Building a content partnership with a cultural institution in a nutshell

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Establishing a partnership with a cultural institution is a lot of work. But it's worth the trouble.
  • Stage 0: Make sure your Wikipedia is in order.

This especially applies to the formal structure of the Wikipedia language edition in question. One good way to improve and enrich Wikipedia's structure is to get two things in order: (a) the category structure and (b) the use of Persondata. You can cooperate with a local national library or a national library covering your language to link their authority files with Wikipedia's biographical articles.

  • Stage 1: Get to know who actually has images (digitally preferred) in their archive.

Suitable candidates are libraries, galleries, archives and private media agencies. In some cases, there are already lists of these institutions available (such as http://fotoerbe.de/). You can consider these sites a "shopping list". Then find out more about them: What are their interests? Who is financing them? What is the status of these images - how much is still in-copyright versus public domain? Are their images properly described, or do they lack descriptions? Are they affiliated with other institutions? The more you know about them, the more you will be able to figure out what they want.

  • Stage 2: Talk to them.

Introduce yourself and explain what you are doing. Explain to them how Wikimedia Commons works and what you would eventually want to see from this particular institution you are talking with. You can point to existing co-operations, if they seem compatible. It does not hurt to go to exhibitions and congresses that relate to that subject. If you are acting as a group, share your information within the group, to make sure that you are not doing double work.

  • Stage 3: If they say no, wait a few months: Interpret their "no" as a "not yet".

There is no reason why they should refuse to cooperate forever. It just might take some more time for them to process this opportunity. If they say "no, but", following with conditions that are incompatible with Wikimedia Commons, do not abort the negotiation and start telling why their conditions are not possible in the way they propose it. You may encounter proposals from their side that are just made because they do not understand the concept of "Free" and the requirements of commercial usage in an otherwise non-commercial project. If they are given information and options, they are more likely to pick terms of cooperation that we can agree upon.

  • Stage 4: Try mass releases of content first, which will have a larger impact and make future cooperations a bit more likely.

Try to negotiate in a way that leaves room for re-negotiation after a while. Releasing content is a unilateral step on their side, but anything else might require a contract or a cooperation agreement. This will most likely require a legal entity (such as a local chapter) to be the counterpart for a cooperation agreement. Make sure the local chapter is willing and capable to deliver whatever is promised in the contract. In case of doubt, do not promise. If you know your local Wikipedia volunteers well, make sure that the chapter partner commits itself not to do the actual work but to help find the volunteers doing it. You can only make such a commitment when the cooperation is interesting enough for volunteers to participate. At a certain stage, you will have to deal with the question of indemnification and liability. Consulting a lawyer who is familiar with the specifics of Wikimedia AND Free Licenses is essential to avoid a disaster for anyone involved. In any case, it is worth to repeat the most crucial part: Do not promise what you can't deliver. Make sure the cooperation partner knows that and understands how a volunteer-driven organisation works.

Alternatively: Try a small release of content first, which will have a smaller impact but allows you to "go on a few dates before getting married".
  • Stage 5: Enjoy.

Executing a cooperation can be the most rewarding thing you will see, if you like this work. Make sure that you do not get lost in too many projects, better do it serial than parallel. Evaluate your progress and adjust your expectations. Make sure your cooperation partners are happy, too. Their word of mouth can and will be the most important tool in your ongoing work. Talk about your cooperation so that others can hear about it and learn from it. Do not forget stage 0 :)


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  1. John Broughton
  2. Thanks for sharing this with us! --Frank Schulenburg 16:37, 7 August 2009 (UTC)
  3. -- sj | translate | + - but I'd love to see more detail on points 1, 2, and 4.
  4. Yes but with regard to point 4 we on Internal-l are looking forward to read the text of the agreement with Bundesarchiv and Fotothek (German is ok). :-) I think that a key question is: can a volunteer achieve great results or you need to hire someone? If the answer is yes, how can we empower volunteers? --Nemo 20:46, 3 September 2009 (UTC)
  5. Yes thanks.--Juan de Vojníkov 20:32, 14 December 2009 (UTC)
  6. It is totally a starter guide, nice! --Morgand536 20:32, 14 December 2009 (UTC)
  7. Thank you for this guide. Dereckson (talk) 06:32, 10 June 2012 (UTC)
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