exclusion more than others. Toxic behaviors and harassment have had a negative impact on participation in our projects. Our success has generated an overwhelming amount of maintenance and monitoring, and we have addressed these challenges with tools and practices that have turned good-faith community members away. Other types of contribution beyond editing aren't recognized as equally valuable, and the structures of our movement are often opaque or centralized, with high barriers to entry.
Beyond Wikimedia: What will change around us
In addition to internal challenges in the Wikimedia movement, there are many external factors that we must account for to plan for the future. Many readers now expect multimedia formats beyond text and images. People want content that is real-time, visual, and that supports social sharing and conversation. There are also opportunities for Wikimedia to fill a gap in education, by offering learning materials and communities.
The populations we serve will also change: in the next 15 years, the languages that will be the most spoken are primarily those that currently lack good content and strong Wikimedia communities. The same regions often face the worst restrictions to freedom of access to information online. Similarly, population will grow the most in regions where Wikimedia currently reaches the fewest users, such as Africa and Oceania.
Technology will change dramatically: Automation (especially machine learning and translation) is changing how people produce content. Technology can also help offer more relevant, personalized, reliable content, but it needs to be developed carefully. As technology spreads through every aspect of our lives, Wikimedia's infrastructure needs to be able to communicate easily with other connected systems.
A more just and connected future
Wikimedia must continue to provide a solid infrastructure where people can collect and access free, trusted knowledge. We must continue to write encyclopedia articles, develop software, donate money, curate data, remix artwork, or all of the above. We will continue to do this regardless of the direction we choose.
At our core, we have always been a socio-technical system: our collective success is made possible by people and powered by technology. It is how we document and understand our world together.
We invite and allow anyone to participate equally, but in practice not everyone has the same opportunity to contribute. To avoid gaps and systemic biases, we have to take into account people's context. To create accurate and neutral content, we need equitable access and participation. We need social and technical systems that avoid perpetuating structural inequalities. We need hospitable communities that lead to sustainability and equal representation. We need to challenge inequalities of access and contribution, whether their cause is social, political, or technical. As a social movement, we need knowledge equity.
But we're not just a social movement. We're also a collection of websites used by hundreds of millions of people. Many readers value Wikimedia not for its social ideals, but for its usefulness. The utility, global reach, and large audience of the Wikimedia platform give us legitimacy and credibility. They enable us to work with partners, convene allies, and influence policy.
As a platform, we need to transform our structures to support new formats, new interfaces, and new types of knowledge. We have a strategic opportunity to go further and offer this platform as a service to other institutions, beyond Wikimedia. In a world that is becoming more and more connected, building the infrastructure for knowledge gives others a vested interest in our success. It is how we ensure our place in the larger network of knowledge, and become an essential part of it. As a service to users, we need to build the platform for knowledge or, in jargon, provide knowledge as a service.
People make Wikimedia possible. Platforms make Wikimedia powerful. The combination of knowledge equity and knowledge as a service is a strategic choice that takes into account how our movement can grow and have the most impact in both its social and technical aspects. It is how we focus our efforts while embracing our dual role as a platform and as a social movement.
It is how, by 2030, Wikimedia will become the essential infrastructure of the network of free knowledge, and anyone who shares our commitment will be able to join us.
Implications: Our destination by 2030
We will advance our world through knowledge.
Freely sharing knowledge is by nature an act of kindness, whether it is towards oneself or towards others. Sharing knowledge can be motivated by grand ideals of world peace, by a dream to offer education to all, by humanist values, or by a desire to document one's hobbies.
Regardless of the motives, knowledge plays a critical role in human advancement. By striving for knowledge that accurately represents our world, we contribute to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves.
We will carry on our mission of developing content.
Many of our efforts will benefit all users and projects equally. We will continue to compile and use content as we have done in the past. We will continue our commitment to providing useful information that it is reliable, accurate, and relevant to users.
Knowledge as a service: A platform that serves open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities
Our openness will ensure that our decisions are fair, that we are accountable to one another, and that we act in the public interest. Our systems will follow the evolution of technology. We will transform our platform to work across digital formats, devices, and interfaces. The distributed structure of our network will help us adapt to local contexts.
We will build tools for allies and partners to organize and exchange free knowledge beyond Wikimedia.
We will continue to build the infrastructure for free knowledge for our communities. We will go further by offering it as a service to others in the network of knowledge. We will continue to build the partnerships that enable us to develop knowledge we can't create ourselves.
Our infrastructure will enable us and others to collect and use different forms of free, trusted knowledge.
We will build the technical infrastructures that enable us to collect free knowledge in all forms and languages. We will use our position as a leader in the ecosystem of knowledge to advance our ideals of freedom and fairness. We will build the technical structures and the social agreements that enable us to trust the new knowledge we compile. We will focus on highly structured information to facilitate its exchange and reuse in multiple contexts.
Knowledge equity: Knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege
We will strive to counteract structural inequalities to ensure a just representation of knowledge and people in the Wikimedia movement. We will notably aim to reduce or eliminate the gender gap in our movement. Our decisions about products and programs will be based on a fair distribution of resources. Our structures and governance will rely on the equitable participation of people across our movement. We will extend the Wikimedia presence globally, with a special focus on under-served communities, like indigenous peoples of industrialized nations, and regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
We will welcome people from every background to build strong and diverse communities.
We will create a culture of hospitality where contributing is enjoyable and rewarding. We will support anyone who wants to contribute in good faith. We will practice respectful collaboration and healthy debate. We will welcome people into our movement from a wide variety of backgrounds, across language, geography, ethnicity, income, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, and more. The definition of community will include the many roles we play to advance free and open knowledge, from editors to donors, to organizers, and beyond.
