Sunil Abraham - Key Listener Speech at Wikimedia Summit 2019

Posted by Sunil Abraham at May 04, 2019 03:35 AM |
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The Wikimedia Summit 2019 – formerly known as "Wikimedia Conference" or "Chapters Meeting" – took place on 29–31 March 2019 in Berlin. Sunil Abraham made a speech at the summit organized in Berlin.

Sunil answers a series of questions at the closing session of the Wikimedia Summit 2019:

What stands out?

Money. Creative Commons revenues are pegged at 2.4 million dollars. Mozilla Foundation gets 24 million dollars. Wikimedia Foundation gets 91 million dollars. So the job of pulling off the "Big Open" or the "creation of the meta movement" or "the movement of movements" is primarily the responsibility of the Wikimedia community given the scale of resources it is able to mobilize. For example, the Open Access movement has lost funding as its key donor Open Society Foundation after supporting the movement for 17 years is unable to support any further. The Wikipedia movement can easily save the global access movement by just allocating 1 million dollar for it.

What concerns me?

Homogenization. Homogenization of time frames, homogenization of process. Should we, for example, stagger the time period for online community consultation on the draft recommendations, so that there is less 'consultation fatigue' By homogenizing the processes at the Summit, it would be risking infantilizing the community. Would this meeting have been more exciting and useful, if Working Groups had the freedom to fork the process, and do what works for them.

What have I learned from my own journey and work?

Working with lawyers for the last 10 years, has led me to appreciate tests over principles. For example, in the open standards movement there is a constant question: is this particular standard an open standard? There, free software acts as the canary in the coal mine:  If we cannot implement a standard using free software, then it is not an open standard. Working with lawyers for the last 10 years, has led me to appreciate tests over principles. For example, in the open standards movement there is a constant question: is this particular standard an open standard?There, free software acts as the canary in the coal mine:  If we cannot implement a standard using free software, then it is not an open standard.

What have you learned that could be useful for the strategy process?

From the process architect I have learned that we shouldn't focus on solving /this/ particular instance of the problem, we should focus on working on developing processes that solve these problems in the future. So, the emphasis is on process fixes. This is really the bleeding edge of regulatory theory these days. Since we are in Germany, I must mention the name of the German academic Gunther Teubner who developed this concept of reflexive regulation 26 years ago in his article 'Substantive and Reflexive Elements in Modern Law.

What would you suggest to improve the strategy process?

The core of responsive regulation is community consultation processes. However, closing the loop on the consultation process is critical, otherwise participants feel that they have wasted time providing feedback. For example, the Indian telecom regulator first issues a consultation paper. Then solicits the first round of feedback, then solicits a second round of counter comments then they hold round tables, and, finally, they issue the recommendation or the regulation. But when they do that, they make sure they close the loop.They provide reasoned explanations for why suggestions were rejected. This might have to happen at both stages for this strategy development process. The working groups will have to say why they rejected certain pieces of feedback, and also the board will have to explain why they rejected certain recommendations from the working groups.

What would be your wish for this movement?

As we enter adulthood as a movement,  it is important that we do not lose our youthful idealism. Idealism at two levels: ambition and vocabulary.  Global civil society is broadly divided into two groups. Those who work on tractable problems, like getting rid of polio.  And those who work on intractable problems, like saving and developing democracy. When monitoring and evaluation becomes a primary management lens for our movement, it shouldn't make us more and more risk-averse. Let us not focus on the easy problems let us always focus, as a movement, on the hard problems. When it comes to vocabulary, I am not totally sure that phrases like 'product experience', 'target markets', and 'Knowledge as a Service' is the vocabulary of the movement. Maybe, we need to think of two types of vocabulary, External facing vocabulary and internal facing vocabulary.


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Video, via Wikimedia Commons, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikimedia_Summit_2019_-_Key_listener_Sunil_Abraham.webm
Author, Anna Rees (WMDE): Uploader: Cornelius Kibelka (WMDE), This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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