Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Recommendations/Iteration 2/Advocacy/2
movement is flexible and adaptable -> people feel heard and validated -> better retention of activists -> movement diversity -> diverse impact
R2: Community actively seeks and provides a good environment and tailored pathways that attracts more people from a variety and diversity of languages and cultural backgrounds to engage in advocacy for Wikimedia on a local or global level.
Despite many efforts undertaken up to date, our community still struggles with an adequate representation of human diversity and knowledge in its projects. At the same time simply providing enabling, inviting environment is not enough if the dominant cultures and processes support the old ways and are inflexible in accommodating new problems and forms of expressing self-determination. As a result the less/non-represented communities do not feel our community is ready to support their cause and they don’t share their knowledge.
At the same time advocacy is a very Western concept and it lacks a joint understanding, even when we see it being nested in the movement’s principles. What is a simple thing to do in one part of the world may be a risk and harmful for people in other parts while those advocates and their stories are not even that visible in the entire movement.
The movement has to find ways to make contribution and advocacy be less one-dimensional and dominated by the Western discourse and experience. First step into this direction is to create supportive, positive and flexible spaces, models and tools within the movement. These spaces are responsive and adaptable if we find that they do not cater to specific community needs. They work well when people feel heard and esteemed. It’s is a question of attitude and how adaptable our movement is to new ideas and diverse experiences, whether it aims at including advocates by profession or volunteers wishing to engage in these activities.
An additional approach is to fine-tune the community information flow to be more receptive to pertinent issues that our communities face. Fine-tuning means inscribing such attention at every level of international community interaction, including the language and narratives we use to talk about changing our circumstances of operation. Being more receptive means actively seeking information and people working in those places and developing with them adequate responses that they guide and take on. Finally, showcasing these collaborations and work to encourage others by example.
This recommendation proposes a set of guiding principles that need to be introduced whenever processes and collaborative practices are installed in advocacy. Essentially, whenever any other recommendation is implemented the people responsible need to take these principles on board:
- The movement is a sum of communities creating it. A truly open and diverse movement acknowledges that differences between people and groups are a feature and not a bug. It constantly debates and redefines the balance between differences in identity (the expression thereof) and subscribing to the same set of values. Not only does the movement create space for “the other”, but it also learns, adapts and allows differences in approaches to how its values are put into practice. For advocacy, the message of diverse approaches should be carried by the plural notion of “our communities”.
- The understanding of scale needs to be revisited and reformulated in order to open spaces for discussion on non-mainstream topics. Often when we think about scalability of our projects we look for a number of people an intervention will serve. That approach is understandable, because we do want to provide access to knowledge to as many individuals as possible. But since people are different it is likely that this general goal can truly be achieved through the sum of various interventions through advocacy, some benefiting millions (like contributing to lifting an internet shutdown in a country) and some benefiting smaller communities (like contributing to more information accessible in a local dialect). If the stress is on big numbers, then changes that do not scale into millions of beneficiaries tend to be overlooked. As a result, members of minority groups do not see their realities represented and their problems big enough for our movement to take on. Running successful interventions that benefit small communities each is scalable in a different way as it provides representation and inspiration for other tailored interventions elsewhere. A number of communities getting stronger in advocating for themselves and obtaining a more equitable access to knowledge is a dimension of scale that needs to be leveraged and appreciated.
- Creating a better case for access to knowledge as adding value and not extracting it from the wealth of communities is necessary in providing diverse advocacy. Some communities, for various historical and political reasons are suspicious and hesitant to share their knowledge. If we truly aim at providing access to the sum of human knowledge, in our advocacy efforts we cannot ignore the existence of closed knowledge protocols and the need to enter a compassionate and respectful dialog with these positions. Reconciling a closed knowledge protocol with our mission seems counterintuitive, but to serve a struggling community we must understand the struggle and respect the paths of self-preservation that the community chose. Contradictions can be reconciled when we recognise the right to self-determination of all communities and propose together new, fair methods of diffusing the tensions. If communities whose knowledge has been exploited (and locked in or abused by western practices) are to participate in free knowledge, they need to know we have their backs. In practice it means supporting their advocacy for their rights of access and cultivation of culture. That in turn helps in formulating narratives that center diversity as a practice in advocacy and not just as an aspiration.
- Languages have a “political commons” dimension. There are two aspects to this. First, using certain languages may be a political act, since they are politically, legally or culturally suppressed. Whenever possible - and safe for the users of such a language - our advocacy agenda should include rights to indiscriminate language use with its user-advocates or for them if they wish so. Second, many concepts (including “advocacy”) are untranslatable into other languages and some examples or rationale may not be relevant in a given context. Verbatim translations that ignore the need for localisation can have the reverse effect: instead of increasing understanding and exchange, they may seem distant, patronising or plainly colonial. Localisation and respect for local concepts and contexts should be an inherent part in advocacy collaboration.