In 2017 I worked on an interesting assignment with a group of consulting colleagues—to research and identify 15-year trends that will influence the future of the Wikimedia Foundation and its family of wikis, most notably Wikipedia. Wikipedia is among the world’s most-visited websites. Those involved, primarily volunteers, believe in the vision of the movement “to imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
Our summary report is available online: Strategy 2030, Wikimedia’s role in shaping the future of the information commons (bit.ly/2EehRjl). Longer research briefs are posted on Wikimedia’s open-to-all strategy page in a series of six entries and related comments and discussion from readers.
Completing this project was a learning experience on a number of levels. First was learning the citation protocol and mindset of Wikipedia contributors and editors, and understanding Wikipedia’s context and process for declaring anything to be a fact. Wikipedia editors will sniff out any instances in which something is stated as true and look for the relevant citation(s) that back up any and all assertions. “Citation needed” is an exacting discipline; writers have to provide their sources as they submit wiki entries. And, for Wikipedia editors, all citations are not created equal. Editors are looking for high-quality citations, ones that are themselves verifiable.
Within the research itself, specific findings are broadly applicable to the nonprofit sector. We focused on five research topics and added a sixth as a reflection on what we’d learned. We looked at trends in demographics, technology, information, access and literacy. Here are six takeaways likely to resonate:
Our team’s final essay explores the difficulties—if not the futility—in predicting the future by examining trends. No amount of trend-spotting and analysis can secure organizations against the rising tide of unexpected events. Instead, we can look to artists to help us imagine new possibilities, consider new realities and learn to expect the unexpected. Organizations with nimble structures, and ones that listen, learn and evolve constantly, will be best able to adapt and thrive, whatever the future holds. Speculative fiction and scenario planning offer alternatives to traditional trend research and may be best able to help us imagine a better future. tcbmag
Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media and philanthropic sectors.