Learning patterns/The Buddy Project: Let’s make your conference more newbie friendly
What problem does this solve?
It is an overwhelming experience to be a part of an event such as the Wikimedia Conference, especially if someone is attending for the first time. In order to facilitate getting in contact with other participants, the “Buddy Project” was introduced at the WMCON17.
Two participants – preferably one who has been on a Wikimedia Conference before and one who hasn’t – and who both expressed their interest in joining this idea were matched. Since there were more newcomers interested than experienced, a few groups consisted of 3 participants.
The matching process was mainly influenced by the participants’ individual interests and expectations they stated in the registration form. If both of the participants agreed, they were introduced to each other via mail and were of course free to get into contact before the conference. However, if one of them did not agree they had to be contacted separately (something to look out for!). It is important to underline that there won’t be any obligations connected to the Buddy Project and that it is based on voluntary participation.
There are a lot of opportunities where the Buddy Project can be applied, e. g. conferences, hackathons, edit-a-thons or basically everywhere that a bigger group of people will get together.
What is the solution?
Through the Buddy Project, newcomers will have someone they can turn to specifically with any questions they might have, either concerning the conference in particular or the Wikimedia movement in general.
Experienced participants may help newcomers build their own network and provide good conditions for an effortless start into the movement in order to contribute to the enormous important goal to ensure a continuous involvement of new Wikimedians.
Which steps were taken?
- 4-5 months before the conference: develop questions for the matching process. If possible, try to include the questions to the registration form, so everything can be handled within one form.
- At WMCON17, we used the following two questions:
- “Would you like to take part in the Buddy Project?” (with the answers Yes, I would like to take part as a newcomer / Yes, I would like to take part as an experienced participants / No) and
- “If you selected yes, would you like to exchange email addresses with your allocated Buddy? That would help to coordinate with each other a lot.”
- At WMCON17, we used the following two questions:
- Additionally, clarify the meaning of the “Buddy Project” in the context of the next WMCON (is it just to bring new/experienced people together or is there a different purpose?).
- 2-3 months before the conference: after the registration is closed, filter people by newcomer/experienced based on their given answers. We used answers to questions that were asked anyway due to the program design process of the conference (we used: “Please name one or two skills, tools, or resources, that you want to be able to bring back home to your local organization/group” and “How can you contribute to the Wikimedia Conference. What skills, knowledge or insights can you bring to share that others can learn/benefit from”)
- A few weeks before the conference: send out an introductory mail with general information about the project, the date and place for first meeting. Also, introduce the Buddies to each other. We have used this this template to inform and introduce the participants.
- When the conference arrives: To facilitate the face-to-face contact and to create a relaxed atmosphere, think of icebreakers/energizers that might help (e. g. getting them together in groups according to different criterias, such as: main Wikimedia project, colour of their shirt etc.)
- During the conference: Check if everyone found his/her Buddy. It will be up to them what they make of the time they have together, so there is nothing specific that has to be done during the conference.
- After the conference: Nowadays, Wikimedia conferences usually always have an evaluation survey afterwards. Make sure to either ask a specific questions regarding the Buddy Project or make a free text field available. This enables you to get feedback on the Buddy Project, as well as iterating and improving it for the next time.
Things to consider/ useful tips
- make sure that no one is “double matched”
- During our pilot of this Project, we have learned that you have to make it very clear for what kind of newcomers you are looking for. Are they newcomers in the Wikimedia movement? Or newcomers at this conference? Or both?
- check name preferences (username or real name?)
- when the meeting arrives stress the fact that not everybody’s Buddy will be there
(Feedback that we got in our participants survey)
- “So glad to see this happening, thank you”
- “Thanks so much for introducing me to my buddy. This is indeed a very useful project for newcomer such as myself. I am very grateful for the effort you have invested in this.”
- “Have specific activities the Buddies have to do: guide them somehow by telling them to do some tasks together”
- “‘Find your Buddy’ approach wasn’t very useful (but it was funny). The concept of the project is good and I would keep it for the future”
Possible ways to make the project better based on the feedback:
- have more non-mandatory options, activities, games to connect buddies even better
- do your best to inform and remind all participants about the buddy meeting
- recheck participants’ previous experience before matching them
- have a plan B for those, whose buddies made last minute cancellations
- have the buddy meeting during the conference and not before the conference, to avoid any scheduling conflicts and missing participants
- Learning patterns/Facilitating social interaction at conferences
- Learning patterns/Birds of a feather