- Eugene Eric Kim (User:Eekim) is the Program Manager for Wikimedia's Strategic Planning project, which started in July 2009 and continues through July 2010.
Last September, I wrote a post on the Wikimedia Foundation blog announcing the Wikimedia strategic planning process. I wrote that we wanted to create a space where the Wikimedia community could collectively answer three questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be in five years?
- How should we get there?
I also wrote, "Because of the scope and ambition of this process, it will be a long, messy, thrilling journey." Six months into the process, it's been exactly that: long, messy, and thrilling. There are two stories to tell, and I'd like to tell both. One is about the strategy itself: emerging themes and priorities, as well as gaps and controversies.
The other is about the planning process. In a way, this is the more interesting story, because the process has been a microcosm of Wikimedia in general, and the lessons and challenges we've faced are applicable to many, if not all of the projects. Want more contributors? Same here. Concerned about diversity? So are we. Want to create a friendlier, more constructive environment for discussion? Join the club.
For this first Signpost article, I want to kick off both stories by talking about "we". A five-year strategy affects everybody, and so everybody should have a say. But who is "everybody" exactly?
Suppose we were to limit our discussion to editors. There are literally millions of people who have edited Wikimedia projects. Most of them have no awareness about the larger Wikimedia universe. They don't know about Chapters or the Foundation. They probably don't even know about Village Pump. And we know very little about them.
Now add other people from the Wikimedia universe: readers, developers, donors, and so forth. Things get hairy quickly. What makes things hairier is that Wikimedia is consensus-driven. How can you get consensus if you can't define "we"? This is a strategic challenge for the Wikimedia community, and it's a challenge we've faced in the strategic planning process.
From a content perspective, some things are obvious and uncontroversial. If the sites are not up, for example, Wikimedia does not exist. So making sure the sites are up all the time is a huge priority.
Other issues are complicated by the question of "we". China is a great example of this. Wikimedia's vision asks us to imagine a world where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge in their own language. Right now, our best estimate is that 400 million people world-wide (about 6 percent of the world's population) access Wikimedia sites every month. We clearly have a ways to go before we achieve our vision.
If we were to pick markets to focus on, China would seem to be at the top of the list. There are currently 300 million people in China on the Internet, and 640 million people with mobile phones. However, less than 1 percent of these people access Wikipedia, so the growth opportunity there is huge.
As part of the strategic planning process, we formed 14 task forces to explore specific topics and to make a series of recommendations. One of those task forces was on China, and it identified a number of possible ways to improve usage there. One recommendation called for greater promotion. Another encouraged partnerships with students and teachers at universities.
All of these recommendations were well-deliberated and researched, but they did not answer the question of who would undertake these activities. This past month, the Foundation looked at the emerging recommendations and stated where it thought it should prioritize its resources and where it should not prioritize its resources. One of those areas that it said it shouldn't prioritize was China.
Some have read the Foundation's statement as a signal that "we" shouldn't prioritize China. However, the Foundation does not equal "we". The Foundation controls the servers and the trademarks, which is a hugely critical role, but beyond that, there is only so much it can do. Because the Chinese government wants to censor content, working with them is a practical impossibility for the Foundation, which has a staff of 35 people. Google, a company that employs thousands of people, recently pulled its operations out of China because of the difficulties working with the government. Realistically, if it's too much for a company the size of Google to handle, what could the Foundation achieve there?
There are people who are much better suited to institute change in China. It starts with the local editors, who understand the issues unique to the Chinese language projects and who are in the best position to forge the right partnerships and build a stronger local movement.
As the priorities for the Wikimedia movement start to take shape, one of the big remaining questions is, who should do what? That conversation is currently taking shape on the strategy wiki, and I hope you'll join the discussion.