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Learning patterns/Annual Wikimedia CEE meeting: drafting the programme

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A learning pattern forconferences
Annual Wikimedia CEE Meeting: Drafting the programme
problemDrafting the programme for the annual 3-day edition of a relatively large-scale regional event, such as the annual Wikimedia CEE Meeting, can be a daunting task.
solutionHere is an algorithm in five steps, and a list of important considerations when drafting such a meeting programme. Some of these considerations we knew in advance, while others occurred in the last minutes!
created on21:51, 17 September 2015 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?


The Wikimedia CEE Meetings are annual events, that get together representatives from about 30 countries from Central and Eastern Europe. Many of them come to share their experience, and at least in the last two in Kyiv, 2014 and in Voore, 2015, the meeting programme was scheduled within 3 full days, with plenary and parallel sessions.

Drafting the programme for such a relatively large-scale regional event, can be a daunting task, and definitely not a job for just anybody. Involving wider CEE community in the process of creating the programme to guarantee its usefulness for conference participants and regional collaboration in general makes execution even harder. Having some prior experience as a speaker in conferences (wiki- or non-wiki-related) is always helpful. But being member of the programme committee puts the whole process in a completely new perspective.

The present learning pattern tries to collect the experience of the programme committee members of the Wikimedia CEE Meetings, to help future WMCEE organizers, as well as any other conference organizers, whose target audience is comparable to ours.

What is the solution?


WMCEE'2014: Top-down


WMCEE'2015: Bottom-up


Drafting the conference programme in 2015 followed a bottom-up approach in collecting the talks, within an algorithm in five steps (formalized as such at the end, rather than from the beginning). An important difference between the programming committee of WMCEE'2015 and all the three previous editions of WMCEE, is that in 2015 there was an international programme committee, whose only coordination was via email, wiki pages and one hangout meeting.

Period The CEE representatives... The programme committee...
~ 2 months 1. Expression of interest
Express interest and provide information about their country's strengths, weaknesses, questions, needs and potential input to the conference programme.
~ 2 weeks 2. The Form
Outline on this basis the main conference topics, and produce the general arrangement of panel sessions.
~ 2 weeks 3. Call for action
Prepare their submissions for talks within the outlined panel sessions using a more detailed submission form.
~1 week 4. The Content
Review the submissions (most of them approved, few requested for revision, few rejected), and produce a detailed preliminary version of programme.
~ 1 week 5. Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow
Suggest improvements related to bilocating speakers/moderators, late comers, early leavers and conflicting audience profiles.

Accommodate all suggestions in the final version of the programme. No significant changes have been made to the programme during the event.

Step 1/5: Expression of interest


Representatives from all countries in the CEE region were invited to express interest by filling in the "Questions & Needs" questionnaire with information about:

  • Country's input to the conference programme
    • Valuable learnings: present an overview of a valuable learning you want to share with WMCEE group;
    • Tools: name the tools that are most useful in your work and which could be useful for others in the region; share if there are tools that would be useful (maybe they can be developed?);
    • Low-cost project from the community: please feature a low-cost project from your community.
  • Strengths: Your program's strengths or what you are doing well. You can list here current, ongoing, and planned projects, etc.
  • Weaknesses: Your program's weaknesses or what you could use help with. You can list here the projects you were going to do, or stopped doing, etc.
  • Needs: Anything your program needs, anything your program lacks.
  • Questions: Any questions you have that such a meeting might answer.
  • Representatives: And who from your organisation / community may be interested in attending.

Step 2/5: The Form


On the basis of the completed questionnaires, the programme committee performs the following analysis:

  1. According to each recorded answer, the countries are distinguished between "Country–Provider" and "Country–Beneficiary" of certain experience/expertise. Country–Provider is the one who reports certain valuable learning or strength, and Country–Beneficiary is one that reports certain weakness, need or question (check here).
  2. The recorded answers are grouped in several major categories, which later help forming and naming the potential panel sessions.
    At WMCEE 2015, these major categories were 13:
    • Chapter/User Group issues
    • Community issues/Recruitment
    • Country collaborations
    • Education Programme
    • Event organization
    • Financial issues
    • Gender gap
    • GLAM
    • Language issues
    • Legal issues
    • Low-cost project
    • Outreach and Public relations
    • Technical issues
"We have the skeleton, let's coat it now with some meat!"
Once the programme has been roughly outlined, the programme committee called for detailed submissions of the talks, as proposed in the country's inputs to the programme.

