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Learning patterns/How to generate publicity and foster collaboration: Organizing an event series

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A learning pattern forconferences, education, event, GLAM, outreach, organizational
How to generate publicity and foster collaboration: Organizing an event series
problemThe Wikimedia movement is surrounded by initiatives and groups with similar goals, but often cooperation among the different actors is lacking. In addition, generating public attention for the topic of free knowledge and for the work of Wikimedia organisations is a constant challenge.
solutionAn event series such as ABC of Free Knowledge (German: Das ABC des Freien Wissens) can help achieve these two things: Representatives of groups with similar interests are brought together to publicly dicuss relevant topics concerning free knowledge. The work of Wikimedia gets recognition and appreciation in the media by inviting well-known guest speakers to the event.
created on09 March, 2016

What problem does this solve?

The Wikimedia movement is surrounded by initiatives and groups with similar goals of pursuing free knowledge for everyone. In addition, more people from cultural or heritage institutions, from the areas of education and science, and especially decision-makers in political institutions are concerned about free access to data and information. Such people are often looking for experts in the fields of open data, open source, free knowledge, open culture and open education, with whom they can collaborate. Finding the right contacts, though, for working collaboratively on common goals and creating larger impact can be difficult.

Besides, it is quite a challenge for a Wikimedia chapter to be recognized as a competent point of contact by the public, relevant institutions and decision-makers regarding questions of free knowledge. Through the event series "ABC of Free Knowledge (German: Das ABC des Freien Wissens)", goals such as bringing together free knowledge advocates and increasing public awareness and appreciation for our work can be furthered.

What is the solution?

In early 2014, Wikimedia Deutschland created the event series “ABC of Free Knowledge (German: Das ABC des Freien Wissens)” in order to bring together people who are advocating for free knowledge and discuss different topics with interest to a wider public. The following conclusions can be drawn from our experience.

Dissemination in the Media and Participation

"ABC of Free Knowledge": Event on EU copyright policy

Using invitations and email lists to increase attention

WMDE startet its event series in the beginning of 2014. Starting with an existing, fairly small email newsletter of a few hundred people, we started inviting people from cultural, educational, scientific and political institutions, with whom we had already been in contact or we had collaborated in the past, via email. Since then, our email newsletter has grown consistently since we offer attendees the chance to sign up for our newsletter during every event. We also reach interested people through our Twitter and Facebook announcements. Important: When adding new people to an email list, organizations need to comply with the applicable data protection regulations.

By now, our email list contains around 1200 adresses that regularly receive invitations to our events. Even if most peope do not attend these events, they regularly receive information about our activities. This is one way for Wikimedia Deutschland to present itself as a point of contact regarding free knowledge topics to an expert audience. In 2014, an average of 33 people attended our events, increasing to an average 77 people per event in 2015. Additionally, we offer a livestream for each event so that people outside of Berlin can also follow the discussion. One week after the event, we send out a summary of the discussion to our list via email, in which we also include links to the videos, highlight interesting statements of experts and inform about conclusions of the discussion.

Including the Wikimedia Movement

Panel speaker Julia Reda, Member of the European Parliament, Pirate Party

The events are directed towards experts of different fields as well as members of the Wikimedia communities. As a result, we advertise our events in the weekly newsletter Wikimedia:Woche (see example) and on different channels or platforms in the Wikipedia. If we are announcing an event about coypright, for example, we will post an event notice on Portal:Recht (de:WP) to reach potentially interested people working in Wikimedia projects. We will then also add the link to the livestream on these pages.

At numerous times during these events in the past, Wikipedia community members could directly address questions to panelists and add topics relevant for Wikimedia to the discussion. At our event "Content. Who really participates in Open Culture? (German: Inhalt. Wer partizipiert wirklich an Open Culture?)" in the summer of 2015, for example, a Wikipedia community member called on Permanent Secretary for Cultural Affairs Tim Renner to look into the issue regarding freedom of panorama, which was mobilizing thousands of Wikipedians (de:WP) at the time.

Using a website to spark interest in the event and ensure documentation

For the event series “ABC of Free Knowledge”, a designated subsite was created as part of Wikimedia Deutschland’s website. This site is the landing page for everyone who searches for our event series on the web and is interested in our topics. The website displays information about the next event and documents all our past events. We provide some background information on the specific topic discussed, videos, fotos, information on our guests as well as literature recommendations. Additionally, we also include short video interviews with our guests (see below). The website also contains a a feedback form, where visitors can send us suggestions or points of critique.

Enable online participation through videos

All events are recorded on video and available online via livestream as well as on our WMDE YouTube channel. These videos can be freely distributed online under the Creative Commons license (CC BY). The individual videos have been viewed between 250 and 750 times (as of 2016). Of course, views increase the more such videos are shared through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, the success of certain videos can be an indicator for public interest in a particular topic, which can then be incorporated in the planning process.

