Grants:Conference/WMDE/Wikimedia Conference 2018/Report
Scope & Format
The Wikimedia Conference 2018 took place in Berlin from 20 to 22 April, 2018. It is the annual meeting of all Wikimedia organizations (Wikimedia chapters, thematic organizations, user groups, and the Wikimedia Foundation), as well as other committees to discuss the future of the Wikimedia movement in terms of strategy, collaboration, and organizational development. This conference was hosted and organized by Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) and funded by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF). The 2018 conference was the fourth conference organized with full staff support by Wikimedia Deutschland, after the model was introduced in 2015.
The Wikimedia Conference 2018 largely build upon the concept of the 2017 conference, but has been improved and adjusted according to changes in logistics and program needs. We could largely benefit from our experiences and learnings from hosting this conference for almost a decade.
A program of three tracks for three days
One core topic of the Wikimedia Conference 2018 was the continuation of the movement strategy process and the kick-off for the Phase 2 of the process. At the 2017 conference, participants were invited to explore where the Wikimedia movement should be headed. These conversations were highly engaging and created a moment of excitement and inspiration among participants that was beneficial for the whole first phase of the strategy process.
At the 2018 conference, participants were challenged to discuss and pave the actual way towards the Strategic Direction by preparing a process for Working Groups that are intended to draft recommendations for how the movement should change in order to evolve towards the Strategic Direction of becoming the “essential infrastructure in the ecosystem of Free Knowledge”, with the two strategic priorities “Knowledge as a Service” and “Knowledge Equity”. These conversations were less about “dreaming our future” like in 2017 but more about concrete changes on the structural level. This led not only to fewer participants engaged, but also to a more hard-working atmosphere – quite the opposite of the 2017 euphoria. Around 50-60 participants set the ground for the upcoming weeks and months of Phase 2 of the movement strategy process.
Again, the movement strategy track was designed and facilitated by Bhavesh Patel, Rob Lancaster and Luís Manuel Pinto, with additional support of Anna Lena Schiller, Olha Kortska and the haptic facilitation tools by Studio Amore.
The other two programmatic tracks of the Wikimedia Conference – “Movement Partnerships” track and “Capacity Building & Learning” track – were also designed in a similar process as in 2017, but slightly improved:
The Partnerships track was mainly designed by WMDE partnerships experts, Nikki Zeuner and Julia Kirchner, with additional support by the Global Reach & Partnerships team of the Wikimedia Foundation. The design of the track was changed based on the learnings of the previous Wikimedia Conference, as well as our learnings from the CEE Meeting 2017, the Partnerships Workshop in November 2017, WikiIndaba and the input given by participants in the registration form. With a mix of strong learning sessions (3 x 2 hrs session of the so-called “Partnerships Playbook (1), (2), (3)”), peer-to-peer support sessions (2 x 1 hrs sessions called the “Partnerships Market” and the “Partnerships Clinic”) and inspirational sessions (3 x 1 h sessions called “Sharing talks” about partnerships with GLAMs, educational partners and grassroot movements). Overall, programmatically, we are quite happy with the content provided and how the sessions went. Moving the strategic (“meta level”) conversations around partnerships to the movement strategy track and having more practical sessions was a good idea, nevertheless, it meant that the Partnerships track was somewhat cannibalized by the other tracks, and partially lacked experts because they needed to attend other sessions.
The capacity building track was again designed based on the participants’ input provided in the registration form. As for the 2016 and 2017 conference, we created a manifold program with a diverse range of topics. We encouraged more speakers not coming from the Wikimedia Foundation or bigger chapters to be a speaker in these sessions and encouraged speakers not to hold one-to-many presentations. However, especially the capacity building track shows the limits of this conference: Already while designing the track, choosing the topics, and finding the speakers for them it became clear that it is hard to create a program that fulfills the diverse needs of all participants, both content- and topic-wise. It is hard to create sessions that are equally meaningful and not too abstract to be able to provide knowledge and skills that are applicable globally. Also providing “beginner” and “advanced” sessions wouldn’t help, as contexts of attending affiliates have become too different from each other, so that single sessions wouldn’t cover everyone’s issues – even at an “advanced” level. Also, we had many more participants that attended the Wikimedia Conference for the first time and thus did not attend the movement strategy track as internally expected. Instead, the other tracks were much more attended, and rooms were overcrowded.
Smooth logistics with three main challenges: late registrations, travel booking and wifi stability
Logistics-wise, we have again delivered a very well organized event. Planning and managing the logistics around the conference and its side events was within the responsibility of the logistics team, comprising of Daniela and Michelle. The tasks of the logistics team focused, among others, on the following areas: venue, hotel, catering, travel (for the first time), cost, personnel and communication management. The driving factor for the team was to establish and set the adequate framework for a smooth implementation of the program as well as a carefree participant experience beforehand and on site.
