This is the foreword to a report that was commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation. Read more about the authors. You can read a PDF version of this report here, as well as the complete report and our interviews with global experts.
A letter from the Wikimedia Foundation
Since its inception in 2001, Wikipedia has become one of the world’s most popular and beloved websites — a rich source of reliable free information, written and maintained by volunteers. Today, Wikipedia is much more than a website. Wikipedia and related projects such as Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata form a global social movement: a complex network of writers, editors, researchers, photographers, academics, libraries, free culture activists, cultural institutions, and so much more. Together, we share a commitment to making free knowledge available to all.
Over the last 16 years, the Wikimedia movement has accomplished a great deal. Volunteers have written more than 46 million articles across nearly 300 languages. Each month, Wikimedia sites are accessed by more than 1.4 billion unique devices. And more than 200,000 volunteers contribute to Wikimedia sites every month.
But there is still a long way to go. While our mission is global, Wikimedia does not yet serve the entire world. Billions of people have yet to access Wikipedia — or even the internet. Wikimedia traffic and participation skews toward North America and Western Europe, while other parts of the world are underrepresented on the platform. Efforts to spread disinformation and misinformation and enforce censorship online are increasingly sophisticated and prevalent. Now more than ever, the world needs shared human understanding, reliable information, inclusive spaces for public discourse, and advocates for free and open knowledge. That’s why, at the beginning of 2017, we asked ourselves: what should the Wikimedia movement do between now and 2030 to get closer to our vision of free knowledge for all?
The Foundation embarked on an ambitious global consultation, dubbed Wikimedia 2030, to collaboratively develop a direction for the Wikimedia movement. The discussion brought together volunteers, partners, experts, Wikimedia chapters and other affiliates, and Wikimedia Foundation staff. Discussions took place in roughly 70 languages through live events, in person, on wiki, and more.
The goal was to form a common strategic direction for the movement — a guidepost for the work moving forward. As part of Wikimedia 2030, the Foundation commissioned research to inform conversations and contextualize trends that could affect Wikimedia from now until 2030. The resulting conversations and research from around the world culminated in a strategic vision and direction.
The contents of this report, and related briefs published throughout the strategy process, provided valuable perspective that informed our discussion and helped define our shared future. We will continue to rely on the findings in this report to open our thinking, imagine what might be next, and enlist new people and organizations in the work.
We invite you to read this report with an open and inquisitive mind. We hope that it prompts new questions not only about the future of the Wikimedia movement but also whatever movement, institution, or cause you may represent.
Finally, we’d like to express our deep appreciation to our research partners and the authors of this report, Sarah Lutman and Jessica Clark (of Lutman & Associates and Dot Connector Studio respectively) for their dedication, curiosity, and patience.
In 2016 and 2017, members of the Wikimedia movement took part in a global consultation to imagine the world in 2030 and the Wikimedia projects’ role in it. With its vision of “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge,” the Wikimedia Foundation engaged in a global strategy development process, asking stakeholders to join the conversation and envision a future in which Wikimedia continues to expand its role in ensuring open knowledge, access, and the free exchange of information, culture, and ideas around the world.
As part of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, the Foundation engaged research teams to examine awareness and usage of Wikimedia projects and evolving information consumption habits. The consulting teams conducted desk research and spoke both with people familiar with and involved in the Wikimedia movement and expert observers who could inform the strategy process but who are not directly involved today. In one-on-one interviews, experts in geographic areas where the projects are most heavily used were asked to think about future trends in their fields and how the trends might apply to the Wikimedia movement’s strategy. This particular research focused on six broad topics that seemed most likely to further or frustrate the vision for growth that the Foundation embraces.
In this report, the Foundation’s staff and its consulting teams present top-level insights from this global process. Perspectives from interviewees around the world are also provided with context about their region and area of expertise. The report draws from six comprehensive research briefs, published on Wikimedia’s strategy website, which address these topics:
- Demographics: Who is in the world in 2030? The report outlines global population trends, which project the highest population growth in places where Wikimedia has significant room to expand.
- Emerging Platforms: How will people around the world be using communications technologies to find, create, and share information? The report considers future technologies, from the imminent to the speculative, and examines what range of new hardware, software, and content production capabilities might mean for content creation and user access.
- Misinformation: How will people find trustworthy sources of knowledge and information? The report explores how content creators and technologists can ensure that knowledge is trustworthy and also identifies threats to these efforts.
- Literacy: How will the world learn in the future? The report forecasts that technology will transform learning and educational settings as well as expand the requirements for literacy beyond text and images.
- Open Knowledge: How will we share culture, ideas, and information?
The report documents the global trend toward opening collections and archives to the public and making them freely available online, and explores ways the Wikimedia movement might partner with people and organizations to accelerate this sharing.
- Expect the Unexpected: How can we know what the world will look like in 2030 — and what the Wikimedia movement’s role will be in it?
The report proposes that a study of trends can never be truly predictive and introduces alternative visionary tools such as scenario planning and speculative social science fiction.
The consulting team published an additional research brief on the future of the digital commons, examining the political and commercial forces that could lead to the contraction or expansion of the open web. Looking at the constellation of issues most important to the Wikimedia community, this brief identifies access, censorship, privacy, copyright, and intermediary liability as active battlefronts.
The fate of the digital commons is the single subject that rises above and intersects with each of the other areas of research. The commons of the future will shape the environment that ultimately fosters or blocks all of the Wikimedia projects’ work. Thus, this report weaves research findings about the future of the commons throughout.
Specifically, the report highlights growing concerns across civil society about the quality of and access to open knowledge online, as well as compounding threats to the Wikimedia movement and its open knowledge allies. Between now and 2030, open knowledge advocates face headwinds that include censorship by governments and corporations, internet shutdowns, surveillance of users, information monopolies, and troubling developments such as the arrests of scholars and journalists operating in closed societies.
The Wikimedia movement is positioned to work toward potential solutions to these threats. Despite the trend toward a “darkening globe,” some leaders see the Wikimedia movement as among the brightest hopes and most inspiring exemplars of the global digital commons.
The Wikimedia movement has immediate internal challenges to address, including adapting to an increasingly mobile internet, recruiting a new generation of volunteers, and expanding its partnerships with schools and “GLAM” organizations (i.e. galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions that have access to knowledge as their mission). But Wikimedia and its open knowledge allies, working together, can lift up people everywhere, empowering communities through access and participation in knowledge creation and sharing. Across the interviews and salons, there was a clarion call for the building of this larger, more active, and multi-partner open knowledge movement.
For extended narratives, many more citations, and community discussion of the research, visit the Wikimedia strategy page that aggregates into a single web directory not only this work but also the totality of the Foundation’s strategy process: 2030.wikimedia.org.
The report concludes with an analysis of cross-cutting themes that arose from the research, as well as a set of recommendations and discussion questions for the movement and its partners. The goal of these final sections is not to close the discussion. Instead, it is to set the stage for the next phase of work for the Foundation and the movement: to move from strategies to actions that not only will preserve what has already been built, but also make the projects useful and vital for billions of future Wikimedia users.