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Paths to Knowledge Equity – collection of essays

The four essays touch on foundational questions but also some very real problems that need to be looked at within the Wikimedia community if it comes to knowledge equity. One key aspect of this inward gaze is a deep reflection how to start this work with the communities that are silent (or silenced) at the centre – not just by them or for them.

Read the publication here

Knowledge equity is both an attractive and elusive concept. In our society, governed by meritocracy, knowledge is deemed of value, though with rates varying significantly: be it university education or street smarts. Knowledge is a non-exclusive resource; learning does not take it away from our peers or teachers. Often to the contrary, an act of learning can educate all involved.

Equity is surely a worthwhile endeavor in liberal democracy as it resonates with capital, investment, powerful people taking decisions with profit as their objective. Material profit can be an exclusive resource, often unevenly distributed. In a liberal economy it is considered a good thing, motivating its participants towards development and growth.

But what comes out of putting the two together: something that is intangible and something that is measurable, into one asset?

“Knowledge equity is based on a transformation. It is more than accepting others to the table – it is deciding that the table itself needs to be changed to accommodate all the people that should be sitting at it”

Wikimedia Movement, a nebula of volunteers, organisations, cultures, and languages that support and maintain Wikipedia, put knowledge equity on its banner. It is one of the values underpinning its 2030 Movement Strategy. Wikipedia defines knowledge equity as a concept referring to social change concerning both expanding what is valued as knowledge and seeking to include communities that may have been excluded from knowledge production and sharing through imbalanced structures of power and privilege. So, in fact knowledge equity is based on a transformation. It is more than simply accepting others to the table – it is deciding that the table itself needs to be changed to accommodate all the people that should be sitting at it. Maybe the people who didn’t mind the table as it always was, will now have less room. But thanks to the change, everyone will not only fit but also be comfortable participating. There will be no business as usual.

Flipping a table like that is not a change that many boardrooms with people in power would approve of. Not coincidentally do we engage with this metaphor: both knowledge and access are power. If we achieve equity in the boardroom for just one meeting but the next day all chairs are occupied as usual, we have failed. If we only half-open our Wikimedia projects, performatively include diversity in our documents, put beautiful values in our preambles, but do not dare to imagine what this power sharing should look like today and every day, we have failed. We have failed not only those who are silent at the table or very far away from it. We fail on the path to our vision of a world where every human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

“Knowledge equity is, like any worthwhile value, a path to walk on, not merely a destination”

So how do we get to that task? Bringing more knowledge equity has conceptual, strategic, practical, and regulatory aspects, and more. Strategizing, conceptualising, planning, and finally doing – have no end: knowledge equity is, like any worthwhile value, a path to walk on, not merely a destination. This collection of four essays is a sample of this approach as seen by the four authors.

The essays touch on the foundational concepts of Wikipedia, such as objectivity of the editors and neutrality of the content. But neutrality and objectivity source from connectedness and joint human experience, argues Marie-Luise Guhl. Marie is rereading female philosophers and demonstrating that Hannah Arendt was, in fact, a Wikipedian at heart. Nikki Zeuner investigates the effort of collective work and refracts it through the geographical, economic, and racial lenses to point out when and how a fun spare-time activity of adding to the sum of human knowledge becomes free labour. Naphsica Papanicolaou tells a story of her volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece and reflects on the role that the Wikimedia Movement can play – in both on-the-ground activities supporting refugees in their journey from despair to a new life, and as an agent of systemic change in policies that is necessary to alleviate the migrant crises. Systemic change is also at the core of my proposal to the readers. In exploring European policymaking of the internet that so often prompts regulatory changes in other parts of the globe, I propose ways in which we can influence European policies to be less colour-blind and more responsive to the intersectional nature of problems that they are trying to solve.

This collection’s all-over-the-placeness in terms of topics and levels of reflection is, to us, the feature of our project. It is an invitation for our colleagues, friends, and allies to “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can” in imagining a more equitable world, enriched by various protocols and facets of knowledge. We are offering snapshots on what transforming the Wikimedia ecosystem into an equitable space could entail. Our hope is that these thoughts and proposals will be taken on and critiqued, nuanced, made better, and supplemented. This attempt should not be misinterpreted, though, as a self-serving exercise by four white women from Europe – we never intended for that. We simply start where we are, and use our platform, access, and resources to be of service to those who need to take a seat at the table.

Read “Paths to Knowledge Equity” here