The team highly prioritized to reduce the “stress of the unknown” for the participants, and to arrange everything so everyone could arrive and participate in the event with everything they needed and in a good frame of mind. That is why we invested a lot of time and effort into particularly improving the participant management processes (for further information see lessons learned section). As a whole, the event management team broadened their in-house know-how, especially regarding travel booking.
Three main things were particularly time and resource consuming in terms of logistics: Coping with the impact of late registrations, taking over the complex travel booking process and providing good wifi.
Keeping the registration form open until mid January, unnecessarily caused a backlog of follow-up tasks (like visa and travel arrangements) due to a massive amount of last minute registrations. Although we were able to cope with it, a lot of stress could have been avoided by closing the registration before mid December.
The biggest chunk of work, where we could not build upon our experience from previous years, was without a doubt the fact that we took over the whole travel management for funded participants (so-called “Group 2” and “Group 4”). We hired an additional team member (Michelle) to take care of all the necessary communication between participants, travel agency, hotel, embassies and the Wikimedia Foundation. While we managed everything well, there is room for improvement. Taking over a new area of responsibility makes optimization potential apparent.
After last year’s unsufficient wifi service provided by the venue, we rented a special high-speed connection for the conference only. Despite of larger costs and time spent on negotiating and consulting, we were quite happy with our solution. The wifi was running fastly and reliantly throughout all days of the pre- and main conference. Only very few participants complained about wifi issues.
We would like to highlight that the organizing team did not manage the whole conference organization single-handedly, but fortunately could rely on the support of various Wikimedia Deutschland colleagues, who provided their time and expertise – not only before and after the conference, but in part also on-site at the venue.
Overall: A great event
Overall, we are absolutely satisfied about the whole organization of the conference – based on our personal point of view, as well as on the feedback we received by the participants. However, we have the feeling that this event has gone beyond its limits and the original concept as laid out back in 2015. While we appreciate and praise the growth of the number of affiliates, and thus the Wikimedia movement, we think that a conference with 300+ – mostly diverse – participants does not function as a “working conference” anymore.
This is why we do not intent to continue the “one stop shop” concept for the Wikimedia Conference, but instead move towards a more diverse “ecosystem” of events. This conference will focus on what it can do best as a global event: Provide a platform for conversations and development around the ongoing movement strategy process and future governance processes of the movement, while regional and thematic events should be strengthened both in terms of logistics and program support, to offer the best platform for regionally tailored learning opportunities.
Did you meet your goals?
|Measure (as proposed in the grant)||Results||Compliance|
|85% of participants agreed that the conference improved the understanding of the movement strategy (within the movement strategy track).||35 % Strongly agree + 55 % agree (= 90 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants agreed that the conference improved understanding of partnerships in the context of the Wikimedia movement.||30 % Strongly agree + 56 % agree (= 86 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants agreed that the conference provided applicable knowledge and improved capacities.||38 % Strongly agree + 52 % agree (= 90 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants agreed that the conference made satisfactorily clear the significance of sharing and collaboration in the Wikimedia movement.||47 % Strongly agree + 48 % agree (= 95 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with the selection of topics.||26 % Strongly agree + 62 % agree (= 88 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with the quality of contributions.||28 % Strongly agree + 61 % agree (= 89 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with communication regarding the program design process before conference.||51 % Strongly agree + 40 % agree (= 91 % in total)||Complied|
|40% of the 2017 conference participants engage in the structured follow-up process 12 months after the conference. Engaging means participation in working groups, discussions, special events etc.||Actually, as the Movement Strategy Phase 1 was part of it, we expect that this metric was complied. In our survey, over 30 %, who attended the Wikimedia Conference 2017, mentioned that they had done Strategy related activities.||Complied|
|30% of people involved in the structured follow-up process are from outside the group of WMCON 2017 participants.||Actually, as the Movement Strategy Phase 1 was part of it, we expect that this metric was complied.||Complied|
|For Wikimedia Conference 2018: minimum 50% of the 2018 program activities pursue major topics of the 2017 conference or build upon related outcomes/follow-up work of the 2017 conference.||N/A||N/A|
|At the 2018 conference, a minimum of 80% of the participants which have also attended the 2017 conference report that the 2017 conference led to tangible outcomes for their work.||32 % Strongly agree + 60 % agree (= 92 % in total)||Complied|
|50% of the 2018 conference topics lead to concrete outcomes (e.g. documented next steps or wrap ups, learning patterns, established working groups, continued conversations, joined activities, binding decisions) – either at the conference itself or between the 2017 and 2018 conferences.||N/A, to be compiled later||N/A|
|Topics of the Wikimedia Conference have a continuance at Wikimania in a dedicated track or space (as qualified by dedicated Wikimania sessions, participation of 2018 conference participants at the dedicated sessions, etc.); this may be applied to other subsequent conferences as well.||WMCON Follow-Up Day at Wikimania planned||N/A|
