Task force/Recommendations/Advocacy 2

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The Voice of Wikimedia
Recommendation for the strategic planning process of the Wikimedia Foundation on behalf of the advocacy taskforce


The Wikimedia community has a powerful voice that it could bring to bear on issues that touch the mission of the collaborative activities undertaken by volunteers. To date the Wikimedia Foundation, chapters, volunteers are not engaged in any major efforts in a coordinated fashion. The goal of this recommendation is to suggest an approach to involve Wikipedians and students to define the roles Wikimedia could play to ensure its strong voice is used to help influence unimpeded global access to free information online.

Why is it not already done?

‘Be bold’ is one of the recommendations volunteers get to engage in writing the encyclopedia. So why do members of the Wikimedia community shy away from statements, like, as a member of the Wikimedia community, I defend this policy stance? Why Wikipedia works is to a great extend still a miracle. Clear is that Wikipedia is a valuable example for hybrid economies, in which active participation of users is key (Lessig, Benkler, Zittrain). The whole effort depends on the diverse motivations of volunteers. So, one can suppose that the fact that there is not yet a solid coördination of advocacy efforts has good reasons. Most likely a radical change in which some volunteers supported by the Foundation should define an approach to advocacy will not be welcomed by the community.

Yet, in writing the encyclopedia the community has shown an amazing power to make implicit ideas about collaboration on the web and access to information explicit. With this drive a great contribution to engage in policy discussions about regulation of the web can help to voice the interest of unimpeded global access to free information. With the quick pace of technological innovation, the Wikimedia community has a mature voice, pointing at the essential public interests that are at stake and the easy way to engage in fostering these interests. The success of Wikipedia needs to be shared in discussions on the regulation of the web.

Apart from to influencing regulation and policy measures that effect the work of the community, there are also more practical reasons to engage in advocacy: to engage new volunteers, to make insights on policy explicit to facilitate collaboration, to generate funding for the collaborative enterprise through collaboration with similar groups with a similar mission. In line with the style of Wikipedia so far advocacy has been reactive. For instance: the community voiced its views against censorship only after the IWF made editing pages on the English Wikipedia impossible when they tried to remove an illustration of an album cover of the German rock band, The Scorpions. It will need an extra effort to set up an approach to advocacy with a more proactive attitude.

Why not do it in the wiki-way?

We would like people to engage in developing an advocacy approach in a wikiway. Our recommendation is to set up some sort of an essay-contest to explore outlines of an approach to advocacy. Should it not be possible to get together small teams, consisting of an experienced Wikipedian and a student in law or political science, guided perhaps by volunteers of organisations that share the same objective as the team would like to elaborate? For instance a digital rights organisation or a copyright officer of a university library? The assignment should contain a practical aspect, like improving a page on a related subject and a more scholarly analysis. The contest will also provide an opportunity to strengthen alliances with academia and organisations with similar objectives. It would generate a body of knowledge and a network of people on an issue that has no neutral point of view, but seeks to describe diverse perspectives adapted to local and topical dimension of the issue.

For drafting the essaycompetition these examples of regular competions may be helpful: http://www.elsaessaycompetition.org/ http://www.essaycompetition.org/


The kind of questions that can be taken as starting point of the essay competition should have to do with the roles of the WMF, chapters and volunteers in advocacy on policy issues.

This is a list of questions that came up in the work of the advocacy taskforce over the last months.

  1. On themes that are relevant for the mission of the WMF policy in the European Union is developed at a European level. At present are organized in relation to the languages in which the Wikipedia is written. Would it be recommendable to set up a European chapter?
  2. In the same line: There is no U.S. chapter. Would it be recommendable to set up a U.S. Chapter?
  3. The WMF started in the U.S., how can themes that are more important in other parts of the world be voiced? For example: Under the free license there is a great potential to re-use content in different languages. Within Europe policy fosters a diversity of languages. It would be valuable to highlight the assets of Wikipedia in this field. How can this be done?
  4. The German chapter seems very successful in fundraising and contact with the press at a local level. There is even a paid staff. What lessons can be learned from this chapter?
  5. The Wikimedia Foundation is a charitable organization under U.S. tax law (section 501 (c) (3)). Therefore the WMF cannot engage in substantial legislative activity. Make an explanatory page on this topic. Do the limitations on lobbying also affect policy stances outside the U.S.?
  6. Given the limited possibilities of law enforcement on the web, Internet Service Providers are forced to collaborate to set standards to comply with legal norms (soft law, self regulation), f.i. to respect privacy on social network sites. How can Wikipedia participate in these kind of initiatives? Is that desirable?
  7. The strategic planning process will result in recommendations on policy for the coming five years. Is a clear policy stance by the board of the Foundation needed to back up volunteers that want to engage in advocacy? For example: Is a page needed with the announcement: Wikimedia supports Open Access advisable?
  8. Whereas Europe has a small body of civil-servants, preparation in the development of regulation is done through groups of volunteers (comitology). For instance Google and telecomproviders have employees in these expert-groups. What is needed to let the voice of Wikipedia be heard?