Photo by Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Today we’re releasing an extensive research report about Wikimedia’s role in shaping the future of the information commons. The report was created as part of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, as 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 2030and 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.

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Zack McCune/Wikimedia Foundation

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