|At least two major topics of the follow-up process are incorporated into the program of a regional conference (IberoConf, CEE Meeting, or similar) as multipliers for the WMCON topics.||N/A, to be compiled later||N/A|
|At least two shared learning documents created by WMDE on the topic of organizing the Wikimedia Conference were applied by organizers of other Wikimedia movement events (as qualified by mentions in their reports, documented communication or direct feedback).||N/A, to be compiled later||N/A|
|85 % of the participants agreed that they could use the conference as an opportunity to share knowledge with other Wikimedians.||59 % Strongly agree + 39 % agree (= 98 % in total)||Complied|
|85 % of the participants agreed that they could use the conference as an opportunity to gain knowledge from other Wikimedians.||68 % Strongly agree + 31 % agree (= 99 % in total)||Complied|
|85 % of the participants agreed that they could use the conference as an opportunity of better understanding each other's views.||50 % Strongly agree + 43 % agree (= 93 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with the communication from the organizers before the conference.||77 % Strongly agree + 23 % agree (= 100 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with support from organizers during the conference.||77 % Strongly agree + 21 % agree (= 98 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with the visa service.||74 % Strongly agree + 24 % agree (= 98 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with the atmosphere at the conference venue.||59 % Strongly agree + 39 % agree (= 98 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with travel booking support (from the WMDE travel coordinator and travel agency).||75 % Strongly agree + 24 % agree (= 99 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with accommodation.||64 % Strongly agree + 34 % agree (= 98 % in total)||Complied|
|85% of participants were satisfied with social events.||44 % Strongly agree + 48 % agree (= 92 % in total)||Complied|
Conferences and events do not always go according to plan. Sharing what you learned can help you and others plan similar projects in the future. Help the movement learn from your experience by answering the following questions:
What worked well at the event?
Great program with good speakers
The Wikimedia Conference is a conference where people learn, work and discuss: We provided an official program of around 50 hours with strong programmatic input as well as a space to share experiences, get to know and learn from each other. We put a strong emphasis on a program that is designed based on the input given by participants, enriched with the expertise from several experienced Wikimedians. As the range of participants got even more diverse this year, we also diversified this program, especially the capacity building track, to fulfill the majority of wishes and needs. For all the sessions we found speakers with great knowledge and passion to share their experiences.
Last year, we had introduced a format called “Sharing talks”; which basically are structured, well prepared lightning talks where 4 speakers have 10 minutes speaking time each and 5 minutes of Q&A. We used this format again in 2018 with 16 speakers and it worked really well. Not only to inspire participants, but also to motivate people who haven’t spoken at an event before, to speak up.
Also, the different formats (practical teaching, peer-to-peer exchange, sharing formats) used in the Partnerships track mostly worked great, and we are happy to have invested so much time and effort into it. We are planning to share some of the session formats as “session templates”, which can then be used at other Wikimedia movement events.
Regarding the movement strategy track, we are happy with the overall flow and the formats that our facilitators Bhavesh Patel, Luís Manuel Pinto and Rob Lancaster have developed. By using their methods in 2017 and 2018 we have set a standard for (offline) participatory movement conversations in the Wikimedia world.
Routine in creating the program, briefing and debriefing
The program of the Wikimedia Conference 2018 was the fourth coordinated by Cornelius, the Program and Engagement Coordinator of the conference, and the third using a pre-conference survey in the registration form as the main input for the program. Iterating and (thus improving) it every year, we got quite a good routine in designing, shaping and preparing the program.
By reducing time on this, we freed time for additional activities around the program, like briefing and debriefing (most of) the speakers via Hangout calls. This way, we were able to clarify a lot of questions and doubts verbally, and avoid misunderstandings in longer email threads (see also our Learning Pattern last year about it).
Social media profiles
Together with Anna Lena Schiller, who was supporting us already before the conference, we set up a better developed plan for pre-conference engagement. We created a structured overview with all calendar weeks between January and April and added a diverse range of pre-conference (online) activities to it. This way, it was easy to follow the plan and prepare a lot of activities beforehand.
One of these activities was to use the social media channels (the Facebook event and the Twitter handle) much more proactively and share more information and images before the event. We adapted one idea from Wikimedia Sverige, where they presented volunteers with a photo and a quote on a regular basis on Facebook and Twitter. We named our idea #wmconfaces: We chose to present one participant per day, including a freely licensed photo and a quote that the participant had shared with us in the answers of the registration form. Participants loved the idea! We got a lot of shares and likes, and were able to present the diverse range of participants beforehand in a compelling way. We also only used already existing material (photos from Commons and quotes from the survey), so the amount of work invested was limited. This idea worked so well that we plan to share this learning as a special learning pattern in the near future.
We also tested something called #wmconhistory, where we shared facts, figures, anecdotes and photos about previous Wikimedia Conferences. This did not really work out – there were almost no reactions to it, and it needed much more work in preparing, so we stopped it after presenting the conferences 2009–2013.
