Wikimania Stockholm – one year later

On 14 August 2020, exactly one year has passed since Wikimania began in Stockholm. Much has happened during this year, but the fight for free knowledge and sustainable development goes on. The Conference Manager Eric Luth gives his views on what Wikimedia Sverige has learnt, and brings along, from the conference.

Eric Luth and Sofie Jansson in Morgonstudion, 14 August 2019. Photo: Eric Luth, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019. It is early in the morning, 07:21. Sofie Jansson, member of the board of Wikimedia Sverige, and I are sitting in a studio in the TV-huset (”TVhouse”) on Östermalm. The show is Morgonstudion, the topic is Wikimania, and I am a bit nervous. This is the start of the largest annual event of the Wikimedia movement – now taking place in Stockholm; everything is prepared, and nothing more can be done. It will either make it, or break it.

Wikimedia Sverige supports free knowledge. Sharing of knowledge is written in our DNA; all colleagues, all volunteers dedicate their work or spare time to the sharing of free knowledge. It is all the thousands of individual users that contribute to the Wikimedia platforms on a daily basis that make them work and grow, and to be appreciated and loved by so many. Wikimedia is collaborative creation at its best.

I start however to realize, more and more, that free knowledge is not only a goal and a vision. It is also a means for change. In many of the projects that Wikimedia Sverige have been running or supporting in the recent years, there are higher goals on the horizon. In WikiGap, a global campaign to write articles about women on Wikipedia, free knowledge is used as a tool to make the world a bit more gender equal. In a project such as the Stockholmskällan (”Stockholm source”), students create Wikipedia articles about their local history – and thus, free knowledge contribute to both qualitative education and resilient cities. Through Wikispeech, Wikimedia Sverige and partners are building a speech synthesis based on open source, contributing to a world where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge, not only those who can see or read.

Free knowledge is a means for change. We made use of this insight in the theme of Wikimana 2019: ”Stronger together. Wikimedia, Free Knowledge and the Global Goals.” What if the Wikimedia movement could start contributing to sustainable development, not only passively, through the positive side effects of the projects we are running, but actively, through new partnerships, new projects, new perspectives and not the least new forms of knowledge?

Five days, one question: how can we find new ways, where free knowledge in itself promotes and furthers sustainable development? Can Wikimedia contribute to inclusive cities, sustainable seas and good health and well-being? Can free knowledge contribute to sustainable agroforestry, inclusive industrialization and the end of poverty? We didn’t know the answers. And I won’t say that we know them now. But we know so much more!

The main part of the conference opened with a TedX-inspired track, where prominent speakers got access to the large stage in Aula Magna for 15 minutes each. The vice-chancellor of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Karin Holmgren, pointed out the importance of open science for sustainable agriculture, and in the long run, for sustainable lives. Tyler Radford, Executive Director at the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOTOSM), emphasized that open map data can save lives. A longer speecg by the Sami journalist and scholar Liv-Inger Somby gave a number of concrete examples and ideas of how free knowledge can strengthen language minorities and indigenous peoples, with the vulnerable Samis in the Russian parts of Karelia as one example. And Annika Söder, former state secretary at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reminded us that free knowledge is important also for freedom of speech, democracy and in the long term human rights.

In hundreds of seminars, panel discussions, workshops and other types of events, these discussions went deeper. Experts were invited, new questions were asked, unexpected answers were sometimes given, and the Wikimedia movement studied the possibilities and challenges of the Global Goals for the Wikimedia movement in detail. The co-founder of the Museum of the United Nations – UN Live, Michael Peter Edson, stated that he had never encountered an international movement taking on the Global Goals in a manner like this. And hopefully, all participants could take new perspectives, answers – and perhaps even new questions – back home.

Wikimedia Sverige has increased its international involvement in the recent years. With colleagues and affiliates in many countries, we are working to share more free knowledge across the world. Wikimania took took the international involvement to a new level. It allowed us to invite 1 000 participants from about a hundred of countries to Stockholm. Next time, we’re going to Bangkok. But no matter where in the world we find ourselves, we learnt this: free knowledge can contribute to sustainable development across the world. All countries and communities face their challenges. But free knowledge can contribute to the answers to them all.

It went relatively well in the TV-studio. There were so many things I wanted to say, but so little time. My colleagues and friends contributed on their ends. Anass Sedrati spoke in the TV4 Channel’s counterpart about how global the conference is. In Kulturnyheterna, a news program with a cultural focus, Jimmy Wales explained the importance of sustainable development. The conversation started in many media outlets, during countless of presentations and among friends in small groups, just about one year ago, but it continues across the world to this day. Stronger together: Wikimedia, free knowledge and the Global Goals never ends. We have just begun.