Then I hate to say it but you have another huge problem – lack of stakeholder buy in.
I’ve asked my technical lead multiple times, why we need a forum and they basically reiterate the vision of our site which is about collaboration. When I push more, my lead insists that you can’t ask the question why do we need as as if this “hey, this is the real world.” and laughs. I can’t help but feel she misunderstands my motivation for asking. Knowing the why behind they why is the core of professional UX. And I agree with you and admitting this problem makes me kinda nervous.
I’m sure the answer to my question is obvious to you, but do you have any evidence to back the claim that without confirmation of user interest from persona or target audience study, this forum will go no where no matter what we throw at it? I haven’t studied our audience directly because I kinda evolved into this position, so I have “some” hope we can find some need for our users, but I’d like some form of research that I can use, just in case, I need to present this to my lead and respectfully say “if our users don’t want a forum, they aren’t gonna use one.”