Great follow-up work with the partnerships group, the Volunteer Supporters and the Communication people
We would like to highlight another learning that was crucial in preparing the Wikimedia Conference: Our experience from the follow-up events organized in November 2017, namely the Partnerships Workshop (staff and volunteers working around partnerships on a strategic level) and the Volunteer Supporters Network meeting (staff members of Wikimedia Chapters that work in volunteer support).
Both events were organized as follow-up activities to the previous Wikimedia Conference 2017 to keep the engagement about these two important topics high. At the Partnerships Workshop, participants discussed the topic partnerships in light of the Strategic Direction and wrote a position paper around it. At the Volunteer Supporters Network workshop, participants discussed areas of impact of volunteer support and shared challenges and problems in their daily work.
Both workshops prepared inputs for the Wikimedia Conference 2018. The position paper written by the Partnerships Workshop participants was important for setting the stage for Phase 2 of the Wikimedia movement strategy process. It was shared with all Wikimedia Conference participants. The mentioned “impact areas of Volunteer Support” were shared in a workshop session at the Wikimedia Conference as well (see 48. The 6 pillars of community support).
In general, both meetings show that it becomes more and more usual among Wikimedians to meet face to face, detached from larger movement events like Wikimania and the Wikimedia Conference. Our aim is to foster and broaden these thematic workshops or meet-ups, both in terms of topics (“Communication/PR” could be such a topic) and participants (not only affiliate staff members), while we need to explore how to fund these. We see this aligned with our wish to strengthen regional and thematic conferences, which also implies to have funds available for work weekends for a smaller amount of participants.
Participant management under one roof – taking over travel administration
For the first time this year, travel booking for the majority of all conference participants (Group 2 and 4 according to the eligibility criteria) was within the responsibility of Wikimedia Deutschland.
For this reason, we contracted a Germany-based travel agency to support us in order to secure our level of professionalism in the field of travel management.
Our travel agent acted in close coordination with us; knowing when to consult with the WMCON travel coordinator and when to directly respond to participants requests. Prior to working hand in hand with the contracted travel agency though, long-lasting consultations (4 months before the start of the registration) and an extensive briefing on the complexity of the Wikimedia Conference and it's travel processes were key to success.
With WMDE coordinating travels, several improvements could be achieved compared to last year:
- Having an overall overview of participants travel details and booking statuses, allowed us to easier complete related tasks e.g. handling hotel bookings according to confirmed travel dates or ensuring that visa applicants received a travel plan in time before their visa appointments.
- The flow of communication and information was enhanced by minimizing the points of contact. Further, the two points of contact (WMCON travel coordinator and contracted travel agency) were working within the same time zone, which was beneficial for fast consultations. Unlike in previous years, our travel agency was open to direct correspondence with participants, which shortened the reply time on several occasions. Whenever directly replying to participants, the respective travel agent kept us in the loop. As a result, WMDE was fully aware of what information was already shared and what still needed to be communicated in follow-up emails. Communication also eased thanks to the WMCOM travel coordinator being involved in the additional proceedings of the conferences logistics, thus being able to help along with requests going beyond travel and serving as the key contact person for all participants.
- Finally, it was crucial to have the travel coordinator on site during the conference and based in the city where the event took place. Due to this fact, we could react to difficulties, for example the need for strike-related rebookings, without further ado. Moreover, with an insight into happenings in Berlin (like interrupted air traffic), we were able to provide a heads-up or advice, keeping the level of our service high.
As can be seen in the surveys results, participant satisfaction with travel support increased – with 99 % of all participants rating it as excellent or good (last year 94% of respondents rated it as excellent or good).
Especially when taking up a new area of responsibility, room for improvement is obvious, therefore we'll be working on even smoother travel processes moving forward.
High service level provided before and during WMCON
A lot of attention and effort was put into offering high-quality service to our participants before as well as during the conference to make their stay and attendance as comfortable and easy as possible. The participant support before the event encompassed the adequate provision of information, responding to individual questions and requests mainly in regards to visa, hotel and travel related aspects. All measures taken in this regard were supposed to reduce any uncertainties for participants so that each guest could arrive and participate in good spirit, with peace of mind. The result of the feedback survey showed that the service level provided beforehand to the participants was evaluated very satisfactory (100% of the respondents rated the beforehand support as excellent or good).
For a positive overall experience on site, personalized participant service and little details matter a lot and add up regarding how participants feel about the event. Among others the following services were offered in this regard:
- Post box for every participant including a picture (to see who is at the event and to send offline messages to participants)
- Conference guide (including directions, important addresses and recommendations of the WMCON organization team on places to visit)
- Map of the neighborhood with specific points of interest
- Printing service (printing boarding passes, session material etc.)
- Charging cell phones/laptops
- Hygiene supplies in the restrooms
- Name tag for the plushes of the Wikimedia Cuteness Association
- Childcare service
- Facilitating the international candy table
The registration/help desk was supposed to be the central point of contact for any kind of (participant) request. Locating this desk at the heart of the venue, was intended to make it easy for participants to drop by at any time to get practical help and advice. To offer the best convenience to the participants, the desk was open throughout the whole day (opened at least one hour before the start of the program and closed the earliest one hour after the program ended).
