Last week I had the pleasure of facilitating an online meeting for members of our community to help shape the future direction of Wikimedia UK. This was attended by a broad cross section of our community including staff, trustees, partners, editors and donors. I was particularly pleased to see a number of former staff and trustees of the charity, all of whom are still closely involved in the movement.
Aim of the session
Wikimedia UK works on a three year strategic planning cycle, and we are now developing our new strategy for 2022 to 2025. I gave a brief overview of the process that the organisation is currently engaged in and what’s happened so far. Our schedule is aligned with our application deadline for funding from the Wikimedia Foundation, for which we’ll be applying for multi-year funding for the first time.
As part of the introductions, everyone shared their aspirations for the meeting, with key themes being to make connections, understand Wikimedia UK’s priorities and engage with the wider community. The meeting was also another opportunity (following our AGM in July) to introduce our new Chair of Trustees, Monisha Shah. Monisha shared a little of her own background, and why access to knowledge is so important to her. She explained that she has a portfolio career focused on board roles within the arts, culture and media sectors, following high level roles at the BBC. Monisha emphasised her interest in hearing from the community. She noted that she is not active on social media but that volunteers were welcome to contact her via LinkedIn or the Wikimedia UK team.
Blue Sky Thinking
After this introduction, we split into three breakout groups to finish the statement “wouldn’t it be fantastic if…” for what we’d like Wikimedia UK to achieve in the next three years. This generated lots of great ideas and objectives which coalesced into some key themes, as follows:
A high proportion of responses to the prompt question above were focused on equitable participation and representation. This ranged from diversifying the UK’s editors, administrators and membership, through to working with small language Wikipedias, delivering diaspora outreach, and supporting initiatives to repatriate knowledge as a form of decolonisation.
There were several responses focused on the climate crisis, with an aspiration for us to be able to offer wide-ranging and trusted information about the climate crisis across multiple languages. There was a question over whether Wikimedia UK should be applying pressure on the government regarding the crisis. On a practical level, it was felt that in the first instance Wikimedia UK needs to identify what we can do to support editors documenting and sharing information about climate change (including those involved with WikiProject Climate Change)
Many responses to the prompt statement “wouldn’t it be fantastic if” involved the opening up of knowledge and information. Under this general umbrella was an aspiration that all publicly funded institutions should commit to ethical open access as their default position; and that we are able to address copyright law to ensure that publicly funded research has to be made available under an open licence. Other responses included more partnerships with heritage organisations, local history initiatives and archives; more Wikimedians in Residence; and more work with diverse communities and collections. A number of responses were specifically about images – such as every notable structure in the UK having a photo and Wikidata item, and working with external partners to ensure an image for every UK article.
It’s clear that the Wikimedia UK community remains deeply concerned about misinformation and disinformation. There is a strong commitment to helping young people understand how knowledge is created and shared, and develop information literacy skills. There is also a clear ambition to have an impact on the school curriculum – particularly in England (following our success in Wales) – and to have more residencies in Universities.
PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT AND AWARENESS
A number of responses were focused on the public’s understanding of Wikimedia. In particular, it was felt that there needs to be more understanding that Wikipedia is a tertiary source that can be edited by anyone, and greater awareness and use of the sister projects, such as Wikisource. It was noted that Wikimedia UK should have sufficient technical development capacity to be actively contributing to MediaWiki development for Wikimedia’s sister projects. The perennial issue of the distinction between Wikimedia UK and the Wikimedia Foundation was also raised.
Two out of the three breakout groups identified an objective to diversify Wikimedia UK’s funding base so as to be less reliant on our core grant from the Wikimedia Foundation. It was also suggested that the role of affiliates will be under more scrutiny with the creation of the Movement Charter and Global Council; and that within that context, Wikimedia UK needs to be clear about its purpose and relevance. Other comments were more focused on community engagement, with a number of responses around a theme of developing closer relationships between the affiliate and online communities, and enabling people who engage with our programmes to become more involved with the work of the organisation, contributing to the movement in broader ways.
Emerging Strategic Themes
After this very productive session, I introduced participants to the key themes which have emerged from the board and staff away days held earlier in the autumn. Once these are finalised, they will form the basis of our programme development and delivery over the next three years:
- Knowledge Equity
- Information Literacy
- Climate Crisis
A number of other areas have been identified, which we believe are essential to delivering an effective programme. These are still in draft form, but include community, advocacy, communications, equity, diversity and inclusion, and organisational resilience and sustainability.
It was encouraging to see the extent of the overlap between the themes that emerged from the board and staff away days, and the priorities identified through this community session.
At this point I handed over to Daria Cybulska, Wikimedia UK’s Director of Programmes and Evaluation, to lead the final session of the meeting. This was focused explicitly on community, and asked participants to respond to the following questions, in a plenary discussion:
- As a community member, where do you see an opportunity to get involved in the emerging strategy, and what would you need from WMUK to support that?
- How could the Wikimedia UK community deliver the ideas generated so far?
These prompted a wide range of responses, contributions and further questions. I’ve summarised the key discussion areas below, all of which have given the team food for thought in terms of volunteer engagement and support:
- Do we have communities of interest or communities of place? Do volunteers see themselves as aligned with a particular project – e.g. English Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons – or the chapter? And does this matter?
- People’s journey into Wikipedia is often through competitions such as Wiki Loves Monuments. How can we use this knowledge to galvanise more participation? Other entry points are vandalism and correcting typos. How can we use this knowledge to support editor recruitment? There’s something important about small, accessible tasks as a way to start. It could be correcting typos, or adding categories and references to articles.
- This led to an interesting discussion about the use of the word ‘editathon’ which might suggest something that’s a slog, requiring stamina and discipline. Should we change the language to focus more on words like workshops, training, introductory sessions etc. It was noted that increasingly, work lists for online editing events have tasks across a broad range of activities, reflecting different levels of digital confidence and time constraints.
Wrapping up and next steps
I wrapped up the session by explaining that I would be sharing the draft strategic framework for 2022 – 2025 later this month (November) and welcome feedback on it. Please watch this space for that! And thanks again to everyone who attended. It was wonderful to see people (even if it was over Zoom) and to hear from our community about what’s important to them in the creation of Wikimedia UK’s next three year strategy.