As in-person movement events were put on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Wikimedia Foundation's Events staff took the opportunity to reevaluate the strategy, design, and logistics of Foundation-funded and produced movement events to illuminate opportunities for making events more effective, as well as making the event experience better for both participants and organizers.
In June and July of 2020, we conducted 12 interviews with 24 Foundation staff that work strategically with movement events, as well as 9 interviews with 13 Wikimedians (a preliminary discussion) that represent major stakeholders in the event ecosystem. These stakeholders are represented in affiliate leadership from emerging and established communities, movement organizers, and an independent body from the Foundation like the Wikimania Steering Committee. Through these groups of people we were able to get necessary insights for improving the scoping and delivery for events.
On this page, we have summarized the common themes of these interviews and recommendations for improving Foundation-supported events once in-person convenings resume. When we present these themes, we also indicate the percentage of stakeholders who expressed this idea during their interviews.
What did we learn?
- In-person events are critical for building community connection, engagement, and a sense of belonging for those who participate.
- There are many important areas where events can be improved.
- Events can serve a more strategic purpose toward movement growth through a more intentional approach to capacity development for hosting groups and to welcoming newcomers.
- Events can be more equitable, with improvements to event accessibility and the diversity of attendees.
- Events impose a notable logistical burden on hosting groups, and there are many opportunities to relieve this burden.
What comes next?
- Through preliminary discussions with major stakeholder in the ecosystem we were able to identify key areas for improvement in the event space;
- These improvement opportunities will require further partnership with the community to further establish what needs need to be met;
- Partnership with the community will be determined through broader community dialogue, utilizing a number of different channels and approaches over the course of this fiscal year and possibly extending to next.
What role do events serve?
How do Wikimedia events contribute to a Thriving Movement?
In the interviews we conducted, almost all stakeholders said that events are critical for community connection, engagement, and sense of belonging. A common refrain, consistent with the findings of the 2019 Wikimania evaluation, was that in-person interaction humanizes others and gives important context to online relationships (this was expressed in 100% of staff interviews and in 54% of community interviews). These interactions help promote mutual understanding and smooth on-wiki disagreements, both those between volunteers and those between volunteers and Foundation staff. This theme echoed similar findings from focus groups with 2019 Wikimania attendees.
Another common theme was the role that events, especially international ones, play in grounding volunteers in the movement. Exposure to the scope and breadth of the Wikimedia movement--both its members and its many projects--helps volunteers feel they are a part of something bigger (77% of community interviews, 58% staff). These feelings of belonging and exposure to new approaches and projects serve to energize and inspire the Wikimedians who attend (46% community, 83% staff) and can help welcome newcomers to the movement (46% community, 34% staff).
In addition to increasing the quality of the connections between Wikimedians, events also increase their quantity. They are places to meet new collaborators (46% of community interviewees) and to build alliances and partnerships (43% staff, 46% community), both within and outside of the movement. Community stakeholders said that these connections are important for sharing information, as well as for moving action and movement decisions forward. Events also are a tremendous opportunity for capacity-building among participants. In addition to sharing new ideas (50% of staff interviews), events provide unique opportunities for learning (23% community, 42% staff) new tools, approaches, and skills.
Why do we have Wikimania?
All of the community building benefits of movement events mentioned above were called out by community stakeholders as particularly true for Wikimania. Participation builds a sense of belonging (54%), inspires and engages (38%), and connects different parts of the movement together to share ideas and collaborate (62%). Some community stakeholders also mentioned that Wikimania serves to showcase and recognize the diverse work being performed throughout the movement (23%). The purpose of Wikimania was the largest point of tension between staff and community stakeholder interviews: for some staff, Wikimania is an opportunity for outreach to potential partners, donors, and newcomers. For community members, it is a gathering place and celebration of existing Wikipedians.
"It is a weird mix of trying to be a tribal event for Wikimedians, a community event, and an outreach event at the same time. It was never clarified which it should be. It’s hard to combine both purposes in one event." -Wikimedia community organizer.
How can movement events be improved?
Events can serve a more explicitly strategic role, both for the hosting affiliate/group and for the broader movement.
Many staff interviewees pointed out that the events that the Foundation funds should be better-aligned with its strategic priorities, particularly those of a Thriving Movement (42%)--this was articulated in two community stakeholder interviews as well. For staff, this would extend from which events are funded to the prioritization of event themes. Key to aligning with Thriving Movement priorities would be selecting event hosts and locations to better serve movement equity, and making the application process more transparent and accessible.
Several stakeholders highlighted an opportunity for the Foundation to better mobilize its resources and status for a variety of benefits. In addition to collaborating with other free knowledge organizations to create new thematic events, it was proposed in three community and two staff interviews that the Foundation could better promote events through local media and other types of outreach-- for staff (34%), this could serve goals of reaching more potential newcomers, partners, and donors as well.
The area for strategic growth identified far more often in our interviews was related to the capacity development of hosting affiliates or groups. One proposal included making clear the opportunities for affiliates to "level up," leveraging the experience and relationships built by hosting a smaller event to take on larger, higher-profile events. But many stakeholders recommended a more focused approach to ensuring that affiliates and other hosting groups benefited from the experience in the long-term. Staff (25%) and community (46%) stakeholders said that the momentum and benefits of hosting need to be nurtured and tracked-- both the projects and decisions advanced at events, but the elevated profile, new partnerships, and newcomers generated by the hosting experience as well. Several community interviewees pointed out that these benefits are at risk for affiliates for whom hosting poses a significant logistical burden.