Each of the services was appreciated by the participants and contributed to the satisfaction level of the participants: 98% of the respondents rated the support during the conference as good or excellent.
Well-working wifi throughout the conference venue*
(*not to be confused with wifi on hotel rooms)
Offering wifi access at events is necessary. In general, but especially for Wikimedia events, a good wifi connection is essential to keep participants satisfied and enable them to work or edit. In view of last year’s wifi problems at Mercure Hotel, we invested a lot of time in researching for adequate solutions and service providers. This also involved a lot of consultation with our internal IT. In the end, we decided to contract a company, with which we already have worked and trust in. Moreover, it was crucial that the company is based in Berlin to guarantee a fast on-site support, if needed.
While we have received a lot of complaints about the slow and unreliable wifi in 2017, almost no problems were reported in this regard to us this year.
Creating a favorable environment for socializing activities
At the Wikimedia Conference a diverse crowd from all corners of the world gathers in an offline context, making social networking one of the core elements of the conference. Creating an environment to support networking and offering opportunities to easily get to know new people or strengthen existing bonds was achieved by several logistic measures.
To start with, all participants were accommodated in the same hotel. With a hotel full of Wikimedians it’s easy to socialize with the like-minded; either in the hotel lobby, at the bar or at the breakfast table.
Additionally, on the evenings after the conference program, we offered dinner in a shared space at the conference venue. Serving dinner, food and drinks at the conference venue right after the sessions increased the probability of everyone joining in on this program part, allowing participants to chat with one another while reflecting on the passed conference day.
In order to keep people together in the venue, we handed out alcoholic beverage vouchers (2 per evening) for everyone to use, thus being beneficial for social interaction amongst all different participants. The positive effect of these measures were clearly noticeable: while participants left the venue for dinner or brought in their own alcoholic drinks to Mercure in the previous year, this time noticeably more people stayed at the hotel.
Making break-out-rooms for thematic, regional or language-specific meetups available throughout the conference is one more measure to create a supportive environment for networking. Still, please see our thoughts on improving the organization of meetups below.
The importance of a change of scene and leaving the conference venue for at least one evening should not be overlooked. Therefore, we organized a party on Saturday evening in a nearby venue called CRCLR. Again, we distributed beverage vouchers to enable everyone to enjoy the drinks offered. A party is always favourable for connecting in a less professional context, dancing the night away on the dance floor or talking in more quieter areas. Luckily, the party venue offered separate areas for dancing and networking. As an icebreaker and conversation starter, we further created a human bingo party game, which was distributed at the entrance of the venue and participants were very eager to complete.
Last but not least, our colleague and local Wikipedian Martin Rulsch volunteered to give tours through the city of Berlin after the conference. Plenty of participants accepted his offer and together explored the city that hosted them for the past days. The guided tours were great not only for sightseeing, but also for making friends and meeting people to spend the additional days in Berlin with.
What did not work so well? What would you do differently next time?
Low attendance in the official program, and in general
One of the major issues at this Wikimedia Conference was a huge lack of actual attendance. Overall, 289 people had registered at the venue ( = took their name badge, excluding organizers, facilitators, further WMDE staff). Nevertheless, the official program was not as frequented as expected. Even worse, we expected around 100 participants in the movement strategy track and up to 40 in the Partnerships track – both had only half of the attendance. Sessions in the capacity building track were, in opposite, slightly overcrowded (~80 participants instead of ~60 expected).
Adding up all the numbers, you notice that there is a huge gap of participants. Up to 50 participants per day were missing in the official program, on Sunday we counted all participants in the whole building and were surprised about the low attendance of only 200 participants.
Reasons for this low attendance are manifold:
- The weather was extraordinarily good. While we hoped for good weather, temperatures were perceived as really good, and some participants felt the necessity to explore the city while being in Berlin. While we appreciate that participants like the hosting city, morally, we cannot accept that participants do not take part in a program that was designed especially for them. The costs for one Foundation funded participant round up to 2500,- Euro – which is donor money.
- As in previous years, the Wikimedia Conference has developed towards a platform for fringe events and meetings. While we generally appreciate this development, we are concerned about the fact that important stakeholders, among them the Affiliations Committee, the Simple APG committee and the FDC, scheduled meetings during the whole conference instead of participating in important conversations on the future of the movement.
- The turnover rate – people who attended the conference for the first time – was much higher than expected. Around 50 to 60 percent of the people attended the conference for the first time. As we have already written in our 3 Year Report (WMCON15–17), we see that first-timers do not go the strategy track, but to the capacity building track.
As we noticed that so many participants are missing in the sessions, we wonder if the program is and/or the audience's mindset the right one. Attendance of this conference should not be seen as a reward for good community work.
