What are the key trends and ideas that will influence the success of the Wikimedia movement in the coming 15 years? This is the question we are delving into as we work alongside the Wikimedia Foundation in its strategic planning process.
We started the work by honing in on the five topics we think are most important to consider for Wikimedia 2030. We offer them here for your consideration and input. Besides researching these themes over the coming weeks, we will also be talking to dozens of nonprofit organizers, tech field leaders, journalists, and researchers to hear their thoughts and speculations about the world Wikimedia projects and participants will inhabit in 2030, and how best to prepare.
This post is the first of several invitations to learn about and get involved in our research project. Future posts will share the information and ideas we are synthesizing, offer the opportunity for dialogue, and provide links to key research and readings we find useful. Aggregate trends and insights will be offered at Wikimania 2017 and will be shared afterwards in a final report.
The five research themes we are exploring:
- Demographics: Who is in the world in 2030? What places will the most people call home? Will there be more people over or under the age of 30? Will bots outnumber people? We will give a satellite-high overview of global population trends, focusing on how the biggest growth may be happening within places where Wikimedia has significant headroom for participation and expansion. We will cover trends in technology, literacy, open society, educational attainment, and other key factors as they pertain to our central research themes and to the Wikimedia’s movement’s future.
- Future of the commons: What are threats–and what are hopes–for the free flow of knowledge? Many forces are at play that could lead to the contraction or expansion of the open web—from people inhabiting ever-smaller, disconnected filter bubbles online, to at the other extreme, demanding a more open, free, and interconnected information commons. We will sketch out different scenarios around the issues most important to the Wikimedia community: access, censorship, privacy, copyright, and intermediary liability. We will also identify some of the most powerful actors that might shape these futures, from governments to nonprofit standard-setters to corporate agents to malicious individuals.
- Platforms and content: How will people’s media consumption change, who will be producing that media, and how will they do it? New technologies for communication and information sharing continue to emerge daily. By 2030, what will users expect in terms of the nature of their media consumption and production experiences? Media prognosticators promise inventions that will engage all five senses and turn our brains into a joystick in the process. What interfaces will people regularly use to access and create content? Where will they go to find information, entertainment, distraction or connections, and how will they expect to interact with these activities? How widely available will new tools be? We will consider a range of hardware, software, and content possibilities, from the imminent to the speculative, and examine what these might mean for ways the Wikimedia community evolves.
- Future of reference and reading: What new information-seeking and creation behaviors are going to emerge? If we used to go to the shelf for the encyclopedia, and now we reach for the phone, what will we be doing in 2030? We’ll take a look at new forms of literacy beyond text and images, the transformation of formal and informal education settings, and problems related to verification. How will people collaborate around complex topics and come to shared understandings in an immersive and densely networked future? How will students employ technology for school work, and who will be creating content, as technology makes it possible for non-experts to create animation, or design games? What skills will adults need to continue to learn in a rapidly transforming world?
- Misinformation: What can be done to make the knowledge we seek more trustworthy? And what is the next fake news frontier? Traditionally, Wikimedians have relied on transparency of the editing process and hyperlinks to sources to help readers decide if a given entry is comprehensive and fact-based. What would a hyper-transparency look like, where more layers are revealed, showing not just a link to a source but allowing ways to see the context of that source, including its provenance, and how it fits within the universe of sources? How will corporate or government censorship or algorithmic models shape public conversation, for bad, and for good? ..what will the bots be up to?
We welcome your comments and your contributions of links to relevant readings and research we can consider. In the meantime, we are honing our interview list, reading a lot and getting started on sourcing these critical questions.
Our perspective? As a service and a movement that millions rely on every day, Wikimedia’s future vitality is important to everyone on the planet. We are energized by our involvement in futures-facing research that can help guide Wikimedia strategy.
Jessica Clark, Dot Connector Studios
Sarah Lutman, Lutman & Associates
Dot Connector Studios is a Philadelphia-based media research and strategy firm focused on how emerging platforms can be used for social impact.
Lutman & Associates is a St. Paul-based strategy, planning, and evaluation firm focused on the intersections of culture, media, and philanthropy.