We will work to ensure that free knowledge is available wherever there are people. We will stand against censorship, control, and misinformation. We will defend the privacy of our users and contributors. We will cultivate an environment where anyone can contribute safely, free of harassment and prejudice. We will be a leading advocate and partner for increasing the creation, curation, and dissemination in free and open knowledge.
Notes and references
- Appendix: Background and process
- w:History of Wikipedia and its references
- New Voices Synthesis report (July 2017): Hub for information
- "Wikipedia should play an active role in preserving knowledge." New Voices Synthesis report (July 2017): The role of Wikipedia in the future
- Why create free knowledge? Movement strategy findings report.
- "Wikipedia should take an active role in spreading true knowledge for public good." New Voices Synthesis report (July 2017): The role of Wikipedia in the future
- "Vision - Meta". meta.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2017-07-27.
- "Wikimedians believe that the movement is built around a devoted community of readers, editors, and organizations who have brought us to where we are today." Cycle 2 synthesis report (draft)
- Reagle, Joseph (2010). Good faith collaboration : the culture of Wikipedia. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262014472.
- Ryokas, Miikka: "As the popular joke goes, 'The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work.'" Cohen, Noam (2007-04-23). "The Latest on Virginia Tech, From Wikipedia". The New York Times (in en-US). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
- "Wikistats: Wikimedia Statistics". stats.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- "Lack of local relevant content is a major challenge in Africa." New Voices Synthesis report (July 2017): Challenges for Wikimedia
- Knowledge gaps and bias were voted the top priority for the movement at the 2017 Wikimedia conference, attended by 350 people from 70 countries, representatives of around 90 affiliates, organizations, committees and other groups. Wikimedia Conference 2017/Documentation/Movement Strategy track/Day 3
- “In many regions (especially where Wikimedia awareness is lower), people greatly desire and value content that speak to their local context and realities, but struggle to find it both online and offline. To support the development of this content, and to mitigate Western bias, the movement need to refine or expand its definitions of knowledge.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 4
- "Wikipedia’s open platform causes people to question its truthfulness and verifiability." New Voices Synthesis report (July 2017): Challenges for Wikimedia
- “Mistrust of Wikipedia is a learned perception. It stems from a lack of clarity about what the product(s) are and how their content is developed.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 11
- “Many new to the movement feel that the current barriers to entry are too high. The perceived culture of exclusivity and lack of support for newcomers is demotivating.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 7
- Halfaker, Aaron; Geiger, R. Stuart; Morgan, Jonathan T.; Riedl, John (2013-05-01). "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s Reaction to Popularity Is Causing Its Decline" (PDF). American Behavioral Scientist 57 (5): 664–688. ISSN 0002-7642. doi:10.1177/0002764212469365.
- “Current norms around contribution are geared towards a narrow set of functions (e.g. editing dominates). People with varied backgrounds and skills wish to add value in diverse ways, and the movement would benefit by supporting them in doing so.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 8
- "Visual, real-time, and social aren’t just buzzwords; research found that they are the characteristics of content platforms that young people increasingly prefer." Reboot Summary of Key Opportunities & Findings: Indonesia & Brazil
- “Behaviors, preferences, and expectations for content are changing. People increasingly want content that is real-time and visual and that supports social sharing and conversation.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 5
- “Underperforming education systems worldwide have led people to seek alternative ways to learn As a result, many innovative information and learning platforms have emerged, but they all still need a base of quality content.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 14
- "Advancing education" was a major theme that emerged from the first cycle of community discussions, especially at the Wikimedia Conference 2017, where it was voted the third most important priority for the movement. Wikimedia Conference 2017/Documentation/Movement Strategy track/Day 3
- “Wikimedia has the opportunity to build a community passionate about not just producing knowledge, but about helping people learn. by working with diverse partners and niche content experts, curators, and ambassadors.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 10
- “The dominant languages of the future are, for the most part, not those where Wikimedia leads in content volume or size of community.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 3
- "Freedom House". freedomhouse.org. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- “In the next 15 years, the greatest population growth is expected in regions (e.g. Africa, Oceania) where Wikimedia currently has the lowest reach. To serve every human, the movement must pay greater attention to how it serves these regions.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 1
- “Technology may be able to assist in many of the functions editors currently do. Automation (especially related to machine learning and translation) is rapidly changing how content is being produced. This opens up opportunities for current community members to find other ways to contribute.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 9
- “Technological innovations (e.g. AI, machine translation, structured data) can help curate and deliver relevant, personalized, reliable content.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 18
- “Developing and harnessing technology in socially equitable and constructive ways—and preventing unintended negative consequences—requires thoughtful leadership and technical vigilance.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 19
- "The movement should cautiously use AI and machine learning to help increase quality and accessibility. The overall view from Wikimedians is that we should maintain our community-first focus, and use AI and other technologies to reduce busy-work, not replace volunteers, and improve quality." Cycle 2 Synthesis Report
- “Emerging technologies are revolutionizing how platforms are defined and used. The most impactful technologies will be those that make the shift from technical infrastructure to ecosystem-enabling platform.” Appendix: Where the world is going: Pattern 15
- "IFLA -- Internet Manifesto 2014". www.ifla.org. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. 2014. Retrieved 2017-08-18.
Freedom of access to information and freedom of expression are essential to equality, global understanding and peace.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations General Assembly.
Everyone has the right to education.