In general, we see the following possibilities to increase the actual attendance in the sessions:
- Decrease the number of participants. By having a smaller number of participants (around 150-200), there is more peer pressure among participants to stay in the venue, as missing persons are noticed more quickly.
- Move the venue to a remote location. While we like the idea in general, it causes more logistical issues and disadvantages than advantages.
- Create a meeting day on which (mainly) all specific meetings are scheduled, so we avoid scheduling conflicts during the main conference program.
We do not see this event as a “consuming” event, like Wikimania, where attendance is fluctuating, but as a working conference.
Limits of the program and lack of professional speakers from emerging communities
One of the major challenges in designing a program along the participants’ wishes, needs and experiences is to focus and prioritize certain topics over others. As already written, the audience of this conference becomes more diverse from year to year – and thus makes it difficult to cover the number of wished-for topics in an appropriate manner (by sessions) but also by level of experience. Furthermore, we have tried to work with speakers to keep session topics on a more abstract level to share knowledge and skills, which might be applicable globally. This is quite complicated, especially for more “programmatic” topics, like GLAM partnerships and educational partnerships.
At the same time, some participants have complained in the feedback survey, that sessions were either too basic or either too advanced – you find both perspectives equally represented in the survey results. We do not see a concrete solution here for the conference. Even more, we think that a global learning event has strong limitations in terms of program design, to be able to provide a relevant, meaningful and qualitatively good program without re-creating (post-)colonial structures – the Wikimedia Foundation and European Wikimedia Chapters “teaching” “the others” how to do things “properly”.
This brings us to a further challenge: While we have mentioned in another lessons learned (above) that we make an effort to include more speakers that do not come from or represent views of the Wikimedia Foundation and/or bigger (European) Chapters, it’s difficult to find speakers from Emerging Communities that have the skills to host a 60 minutes workshop session. We are totally aware that this might sound harsh, but from what we observe and from what participants tell us in the registration form, we see that the Wikimedia movement lacks learning opportunities for untrained speakers. We need more encouragement, empowerment and resources so that Wikimedians from Emerging Communities are able to step up and host workshops.
There is the famous “ladder of participation” by Roger Hart (see also this diagram). It says that before someone can take proper decisions on their own, there are several steps before. Applying this to the Wikimedia Conference, it means, that as organizers, we can create formats to involve participants who have never been a speaker before, for example by designing specific low-threshold sessions (see the above mentioned “Sharing talks”) providing opportunities for sharing and presenting can be the first step. However, it shouldn’t stop there: In a larger perspective, we urge the Wikimedia movement to invest more in trainings to empower conference participants to host more ambitious sessions. Trainings at regional and thematic conferences can be a first step.
The audience of this conference is wonderfully diverse, in terms of backgrounds, skills, knowledge, but especially in languages. Nevertheless, as one participant mentioned in the survey, this conference appeared “awfully monolingual”. We acknowledge this.
We discussed prior to the conference (check also this Facebook thread) how to make the Wikimedia Conference more multilingual. Simultaneous translations is simply not affordable; that goes way beyond our budget. We have thought about live subtitling (as we think reading comprehension is more widely spread than listening comprehension for English) and had inquired offers, but they were also way beyond our budget (offers started at 2000 Euro for 2 hours – before taxes).
At the conference, we got feedback around this and would suggest to proactively connect more participants that share the same language to support each other. This could mean that we create “volunteer translator groups” with participants that are fluent in English and would volunteer to do a consecutive translation. At the Wikimedia Conference 2018, we already had a kind of prototype of this, as a Carmen Alcázar from Wikimedia Mexico shared her story in the session “16. Sharing approaches on partnerships with grassroots movements” in Spanish, while her colleague Iván Martínez translated it (consecutively) to English. Well planned ahead, this could be better prepared and more time allocated for it.
Last-minute registration rush resulted in backlog of follow-up tasks
There are many important elements to consider when planning and designing the registration process for an event: from choosing an adequate registration software, over determining an appropriate registration period, to designing the registration form (to make sure that all crucial information and details are collected).
Looking at the actual point of time when people mainly registered for the conference, and the impact it had on follow up tasks such as visa application, travel booking and other logistical aspects, we learned that the registration period wasn’t ideally timed by us.
This year the registration period started on November 29, 2017 and ended on January 15, 2018. By December 31, 2017 only 15% of the participants signed up (in the past the it was more balanced throughout the whole registration period). Therefore, we got in touch with affiliations of which no representative had registered until this point. We figured out that decisions on who to send to the conference were planned to be made in the first or second week of January, as the registration deadline allowed to do so.
As a consequence of 85 % of all registrations rolling in within a week, we weren’t able to process incoming registrations gradually as in the past, but were facing a backlog of requests that resulted in a delay of reply and processing times. For the upcoming conference, we are considering to define an earlier registration period and closing the registration form before mid December.
While we particularly recommended people, who are in need of a visa to register until mid of December to allow enough time for their visa application, and even sent special reminders in this regard, only around ⅓ of the visa participants registered until the end of 2017. Consequently, we are assuming that a lot of participants underestimated the time required for going through the visa process.
