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Interview

Magdalena Reiter, Foto: Katharina Meissner, CC-BY-SA

Magdalena Reiter
Head of OPEN COMMONS Linz

Magdalena Reiter manages the OPEN COMMONS initiative of the city of Linz. Beforehand, she worked as a self-employed designer and her particular field of interest is Open Design and creative collaboration. She is involved in work on these issues in a range of different initiatives that promote creative, digital commons, such as Open Knowledge Austria or ViennaOpen – Festival for Open Design and an Open City. In this context, Magdalena cooperates with WMAT regularly - during the past year, this included work on Wikipedia and the gender gap at the OPEN COMMONS Congress in Linz or on Wikidata and data competence at Jugend hackt Österreich. In the interview she tells us what added value organisations such as WMAT bring to the independent scene in Austria.

Measured against Austria's size, the independent scene in the country is very vibrant and innovative. In your view, what are the main success factors for this development?

While the scene is considerably smaller than in our big neighbour Germany, its manageable size has a substantial advantage: Many protagonists quite simply know each other personally, making collaboration noticeably easier and professionalising the scene itself. I continue to be surprised by how close the ties across all of Austria are. People dealing with openness and freedom are particularly aware of the added value of good cooperation and try to help promote such networking, even if they don't directly benefit in the particular case. But at the bottom line, this strengthens everyone.
It is equally remarkable when cooperation on equal terms occurs between the free and the public or the institutional scenes. This creates a fertile ground for all parties involved, even if - or perhaps precisely because - there are "cultural differences" to overcome. As a result of the country's size, this type of collaboration is not all that uncommon in Austria, yet there could still be much, much more of it.

There is certainly potential for improvement in terms of diversity. How can we work together to promote more diversity in our communities in the future?

There are dedicated people in many places who are prepared to invest time and passion into communities - notably, this can be seen at a considerable scale in Wikipedia and its sister projects. But at the same time, we can also see that groups are not always a heterogeneous bunch, specifically when they coalesce of their own accord. Particularly when projects or organisations also have a socio-political dimension, many participants are aware that, as a rule, different perspectives are good for a cause, which is why they may already be trying very hard to bring more diversity to their group. But often it isn't quite that easy to penetrate established networks. Although we have more opportunities for participation than ever before, we understand, spurred on paradoxically by precisely this digitalisation, how difficult it actually is to design accesses to allow different people to participate or to feel addressed at all. We are far from finding a cure-all fix for this problem. But one of the first steps is, no doubt, to develop a certain awareness which includes recognising, on the one hand, that this is an initial situation which will continue to impose new challenges upon us throughout the coming years and decades, and adopting, on the other hand, an openness to possible change, even within one's own structures.

In this context, what makes Wikimedia Austria a great ally in your work?

The focus of my work centres on openness in digital society. So this question basically explains itself, because Wikimedia in one of our key companions when it comes to progress with regard to free and open access to knowledge. As cooperation partner, it sets the bar high, not only in terms of theory, but also contributes a great deal of practical experience acquired with a large community. It's a great joy to work with a partner like that, be it as provider of input for the next generation at Jugend hackt Österreich or as an ally for the generation of an ABC der Offenheit, but also as co-organiser of the monthly Netzpolitischer Abend AT.

Many readers of Wikipedia are unaware that there is a community of authors, photographers and coders or Wikimedia associations behind this website who support them in their work. How would you describe the community and cooperation with this community to these people in a nutshell?

In an increasingly complex society, some people tend to develop feelings of powerlessness now and then. In the worst case, they even feel at the mercy of a system. In the case of large projects like Wikipedia, it is often underestimated how much the commitment of individuals really matters. But when you get to know people from the community, this is exactly what we can observe: The dedication of an individual makes a direct and visible difference. The joy of participating in this process of socially relevant shaping is something that I am sure to share with many Wikipedians and that I can very much recommend.