In addition, we record short video interviews with panelists after the discussion, trying to sum up the most important discussion points and the attititude of attendees, for people who could not attend the event. Such videos can also prove useful in other context of our work for free knowledge, for example when requesting interviews with high-ranking political officials. One example for this is the interview with Permanent Secretary for Cultural Affairs Tim Renner (in German). All videos are made available on our project website.

Building media and other partnerships

In order to reach people beyond your own communication channels, it is useful to build media partnerships. Many media outlets are less interested in event series, but rather in specific topics, and will selectively report on these. As such, it makes sense to notify daily as well as weekly papers and city magazines about the specific event topics. Beyond this, we were also able to enter into media partnerships with other organizations (Humboldt-Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, Kooperative Berlin, Initiative D21), who will advertise our events through their own website and social media channels, and report on them afterwards. We are planning further media partnerships in the future, for example broadcasting the events as radio podcasts.

Planning and organizing the event in cooperation with other organizations particularly strengthens cooperation beyond the events. By jointly deciding on topics, searching for panelists, coordination communication etc. for an event, trust among the partners and a better understanding for each other’s goals and needs is established. This can prove to be a good foundation for future collaborations. Following the existing media partnership for the event series, the Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft initiated further cooperations. Together with the institute, we jointly organized one event in the series concerned with open access publications (see "J=Journals. Which kind of academic publication will prevail? (German: Welche Form des wissenschaftichen Publizierens setzt sich durch)". On the one hand, we could use the communcation channels of the institute to advertise the event and work of Wikimedia Deutschland. One the other hand, the jointly organized event lay the basis for a good and trustworthy cooperation on future activities.

Creating high brand recognition by using a consistent concept and artistic contributions

Tim Renner, Permanent Secretary for Cultural Affairs Berlin at event on open culture

Basic concept and core message of the event series

The title reflects the concept of the event series. The title “ABC of Free Knowledge” was consciously chosen as being broad and open, in order to stay flexible in the choice of topics and to address people from diverse fields of work. Additionally, the title refers to the characterization of a whole alphabet, a whole range of topics associated with free knowledge. In this way, a panorama of knowledge fields and professional areas is being sketched, showing the potential of connecting free knowlegde to areas such as the music industry, data journalism or copyright policy. The message: Almost all professional fields and interest groups include points of contact to the world of free knowledge. There are diverse opportunities to create connections to Wikimedia projects, in technological or idealistic terms. We provide a platform and a stage for discussing these opportunities together, not merely online, but face to face and with expert input.

Formally, the title of “ABC of Free Knowledge” means that the events are developed along the alphabet. Every letter stands for one evening event. We started with "A= Allmende. Wohin steuern Gemeinschaftsprojekte im Netz?" (English: Commons. Where are online community projects heading?), followed by "B=Buchmarkt. Erfolg auch mit offenen Systemen?" (English: Book market. How successful can open systems be?), H stood for "H=Harmonisierung. Welche Urheberrechtsreform bekommen wir aus Brüssel?" (English: Harmonization. Which copyright reform do we get from Brussels?) and "J für J=Journals. Welche Form des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens setzt sich durch?" (English: Journals. Which kind of scientific publication will prevail?).

Providing professional and informal conversation opportunities

Get-together after the panel discussion

Ideally, the host of the evening should be briefed 2-3 weeks before the event. Then he or she has ample time to contact the discussion guests and coordinate the dramaturgy of the talk as well as special issues and questions. Thus, a structured and interesting discussion can be ensured. During the welcoming words, the host points out that questions from the audience are welcome and that they can also be sent via Twitter (#wmdesalon). Ideally, the discussion on stage shouldn't last longer than one and a half hours. Afterwards, the discussion is explicitly opened for the audience once again.

When all questions are discussed, usually after another half an hour, the host ends the official part of the discussion. After this, all guests can have a drink, keep talking and exchange views about the prior discussion while listening to free licences music (e. g. by music services like Jamendo). This way, professionals and people that are interested in different areas of free knowledge can come in Kontakt with each other beyond the official discussion panel and swap business cards, get to know each other or develop the discussion further.

Creating consistency for brand recognition

Key visual for the event series

Consistency on different levels helps to create the event series as a brand with recognition. The events take place every two months, always at Wikimedia Deutschland’s office, always on a Thursday evening at 7 p.m. For each panel discussion, 3-4 guests and one host are invited. Wherever possible, an additional expert is invited to give a keynote speech and introduce the discussion topic. Before we started the event series, we had a key visual designed that can be found on all associated communication channels, e. g. on mailings, on the website, in tweets or Facebook announcements. It is important to be aware of consistent wording to prevent confusion with other events. We try to exclusively use the terms “ABC of Free Knowledge” or “Wikimedia Salon” in print or online publications.

Artistic contributions as special incentives

Artistic contribution: the band "Erfolg" performs on stage

As a special feature, an artistic contribution that corresponds with the theme of the evening is shown during each event. Thereby, the event series conceptually sets itself apart from many other events like evening lectures concerning online culture or discussion panels of political foundations. Furthermore, an exciting experience is staged for the guests that goes beyond the usual panel discussion. The artistic aspect underlines the character of an interesting and intellectually demanding cultural salon, arouses curiosity and attracts culturally interested people who probably wouldn't have attended an evening about free knowledge.


