For the last few months, many of my friends and family members have asked me: What do you do with Wikipedia? Why do you all these calls in several languages with so many different people? It is in fact a part of my duty as the Strategy Liaison for the Arabic speaking community.
In March 2019, I was hired by the 2030 Movement Strategy Core Team as a Strategy Liaison to work with the Arabic speaking Wikimedia communities. As the title suggests, this role is a linking one between the community and the strategy process, so that we are sure to have an inclusive process that cares about community opinions and feedback, and so that everyone is connected. We are a team of eight people (7 languages, and our manager Kelsi), working from different locations across the world for the same goal.
In six months, I have learned much more than I could ever imagine. Even being a member of a Strategy Working Group (Advocacy), and not a total stranger to the Wikimedia 2030 process, the Liaison experience offered me a lot of insight from unique angles and perspectives. I have engaged with community members at a broad level (on Facebook Group for Arabic Users), in different social media platforms (WhatsApp, Telegram) and of course had tens of individual calls, interviews, and face to face meetings with people from many countries. This opportunity was so enriching. I forged relationships with almost all active Arabic speaking Wikimedians interested in Strategy and made sure to discuss their feedback and opinions. I have also learned how to manage differences in opinion in our region, and how to work to make everybody feel welcome and comfortable when expressing their needs, concerns and thoughts.
The role that I had came with several challenges, some of which were very specific to the context I was working in, while others were shared by all my colleagues. One challenge that we faced all in the team was how to engage community members and make sure that they were able to comfortably discuss strategy. Initially, many of us tried to engage on wiki as well as on public channels, but unfortunately, the collected feedback was not up to our expectations. After discussing together with the team, we understood and learned that people felt more comfortable sharing opinions in private channels. We then started individual interviews with different community members, trying sometimes to have combined interviews for people who wished, so that they can discuss and learn from each other’s opinions. Through this method, we managed to achieve good results that we gathered in monthly reports. I have put the Arabic language feedback reports in both Arabic and English at a specific Meta page in my profile.
One specificity of the Arabic language is that it is spoken in 22 different countries, from Mauritania to Iraq, and including areas such as Comoros and Djibouti. As a Wikimedian who attended a number of regional and international conferences, I had a decent network of fellow editors in the region. However, I have discovered through my position that I was far from knowing at least one person from each Arabic speaking country. By its mere definition, Wikipedia allows people to contribute anonymously online, without any need to engage physically with anyone. Finding an active editor in Chad or Kuwait who is willing to give feedback but is not known by anyone is like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes I was lucky to find and locate new people, through edits that were done on articles related to the regions I looked for, which was very interesting, enriching, and inspiring both for me and for the person I talked to.
Another type of challenge that most of us faced was to guarantee diversity in the representativity of the opinion givers. In many societies, women would not feel comfortable having an interview with a man. The classical gap appeared. Here, we had to innovate by having different ways of sharing feedback, not only through interviews, but also by engaging friends and volunteers with whom the person would feel more comfortable, or by posting YouTube videos on which they could directly comment. Even following these tactics, the fact is that MENA societies still need time in order to reach a complete equality in participation, and this is what is reflected in the encyclopedia as well.
Strategy Liaison work was not only about online engagement, but also about face-to-face interaction as much as possible. We helped organize a number of Strategy Salons by supporting the organizers with advice and material, or by organizing ourselves in our respective countries. I had the honor of organizing the Moroccan Strategy Salon in July 2019, where our User Group members had the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge about strategy, and to share their feedback in person. This salon, which gathered 13 participants from different cities, was an occasion to discuss Advocacy and Capacity Building. Community members gave relevant input that was shared with the respective working groups, who used it as part of the material they worked with to shape their draft recommendations. Attending conferences was also an excellent occasion to present the current status and answer different questions from participants.
Being a Strategy Liaison in my opinion is a unique opportunity to understand the process from the inside, as well as to shape lifetime relations with community members, and to grow as a person, developing several communication and management skills. Having interest in the strategy process, I am genuinely looking forward to what the next steps in this process will be. I will definitely share that with my community, and discuss with them to make sure that their voices are heard, and that their opinions are included in the new Wikimedia model that will be operational by 2030.
Strategy Liaison for the Arabic Language