Taking care of visa formalities at an early stage is crucial, considering the poor availability of visa appointments at some embassies/consulates (sometimes up to 4 months of waiting time), long visa processing times in general and especially in case of an appeal against a visa denial. While we mostly asked participants to give us a status update on their visa application (visa obtained/rejected), we are planning to more urgently remind participants of the importance of making visa appointments right away. Stressing the consequences of starting late with the visa application process (e.g. no available appointment before the conference date, thus ultimately not being able to attend) might help as well.
Limits of finding a venue that fulfills all our needs
Finding the perfect venue is a challenging task and often means making compromises. Having been content with Mercure’s room capacity, flexibility, their professional event support and price-performance ratio in the past, we decided to once again host the Wikimedia Conference at this very hotel. Although the lack of daylight in the hotel’s main meeting room and its more business-like atmosphere is a major disadvantage, other venues entirely meeting our requirements (especially hosting 300 participants) and providing the above mentioned services are hard to come by. In the long run, however, we are aiming for a venue that offsets these disadvantages. Compared to last year, we unfortunately experienced two further complaints regarding the venue: First, the smaller meetings rooms (all apart from Kindl) strongly heated up due to the sunny weather. Even though all these rooms were equipped with air conditioning systems, they are programmed to stop working once windows are opened. Understandably, opening the window to get fresh air into the room is usually the first impulse. To avoid heat disruptions in the future, we will brief our room angels on this matter, so that they can explain and if needed intervene. Beyond that, the on-site-staff will also keep a closer look on these rooms. Secondly, too little seating was available in the smaller meeting rooms as the movement strategy track in the main room was not as highly attended as expected (also see above on the lesson learned related to “Low attendance in the official program, and in general”). Having this in mind, a different setting for the smaller rooms with more seats instead of tables might be suitable. This would also allow for more flexibility in quickly and uncomplicatedly adding or removing seats.
Double role as event host and safety team member proved to be suboptimal
The Friendly Space Policy of the Wikimedia Foundation was again put in place at the Wikimedia Conference and was enforced by us before (publishing it on event web page) as well as during the event (printing posters to be displayed at the venue, reminding people of the policy during the opening etc.). Three people of the core WMCON organizing team along with three Support and Safety staff members were the designated contact persons in case of safe space incidents. During the event itself, however, we noticed that it is very challenging to combine and fulfill this role while being the event host at the same time. While one wants to create a comfortable atmosphere and take time for a person that would like to report an incident, unfortunately, one might not be able to do so while observing the event proceedings and making sure that the event is running smoothly. Luckily, the Support and Safety staff was on site and took care of incidents without any further need of us being involved. As a consequence, we wouldn’t like to mix the role of the event host and safety space contact persons in the future.
Saturday’s dinner hosted at the party venue came along restrictions
By tradition, dinner on Saturday evening was offered at the venue where the party took place. This year, this concept unfortunately came along with some challenges. With the venue having strict value-related guidelines, what and from whom to cater, our options were limited and we were tied to the venue’s caterer. For instance, this meant that only vegetarian options could be provided; much to the dissatisfaction of some participants. Should we again face these restrictions, we need to detach ourselves from the stated tradition. One possible solution would be to host the dinner at the conference venue, before making the way to the party. Thereby we would be able to sufficiently cater the various dietary preferences. Furthermore, not having to provide infrastructure for a hosted dinner would increase our search radius for suitable venues.
The wish for spontaneous meetups exceeded the venue’s capacity Offering slots and space for meetups besides and after the conference program is essential. While we were aware of this request and tried to cater for it as good as possible, this years’ demand immensely exceeded the capacities of the venue. During all three conference days we made one room available, which could be booked for meetups. This service was excessively utilised. In addition, all rooms of Mercure were reserved on Friday evening for thematic/regional/language-specific meetups. For organizing the get-together the initiators could publish their event on meta and people could sign up for it. Most of the events were added on the page last minute (on Thursday or on the day itself), which made it really hard to meet the demand. As a consequence of having too few rooms available for the amount of meetups planned, several smaller meetup groups were accommodated in the same room (big conference room). Thus, the meeting situation and atmosphere was not ideal due to the loudness in the room. In order to offer more meetup possibilities in the future, bars or community spaces nearby the venue could be reserved as back-up options. On top of that, we shall better promote the possibility to use the rooms for evening meetups after the official program.