Interviewees also expressed a need for a more coherent approach to welcoming newcomers at events. While some thematic or regional events already do this well, 34% of staff interviewees and 23% of community interviewees indicated a need for a coherent strategy to engage and include people new to the movement and/or new to event participation. Some suggestions for this included a mentoring or "buddy" system, pre-event office hours, and workshops for newcomers, especially at larger events. Two interviewees also pointed out that outreach and newcomer support should begin before the event and extend afterwards to better support retention.
Events can do more to promote equity for participants.
More than half (62%) the community stakeholders interviewed saw a need for greater equity in movement event participation. While some pointed out raising awareness or greater investment in thematic and regional events (which are more accessible on a regular basis than Wikimania) as levers for this change, the area of improvement identified most often was the scholarship process (46% community, 17% of staff). In addition to increasing the number of scholarships available and making the process more accessible and transparent, community stakeholders often argued that an equity approach should be used in selecting scholarship recipients--prioritizing participation by newcomers and those who might grow emerging communities, rather than rewarding return participants who already have connections and experience in the movement.
Beyond participation, both staff (42%) and community (79%) stakeholders highlighted a need for increased accessibility in event design. The most frequently cited opportunity was inclusivity for non-native English speakers, utilizing multilingual translation and interpretation for international events. Another common theme was the increased hybridity of events, putting content and documentation of events online to increase accessibility and to better facilitate translation and interpretation (46% community, 42% staff). A variety of other inclusive design ideas were suggested-- embracing neurodiversity at more events, providing childcare and food takeaway, and tailoring learning experiences to participants' existing capacities.
The logistical burden of hosting an event can be alleviated.
While hosting an event can offer many benefits to an affiliate or hosting group, it also can pose a burden to hosts, especially those that have fewer resources or are less institutionally established (67% staff interviews, 23% community). The stakeholders we interviewed had a variety of suggestions to remedy this, and the most frequent recommendations centered on an open-source toolkit for event organizers (75% of staff, 54% community). Such a toolkit would help to make institutional knowledge available to organizers, particularly first-time ones, who often find themselves reinventing the wheel. Resources that might be made available included those supporting event design, branding, presentations, virtual event tools, safe and secure spaces training, lessons learned, and event management software. Some also mentioned a content library and a platform or guide for documentation of what happens or is decided at events.
While several community stakeholders said that support and guidance from events staff had been helpful, we also heard from some community and staff stakeholders that the availability of this support was not widely known by community event organizers. Community stakeholders were more likely to call for an expansion of that support, with Foundation-led trainings of volunteer organizers in event design and management (46%). While some staff echoed the need for more systematic support and training in event management, more suggested that event production logistics should, at least in some cases, be delegated to local third-parties (36%). Some community stakeholders (21%) suggested this as well-- that smaller events could benefit from a local contractor or Foundation staff dedicated to handling certain event logistics.
Foundation staff can participate in movement events more effectively.
Foundation staff attendance at movement events is key to some of the work the Foundation does. All staff interview participants (100%) underlined the importance of those spaces in building and maintaining productive relationships with Wikimedia communities. Some examples provided were the opportunity to identify funding inclusion gaps and clarify grant processes, to learn more about the needs of movement organizers, or to repair and strengthen Foundation-community relationships. The importance of events to these relationships was a recurring theme. Interviewees found in-person interaction to help provide legitimacy to Foundation staff in the eyes of community members and to provide a deeper understanding of Wikimedians among staff.
Foundation staff we spoke with did often mention the need for a clearer rationale for which staff should attend community events, and what they should do while they are in attendance (83% of staff interviews). Around one-third (36%) suggested that event attendance should be a part of staff onboarding. They also often mentioned that staff participation could be more structured, including targeted opportunities to connect with Foundation staff about hot-button issues, providing facilitation for certain strategic sessions, and informed by a clear strategy to challenge the existing power relationship between the Foundation and communities.
Opportunities for improvement
Following the preliminary conversations we had with respondents that participated in the Event Refresh interviews, we were able to identify areas for improvement in the event space to ensure that we can meet our movement’s vision and goals.
We have identified key relationships and opportunities in these buckets of work that we need to improve on. Within these buckets we have identified relevant projects that the Events Team will be leading improvements on. Some of these projects will require engagement and partnerships with our community to better understand needs in order to better design solutions.
|Process||Procedures and methodologies the Events Team utilizes to produce key results.|
|Communication & Awareness||Awareness and shared understanding of intended outcomes.|
|Strategy||Plan of action with an unambiguous definition of intended outcomes, to align with our 2030 strategic direction and medium term plan.|
|Systems||Collection of tools and resources to facilitate event ecosystem management, including: grant funding, scholarship management, evaluation, capacity building, risk management and reporting.|
|Accessibility||Capabilities that enable autonomous self-organization and participation.|
The Events Team will be creating a plan to engage with the community on projects aligned to the improvement areas referenced above. The intention of these broader discussions is to provide a venue for stakeholders to provide their perspectives so they can be taken into account when devising solutions, or to partner with the community in co-designing solutions.
We will be connecting with communities to better understand and design for their needs for these first three projects:
Project: Capacity Building
- Outputː Establish capacity building and delivery practices
- Outcome: Greater access to high-quality learning materials and for connecting colleagues and external sectors to the Movement for learning, support and growth
Project: Participation Accessibility Toolkit
- Outputː Create an accessibility toolkit including: convening models, language, cultural context and neurodiverse needs.
- Outcome: Greater participation accessibility regardless of linguistic, technological, cultural, economic, social, and other barriers of event participants.
Project: Event Ecosystem Design
- Outputː Create a framework surfacing the intentionality of how our community events interact.
- Outcome: Sustainable continuity of valuable exchanges through the connectedness of our events
In addition to broader discussions, we will also be launching Events Team office hours for those interested to engage with members of the Events Team. These office hours are meant to be a venue where we can provide real-time support to current and potential organizers, facilitate events related Q&A, share updates etc.