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Best practices for working with community members

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

Some ideas on working with Wikimedia volunteers on Wikimedia Foundation projects; or, "how to get community input". Please edit!

General guidelines[edit]

  • Respect people's time: community members are volunteers with day jobs, families, travel time, other commitments (both on the projects and off), and we're in every timezone. The majority of Wikimedians fit their Wikimedia work into the spaces in between doing other things – in their "free time" – and as a result cannot typically act the way you'd expect paid contractors to act. The fact that community members take time away from their real lives anyway to go to meetings (offline and on) is a testament to people's dedication.
  • Respect professionalism...and diversity: many community members are real experts in Wikimedia issues; perhaps the preeminent experts. That doesn't mean everyone agrees, though, or that there's a "right answer" for many questions. Project issues are big and complicated enough that it's not really possible to understand everything about Wikimedia well.
  • Respect language differences: although English is the main language of Wikimedia Foundation work, it is a second language for many people. Don't make communications more difficult than they have to be; translate when possible. See also Best practices for reaching out to projects in multiple languages.
  • Offer agency: Wikimedia volunteers who edit the projects – or who started by editing the projects – often love this work because it's possible to make changes and do real work without any intermediary. There is a real culture of do-it-yourself in the projects that is quite strong. In sum: if you're going to ask someone to commit time to a project, make it possible for them to make a difference and do the work. Be open to having others take over the project, edit it, change it, make it better. Otherwise, why bother asking?
  • Use text-based communication tools: the majority of Wikimedians I have met are most comfortable working in a text based environment: wiki pages, email and IRC. This is because of individual preference and the time and language issues mentioned above; asynchronous communication is easier. This might not be true for every group, however.
  • Document things on the wiki and ideally do your work there as well. A year from now, or two years, or five years, there will be new volunteers interested in the same issues – or the same volunteers picking up an old thread! – who will want to work on the same problems and projects that you are working on right now. A wiki also makes it open to everyone, which is important...
  • Keep it open: There are community members out there who aren't on the mailing lists, or internal wikis, and who you don't personally know who are working on whatever issue you're working on. Keeping it open is valuable for everyone.
  • Remember how few people you're hearing from: Many discussions involve fewer than ten self-selected people – out of hundreds of wikis and tens of thousands of active, committed volunteers and hundreds of thousands of occasional contributors. Even if everyone in the discussion agrees, the other 99.99% of the movement may not share their (or your) views. In particular, discussions among community members tend to over-represent the views of high-volume, well-connected, long-time contributors, as compared to new editors, occasional editors, and non-editing readers. Depending upon your audience, you may need to use multiple methods for reaching separate groups of users.

Where to advertise a project and how to find people[edit]

  • Village Pumps– reaches core community members at mid-size and larger wikis
  • Wikimedia Forum on Meta – reaches experienced contributors who are interested in governance issues
  • The talk page for the Main Page – the only option on many very small wikis
  • who you're missing on the mailing lists
  • finding outside partners

How and where to set up a wiki page[edit]

  • Project pages: most meetings, projects, etc. should be coordinated "on-wiki". But where?
  • Other communication tools

What to ask[edit]

  • Finding previous work: a lot of previous work has been done, or started, on basically every issue to affect the Foundation. Meta is a good place to get started.
  • What people are good at working on

See also[edit]