  • For the panel discussion about open science, we invited the winner of the German open science slam 2015 to perform his slam before the discussion
  • Free licenced pictures that fit the discussion topic can be displayed by projecting them as a loop on a wall, e.g. for a discussion about collaboration pictures of a swarm of birds or fish swarm
  • For the evening event about the music industry and free licensing, we invited a performance artist and showed a video of one of his performances that reduced the bureaucratic insanity of the royalty collection association GEMA to absurdity (see video of the performance “product placements")

Choose suitable topics for your target groups

Selection of topics

In general, potential topics for the panel discussions should be relevant for creation and dissemination of free knowledge, and preferably related to the Wikimedia movement, too. Topics from fields like free education, open cultural content, open science, open data or open government might be suitable.

The broad umbrella title for the event series (“ABC of Free Knowledge”) and its irregular frequency allowed for the discussion topics to be quite flexibly chosen, taking in account current discourses. Nevertheless, some event topics were scheduled and announced quite far in advance since they were planned around already set dates. The event in May 2015 "H=Harmonization: Which kind of copyright reform will we get from Brussels?" (with guests like e.g. Julia Reda, Member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party Germany), for example, was synchronized with the Berlin internet conference re:publica and thematically aligned with Reda’s conference speech “Digital Europe - Analog copyright”. Through this, we were able to capture the attention of some external conference guests and invite them to an event in Wikimedia Deutschland’s premises.

Markus Beckedahl, journalist at Netzpolitik.org, talking about right to be forgotten

Building links to public discourses

It’s always advisable to think outside the box by combining current trends in public discourses with topics which are central for the Wikimedia movement. Through this, you can attract participants who are less familiar with free knowledge issues, but interested in particular topics such as publishing, data journalism or the discourse about the “unconditional basic income” (see also: "G=Grundeinkommen. Eine Antwort auf die digitale Krise des Urheberrechts?" (Engl.: Basic income. An answer to the digital crisis of copyright?). In late 2014, we also decided to take up the discussion on the “right to be forgotten” and link it to Wikipedia. With this, we managed to attract people with various interests ranging from legal issues over data privacy to philosophical aspects (see also "E=Erinnerung. Zeit des Vergessenwerdens." (Engl.: Memory. Time to be forgotten?), with De:Markus_Beckedahl, netzpolitik.org).

Outcomes and impact

Audience at the event series in 2014

The basic numbers show a promising development: In 2015, the overall attendance of the event series has more than doubled in comparison to 2014. Media reports about the event series increased from seven arcticles in 2014 to more than 65 in 2015 (among those also arcticles in media portals with high reach like irights.info and netzpolitik.org). The video clips of the events (incl. video interviews) were viewed more than 3.200 times in total (2014: approx. 600 total views).

Diagram of the development of event series ABC of Free Knowledge

But even more significant than these basic numbers is the event series’ potential impact on partnerships or cooperations, and thus on the broader society. The continuous event series provides a constant opportunity for fruitful discussion and exchange, involving various stakeholder groups. Through this, Wikimedia presents itself as a competent expert on all topics around free knowledge and as a place where crucial public debates are held. The participation of well-known panelists with a high reputation in their respective fields (science, politics, education, culture) makes it clear for expert audiences that Wikimedia Deutschland is an environment for high-quality discussions around open digital content.

Conversations at the events often lead to valuable follow-up contacts and activities. Some examples: After the event with the Berlin’s Permanent Secretary for Cultural Affairs, Tim Renner, Wikimedia Deutschland got invited to an ideation workshop at the Berlin Senate Office for Cultural Affairs. Consecutively to the event with Olaf Zimmermann, Executive Director of the German Cultural Council, Wikimedia Deutschland and the German Cultural Council agreed to publish a feature article about Wikipedia in the Council’s publication politik&kultur in 2016. Wikimedia Deutschland was also invited by panel participant and founder of the project log.os, a digital book trading platform, for a joint expert panel on bookmarket and open source software at the internet conference re:publica. Other new contacts built bridges to WMDE’s own activities: For example, we could enlist Lambert Heller, Head of the Open Science Lab TIB Hannover, to contribute an expert article to Wikimedia Deutschland’s blog series about open science.

Strategic developments

In the future, WMDE plans to focus the “ABC of Free Knowledge” event series even more on political issues. Wikimedia's work in Brussels plays an important part in Wikimedia Deutschland’s advocacy efforts, which will be expanded further in 2016. Some important political decisions will be taking place on EU and federal level in Germany, which we like to discuss with political decision makers. Therefore, discussions about copyright will be priorities of the event series. We plan to target speakers from federal ministries, political parties as well as activists and organisations advocating for a free web. These efforts aim at strengthening the Wikimedia movement’s influence on crucial political decision making processes.