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How Wikimedia Communities Can Thrive by Fostering Co-Creative Networks
Academic Peer Review option
Type of submission
Dominic Byrd-McDevitt
E-mail address
National Archives / Wikimedia DC
I first joined the Wikimedia DC community in 2011, when, as the National Archives Wikipedian in Resience, I helped form a long-lasting,special relationship between those two organizations. Relying on observations from that experience, this talk will explore a new way of thinking about organizing Wikimedia communities and achieving lasting success. In DC, through many collaborative projects, events, grants, and policies, we can see a compelling model for how local on-the-ground Wikimedia community organizing can succeed through partnerships and outreach that foster a community of practice among fellow digital knowledge producers, whether GLAMs, government, educational institutions, science, or others. These programs—which bring people together in both the digital and physical spaces—focus not just on Wikipedia content, but on network-building, advocacy, and literacy to create fertile ground for Wikimedia, as well as related public engagement and/or open initiatives. This is a fairly unique model, not just nationally but internationally, but it may signal a way forward for many communities in the United States still in the beginning phases of organizing.
These last 5 years of Wikimedia DC have included an impressive period of experimentation, building of local relationships and skills, as well as many successful programs. As a staff member at the National Archives, I have also had an inside view of 5 years of change there, which has included a new online catalog built to enable public contributions, a first-of-its-kind read–write API, new commitments to open government, the construction of the Innovation Hub (a physical space for citizen engagement), and, of course, sustained involvement with the Wikimedia community. The development of both organizations has, in many ways, happened in parallel as a positive feedback loop in which the collaboration of the two has amplified the efforts and outcomes of each. We each tap into our own networks to make something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Whenever a group of people gets together, it is a mistake to think that resources are scarce—or that the members of an organization (such as the local Wikimedian volunteers) are the only human resources. In DC, we see this in obvious ways—for example, how the all-volunteer DC chapter has managed to support as many (or more?) editathons as any local Wikimedia community in the world, with no paid staff supporting them. Most of these happen not because of direct organization by chapter members, but because of outreach, grantmaking, and peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing aimed at activating the potential of the people already embedded in institutions.
Rather than simply attempting to establish local community groups and building them out through expanding membership, participation, and content generation, Wikimedians can consider following the Washington, DC approach—even if it means getting outside of their comfort zone—and work toward building up a strong node within a network of likeminded community members and organizations. Wikimedians should view their role in the information community in terms of social capital, and understand relationships themselves as resources. Most Wikimedians simply edit out of a personal passion, and are surprisingly bad at understanding and conveying their value to others whose passions and missions can be aided by Wikimedia. The idea is that the "mutually beneficial relationship" concept (which has long been used within the GLAM-Wiki community to characterize Wikimedia-GLAM relationship) should be an overarching mantra for Wikimedia outreach and community organizing.
There are many resources to be had in achieving the goals of our movement, but if they seem scarce, it's because they will be primarily found in the collective networks, knowledge, creativity, and skills of our relationships beyond our immediate editor community. Interaction and cooperation leads to shared visions and co-creation, which not only leads to concrete outcomes, but also encourages outsiders to join the community and repeat the process. I will explore these themes, and attempt to articulate a replicable approach for how nascent Wikimedia communities could organize with the DC example in mind.
Length of presentation
30 min.
Special schedule requests
Preferred room size
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