Step 3/5: Call for action


The CEE representatives are invited to submit detailed summaries of their talks, in accordance with the submitted topics. The submissions template contains:

  • Title
  • Name(s) / Username(s)
  • Type of submission (Please choose one)
  • Lecture (one-to-many)
  • Problem solving (work in groups)
  • Open discussion (many-to-many)
  • Lightning talk
  • Summary (100-300 words)
    Whenever applicable, please specify the target group and the problems/needs/questions it refers to.
    (Comment: For better understanding of the assignment, a 100-word Lorem ipsum text was generated and placed in comment).
  • Preliminary preparation (if necessary)
    Is the audience required to come prepared, e.g. read some materials, have certain skills, etc.
  • Expected outcomes
    What kind of outcome/target do you want to achieve with the session? For instance: Shall a common decision shall be reached in the end of the session? Or: Define next steps?
  • Duration (without Q&A)
  • Specific requirements
    If you are presenting in another sessions, indicate it, so that no overlaps appear. Do you need a moderator/facilitator for your session? Indicate if you DO NOT AGREE to be filmed? Will you need flipcharts and pencils, etc.? Do you need specific arrangement of the chairs and tables in the room?
  • Slides or further information
    If you prepare your slides in advance, please upload to Commons and place here the link.
  • Interested attendees
    Please add yourself, and you may indicate your questions to the presenter.

The programme committee set the first deadline to a relatively early date, in order to have the possibility to smoothly accommodate the last-minute and overdue submissions. ("You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet...")

In several cases, members of the programme committee prompted the potential speakers to provide their submissions in accordance with the recorded expression of interest on Step 1. This was especially the case of one or few Country–Providers of specific expertise, which many other countries report lacking, i.e. are in the role of Countries–Beneficiaries.

Step 4/5: The Content


The programme committee reviews the submissions, and arranges them into a detailed preliminary version of programme. This is the moment when the form (roughly outlined panel sessions) is filled in with content.

The process of submissions review includes:

  • Reading all submissions, and evaluating the added value of every submission with respect to:
    • the conference programme,
    • the anticipated panel session audience,
    • the speaker and his/her community – giving opportunities to new speakers to build their personal capacity, and to new communities to get engaged on regional level.
  • With respect to the topic and scope of the talk, the programme committee may request a revision, for instance: merging, splitting, detailization, refocusing, or even changing the type of submission, for instance from one-to-many lecture to work-in-group workshop.
  • With respect to the proposed duration of the talk, the programme committee may require shortening or extending

In the process of reviewing the submissions, the programme committee may discover that:

  • There are more valuable submissions received on Step 3, than those recorded as experessions of interest on Step 1. Hence, some of the panel sessions, scheduled on Step 2 will have to be extended (e.g. from 90 to 120 minutes), or be even given double time slots (e.g. "Wiki Education Programme. Part I", "Wiki Education Programme. Part II").
  • Some of the recorded expressions of interest on Step 1 have never been submitted as detailed talks on Step 3, even after multiple reminders, which may lead to shrinking or even complete removal of panel sessions, that have been projected on Step 2 (e.g. at WMCEE 2015 there was only one GLAM-related submission, which led to the dismissal of the whole panel session).
  • Some submitted talks can equally well fit into two or more panel sessions, and unless the speakers themselves declare a specific preference, this gives the programme committee the freedom to schedule them randomly or with respect to other considerations.
    • A good option is to schedule two panels in a way that the interdisciplinary talk serves as a linking element.
    • Another good option in case of a talk that is one of a kind or does not perfectly fit any planned panel session, is to schedule it into a panel session where it can create a meaningful counterpoint to the rest scheduled talks (e.g. "Once upon a GLAM... A curious case of paid editing" scheduled in the panel session "Volunteers support").

Once, all panel sessions are populated with talks, and their duration is determined (e.g. 20-30 minutes per talk, including Q&A), the panel sessions have to be arranged by day and hour.

  • It is recommended to have all panel sessions fitting into standard timeslots of 60, 90 and 120 minutes.
    • 60 minutes are appropriate for short sessions of 2-3 talks, 90 minutes are appropriate for medium sessions of 3-4 talks, 120 minutes are for long sessions of 4-5 talks).
    • Standard lengths of sessions facilitate multiple iterative rearranging until the best schedule is obtained.

