Figure 1: Wikimedia Foundation Logo
Open Innovation at Wikimedia Foundation
The Wikimedia Foundation  has revolutionized the art of open innovation through commons-based peer production , a means of socially driven production in which a large number of users collaborate in an egalitarian setting. The Foundation’s pilot project used an open reviewing system, but required experts in a field to compose and edit articles. However, Jimmy Wales, the founder, realized that this system is set up to fail, and decided to leverage open innovation on all fronts – composing, editing, reviewing, discussing about, and deleting articles, through ‘wikis’ . Since then, open innovation has been a cornerstone of product development at the Wikimedia Foundation, and this new crowdsourcing model for content helped Wikipedia, and later, other projects of the Wikimedia Foundation (like Wiktionary, Wikibooks and Wikimedia Commons), flourish .
Participants in Wikimedia’s open innovation platform are generally motivated by the social value they provide to the community . Open innovation establishes weak social ties, which increase the tenure of commitment to the project, as participants are free to contribute to the project at their own pace, and their other commitments are not impacted . Network effects within the user community have further spurred both the volume and quality of participation. Newer users often contribute to content of lower quality. Paradoxically, this attracts veteran users because of the aforementioned social value they derive from editing this content, which raises its quality, and attracts more new users to participate, driving the volume up. This positive feedback loop helps improve the content generation and quality control processes at Wikimedia Foundation .
Figure 2: Where is Wikimedia today?
Can strategy be made open?
In addition to product development and process improvement, Wikimedia has successfully used open innovation to define and drive strategy in an attempt to further maximize stakeholder involvement, and consequent alignment of incentives of all stakeholders . After successfully using open strategy to define a five-year strategic plan in 2011 , Wikimedia Foundation is currently undertaking a similar process to crowdsource strategy for the next 12 years, called the Wikimedia Movement . After having set a strategic direction after multiple cycles of discussion between all participants , Wikimedia Foundation will kick off a second phase to understand how to execute on this direction – again, in an egalitarian and inclusive fashion . The management has primarily played a supporting role, while transferring almost absolute control and autonomy over the strategy-setting process to the user community .
Figure 3: Strategy discussions at Wikimedia Armenia
Is open always good?
However, in the longer run, the Foundation understands the need to actively regulate the open innovation process. Academia has ruled that open innovation may result in bias and ‘slantness’ , and a diverse participant community and a diligent revision process are necessary to undo such bias. Wikimedia Foundation are intent on ensuring there are no ‘gaps of knowledge’ and ‘systemic biases’ , and are committed to designing their medium-term strategy around reducing the barrier to entry for underserved communities.
What’s next for Wikimedia?
Today, Wikimedia is at a crossroads, and is debating between the scale and stakeholder buy-in achieved by pursuing open innovation, and the associated reduction in efficiency, and the questionable neutrality, veracity and reliability of crowdsourced content. To improve the latter, the Foundation may want to incentivize high-performing users who can be recognized either through feedback from a subset of the community, or by using acceptance and edit metrics as a proxy for performance. Wikimedia may consider using ‘karma’, ‘trophies’, redeemable credits or other ways to reward these users, possibly tied into a social open innovation process, along the lines of StackOverflow, Quora or Reddit. This social element can help attract attention from users belonging to underrepresented communities.
Figure 4: Karma on Reddit for contributions
In the medium run, Wikimedia might also consider promoting volunteer-driven evangelism in these communities to spread awareness, in the form of meetups, college partnerships or featured community-specific content. To further increase adoption in these communities, they may lower the barrier to entry by having tutorials for new users, or improving the design of the open innovation platforms in the shorter run. The Foundation may also want to explore avenues of collaborating with other entities that share similar ideals, to work together on community development, for instance.
For content sourcing and strategy development processes, they may want to pilot committees that any user can opt in, but are moderated by, and are centered around experts. This deference to expertise can help improve the content quality, and make Wikimedia more relevant in an age where unbiased knowledge is of increased importance.
There are never answers without questions…
While I find the Wikimedia model promising, I believe the Foundation will have to address some questions before they commit unconditionally to open innovation. How will the Wikimedia community respond to competing knowledge platforms (like Quora and Medium) that are also based on open innovation? More importantly, with rapidly changing technology and design considerations and constraints, can open innovation be a pragmatic and sustainable solution in the future?
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