This section describes the grant's use of funds
|Cost Category||Category Description||Budgeted Costs||Actual Costs||% of Budget Spent||Explanation to Variances from Budget|
|Conference Costs||Location rental, catering, technical equipment, wifi, facilitators, documentation, childcare, support staff||92.000 €||91.259,22 €||99,19 %|
|Dinner Snack Costs||Dinner and beverages for 3 nights||20.000 €||20.625 €||103,13 %|
|Social Event Costs||Location rental, catering, beverages, DJ, support staff||16.000 €||14.700,14 €||91,88 %|
|Travel and Transport Costs On-Site||Travel costs volunteers/facilitators, material transport, public transport tickets for participants||6.000 €||3.284,16 €||54,74 %||Due to the uncertainty in which distance to the conference hotel the dinner snack and party venue are going to be located, WMDE budgeted for 5-day public transport tickets. As all venues were located in walking distance, public transport ticket costs were kept low.|
|Communication Costs||Production of conference material, photographer and visa costs||12.000 €||9.049,04 €||75,41%||WMDE budgeted for 70 participants that are in need of a visa based on the experience from last year. However, only 47 pax had to apply for a visa in 2018 (a lot of participants already hold a multiple entry visa and therefore did not hand in a reimbursement claim).|
|Staff Costs||Logistics and Event Coordinator, Program and Engagement Coordinator, Event Assistant, Visiting Wikimedian||95.000 €||95.000 €|
|Accommodation Costs||Accommodation costs for affiliates in need of complete funding||54.000 €||39.981,08 €||74,04 %||WMDE has budgeted for 200 pax à 4 nights (800 nights) based on the number of eligbile representatives per affiliate and max. approved number of nights. Due to last minute cancellation/visa issues/missed registration deadline and not every affiliation being represented by the max. participant number allowed, only 163 pax (596 nights) attended.|
|Travel Costs||Travel costs for affiliates in need of complete funding and service charge travel agency||160.000 €||102.303,22 €||63,94 %||WMDE took the average flight costs from WMCON17 (~800€) as the point of reference for the 2018 budget. The actual average flight costs for 2018 however amounted to 610€. Moreover, travel was booked for 163 pax while WMDE budgeted for 200 pax based on the number of eligbile representatives per affiliate.|
|Subtotal||455.000 €||376.201,86 €||82.68 %|
|Indirect Costs (10% of Subtotal)||Indirect costs including expenses for finance, IT, office, office rent, HR||45.500 €||37.620,19 €||82.68 %|
|TOTAL WMCON18 Costs||500.500 €||413.822,05€||82.68 %|
Please list all project expenses in a table here, with descriptions. Review the instructions here. These expenses should be listed in the same format as the budget table in your approved submission so that anyone reading this report may be able to easily compare budgeted vs. actual expenses.
- Summary of funding
Total project budget (from your approved grant submission):
- 500.500,00 €
Total amount requested from WMF (from your approved grant submission):
- 500.500,00 €
Total amount spent on this project (this total should be the total calculated from the table above):
- 413.822,05 €
Total amount of WMF grant funds spent on this project:
- 413.822,05 €
Are there additional sources of revenue that funded any part of this project? List them here.
- Remaining funds
Are there any grant funds remaining?
Please list the total amount (specify currency) remaining here. (This is the amount you did not use, or the amount you still have after completing your grant.)
- 86.677,95 €
Is there anything else you want to share about the conference or event?
The Wikimedia Conference 2018 was a highly successful event, organized and hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland, and funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. While it was successful, we think that the event is conceptually at its limits; it needs a change to continue to be a meaningful and relevant platform for conversations (and decision-making processes). The lessons learned of this conference are in line with what we learned over the last years and have shared in the WMCON 2015–2017 report.
Based on the learnings of the four editions of this conference model, we suggest that the Wikimedia Conference should become a focused annual event for conversations on strategy, governance and organizational development across affiliates, the WMF and its committees. A conference that carries the conversations from the movement strategy process further into the future, and is constantly developed along with the implementation and adaptation of the movement strategy across the organized parts of the movement.
We plan to design the next Wikimedia Conference – in 2019 – along the needs and the status of the movement strategy process and the participants’ input. We want to see WMCON as a conference with one thematic focus, that brings all participants together.
We imagine the 2019 event as the milestone in the movement strategy process where we go from recommendation into developing the implementation regarding topics like roles, responsibilities and resources. Among other things, the process aims for the movement to develop a model for how strategic conversations, movement governance and decision making will happen on global, organizational levels. The 2020 conference should then be designed along the outcomes of this process.
While proposing this change for the Wikimedia Conference, we anticipate necessary consequences. As a global movement, we need to continue to empower our affiliates and volunteers, and provide opportunities to share skills and knowledge, learn from each other and exchange ideas. We suggest providing more in-person, in-language trainings tailored to the specific context, which we consider to be more effective and more meaningful to everyone – in contrast to the capacity building track at the Wikimedia Conference, which could never cover all participants’ needs due to ever-growing diversity of participants’ backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore, we, as a movement, should assure access to the full range of methods beyond at-the-conference training (e.g. assessment, mentoring, consulting, technical assistance, and organizational development processes).
Overall, our proposed changes of the Wikimedia Conference go hand in hand with the wider “Global Event Strategy” that is currently being developed by the WMF Community Resources team and we look forward to taking the first step towards revamping the Wikimedia Conference.