Step 5/5: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow


This step is highly iterative and based on the interaction between programme committee and conference participants. On this step, many changes may appear in short time, depending on participant' feedback, organizational arrangements, last-minute unforeseen events, etc. It is important to have many people involved on this step, since given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

  • The participants, and especially the speakers with two or more presentations, shall review the programme, and detect any possible conflicts, like speaking in two parallel sessions at a time (the so called Bilocation Problem).
  • Moreover, speakers may declare their desire/need to attend as listeners a panel session, which has been currently scheduled in parallel to the one they are speak in. Whenever possible, such requests shall be satisfied, especially in the case when the speaker is the sole representative of his/her country.
  • Good coordination with the Organizing committee is required in this moment, as the programme needs to be coordinated with the speakers' times of arrival and departure (which should be known by now). In case of late arrival or early departure of a speaker, his/her panel session needs to be placed later or earlier, accordingly.
  • An approach, loosely based on incidence matrices can be used here to prevent bilocation problems and find non-conflicting pairs of panel sessions. Check here.
  • In the last-minute, there might be speakers who cannot attend due to business, health, visa problems. Various scenarios are possible here.

It is worth noting that at WMCEE2015, no significant changes have been made to the programme during the event. The only changes were three rearrangements of talks within panel sessions.

Things to consider

Exchange of information
Programme committee needs to work in close cooperation with the Organizational committee, because various organizational aspects may influence decision making related to the programme itself:
  • Location / distance of the premises within the conference venue.
  • Speakers' flights, mainly with respect to late arrivals and early departures.
Distribute workload with respect to attention span.
Suggested distribution: Morning sessions are more intensive, structured and learning-oriented: lectures, presentations. Afternoon sessions (especially the session after the afternoon coffee break) are more relaxed and more discussion-oriented: with lightning talks, brainstormings, workshops (?). Evening sessions can be dedicated to edit-a-thons, photo-tons, Wikidojo and other forms of Wikimedian fun.
Duration of coffee breaks
A 30-minute coffee break (which can be considered a relatively long one) is useful for the following reasons:
  • To ensure that (relatively small) delays in the speakers' timing or Q&A will be compensated by the length of the coffee break, and will not lead to delaying the programme afterwards.
  • In case of remote conference rooms, for the listeners and speakers who need to relocate.
  • To give enough time of behindhand speakers to install and test their presentations on the laptop connected with the beamer.
  • When the coffee break follows an intensive session with many speakers, or one arousing heated Q&A and discussions.
  • Between afternoon sessions when the attention span has already started decreasing.
Evening sessions after supper
When the event is planned as a retreat in the countryside, with no sightseeing distractions, we can officially make a good use of the evening hours,and do a little bit more work.
Number of parallel sessions
Since the grant funds two people per country at most, it was decided to have no more than two sessions running in parallel. This would ensure maximizing the experience for most people, and not lead to unnecessary frustration.
Plenary sessions/workshops
Plan this only for sessions/workshops, which are really of interest for all participants, or ones of primary importance. For less important sessions it is better to have them in parallel.
Least possible relocation
A broad theme, covered in 2+ panel session is arranged so that whenever possible people would not relocate between the two rooms, but stay in the same room.
Size of the program committee
Do not create too large program committee – in too large committees, the majority of members tend to be passive. For the final stage of the program preparation, select the three most active people from the committee to establish a "fast decision body", so they can rearrange lectures/workshops or shift session's time if needed.
Experience shared from outside the CEE Region
Disseminate the details of Parallel sessions
From our experience with Wikisangamotsavam at Kerala, a regional conference in India, it is learned that the exact time and subject of a parallel session usually not effectively communicate with delegates. A good conference can avoid this problem with the use of Whatsapp / sms messaging facility.

When to use

Map of CEE countries
  • The experience collected here can be of use for the organization of any event (meeting, conference, seminar, etc.) which programme is formed as the coordinated result of the participants' collective contributions.
  • The scale of the event is somewhere between a national wiki conference and Wikimania. To figure it out:
    • In 2014: 2 plenary sessions and 18 parallel panel sessions; 32 different speakers
    • In 2015: 9 plenary sessions and 18 parallel panel sessions; 53 different talks/sessions; 35 different speakers
  • In 2014 and 2015, it has been organized as a 3-day event, taking into consideration that some speakers may come later or leave earlier. The protocol used can be adapted and applied to longer events, but will probably appear too sophisticated for a 1-day or 2-days event.
  • The event is of interest for about 30 countries and different language versions of the Wikimedia projects (check). Due to the wide diversity of the languages in the region, English is the working language of the conference.



See also