The thematic focus of UNLOCK 2021: (Re)building trust in the digital age

The current and future challenges of Free Knowledge are multi-faceted and multi-layered. For UNLOCK 2021, we have defined a concrete thematic focus to address one of the current societal challenges: Trust in the digital age. What solutions – technical and non-technical – create greater access to knowledge and have a positive impact on trust building? What skills are needed not only to acquire knowledge, but also to deal with increased social and information complexity? Let us (re)build trust in the digital age!

  • Kannika Thaimai
  • 1. April 2021

Trust issues 

The digital revolution, climate change, societal megatrends and, last but not least, a global pandemic are taking over our lives and are greatly influencing the way communities and societies live together. One of the results is societal and information complexity that brings along uncertainty and declining trust in current structures and institutions, science, media, and technology.

Some examples: 

(Online) debates on topics such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are often as roaring as they are laced with misleading information. Such an infodemic of misinformation can undermine the credibility of science, the efforts of democratic governments and institutions to mitigate the effects, and the capacity of individuals to make evidence-informed decisions. 

Trust in technology and trust caused by technology? Unfortunately, the wave of ongoing data breaches and digital surveillance are detrimental to building trust. Often, these breaches of trust surface that user data was not sufficiently secured or that technologies were “weaponized” to actively misuse the data. With new developments (big data, AI, etc.), technology is increasingly becoming a black box, making it almost impossible to navigate through the complexity behind it or even understand the decisions those systems are making.

Imagine a world built on trust (that we create together)

What if there were…

At UNLOCK, we see two potential areas that can help strengthen the foundations of trust in (and through) information and technology. These two were defined in the UNLOCK 2020 research report (full report here):


The underlying infrastructures and the resulting governance models are key elements behind the platforms and networks: they ensure efficient organization and coordination of existing knowledge; allow for knowledge to be developed further via new entries, ideas, data, and perspectives. Infrastructure is at the heart of every platform and network. It can create trust and clear structures. And yet, the choice of technical frameworks, data formats, decision-making mechanisms and protocols invariably affects how inclusive or exclusive knowledge is. It also has an effect on reliability and security as well as on transparency and clarity of the infrastructures and governance models.    

UNLOCK is looking for your solutions that work towards improving access, use, and dissemination of different forms of free and trusted knowledge.

Illustration von Brücken, die miteinander verbunden sind


Illustration von Brücken, die miteinander verbunden sind
Bildlizenz: Kati Szilágyi für Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., Themenfeld Wissensinfrastruktur, CC BY-SA 4.0


Building trust is not a purely technical problem, but also relates to the social, cultural and political level. Whether we – as users, consumers and citizens – trust someone or something depends on various factors. It is a matter of recurring processes of classification and probability, risks and uncertainties and how these can be verified. How do I evaluate what I am reading? Which information is “right” or “wrong” and why so? Which source can I trust? We filter out anything that does not fit into our own idea of data, methodology or point of view. This approach results in one-sided viewpoints and limited assumptions of knowledge. This trend is further fuelled by technologies and algorithms that appear to be based on facts and as a result put us in filter bubbles and leave no room for debate.

We are curious to see fresh ideas and new concepts that strengthen the skills needed to acquire knowledge and deal with its complexity.

Illustration von Menschen die miteinander sprechen und die Blasen, die sie umgeben, zum Platzen bringen


Illustration von Menschen die miteinander sprechen und die Blasen, die sie umgeben, zum Platzen bringen
Bildlizenz: Kati Szilágyi für Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., Themenfeld Wissenshorizonte, CC BY-SA 4.0

The role of trust within the UNLOCK Accelerator

Last year, we started off with five fields of action that were defined by a three-month research project on the current trends and challenges of Free Knowledge. Each project team applied to at least one of the fields offering a practical solution to the given problem. Following an extensive evaluation and explorative deep dives with experts (internally at Wikimedia Deutschland as well as within the Free Knowledge “world”), this year, we have narrowed down the thematic scope. At UNLOCK, we believe that working on a defined thematic focus will allow for more interaction between the participating teams, fuelling inspiration and cross-team support. Plus, we want to seize the opportunity to rise to a challenge that is currently being perceived as particularly urgent and needed to be addressed more deeply.

Trust is an enduring topic, and we believe it plays an important role in our work: with the UNLOCK Accelerator to drive innovation for Free Knowledge; and in the context of the programmatic work at Wikimedia Deutschland. We – Wikimedia Deutschland – see ourselves as a mediator and as an enabler for the social significance and impact of Free Knowledge. Our work and that of the entire Wikimedia movement aims to improve access, use, and dissemination of different forms of free and trusted knowledge. We are not alone in the fight to tackle the trust issues, accompanied by people and organizations that also advocate for it – just take a look at some of the great works done by Electronic Frontier Foundation in the McSweeney’s Report “The End of Trust”, by Mozilla (2019 and 2020 Internet Health Report) and by the Prototype Fund (see its trend report (in German only though) for the Prototype Fund Round 7 on “Engineering Trust”).

Apply now and let’s shape a future built on trust together!

Chances are that a lot of brilliant concepts and solutions are already out there, ready to shoot from the ground or build on foundations others have already established. UNLOCK wants to push these to reach their full potential and make them the norm rather than singular cases. Application is now open and runs until May 31. Find more information and all further requirements for participation here and apply now!