Movement Learning and Leadership Development Project/What we learned
Barriers to Engagement
In order to best support the healthy and sustainable engagement and leadership development of our volunteers, we must first have a clear understanding of the many barriers that slow, discourage, deter, and/or challenge their development within the Wikimedia movement. Below is a summary of the primary barriers encountered by volunteers.
Lack of Access or Awareness
- The English centric nature of the movement excludes many from engaging more deeply in the movement. Things like grants, scholarships and other resources are difficult to find and often only in English. This leaves Non- English speaking communities feeling less resourced and unacknowledged.
- The platforms are complex and unwelcoming - often new users are confused, scrutinized for their mistakes, and unaware of how to ask for help, leaving them discouraged and hesitant to engage further.
- Learning and engagement is often stunted when volunteers are:
- not sure what to do and which skills to develop,
- not invited into or made aware of learning and networking opportunities, and
- not engaged or invested in.
- Not all volunteers have access to computers or reliable and affordable internet and this can limit their contributions and ability to learn and develop.
Limitations to capacity and successful knowledge transferring
- The lack of volunteers to take on various roles keeps the same people in power for years and causes burnout and capacity gaps.
- Lack of volunteers to train new volunteers causes burnout.
- When volunteers leave or no longer have capacity to keep projects going it can cause a void leaving things unfinished. Communities around the world feel disconnected and have a hard time knowing what other communities and projects are doing.
- The lack of term limits and the increasing experience requirements for roles decreases the opportunities for newer volunteers to learn and gain such experience and causes unhealthy power dynamics.
Feeling unsafe or uncomfortable
- On and offline harassment creates an unwelcoming environment and hampers volunteer engagement and retention.
- Disclosing a marginalized identity can lead to lack of support and opportunity, harassment, undo attention and unnecessary scrutiny.
- Context, local government, and political climates create additional challenges for volunteers.
Lack of recognition and acknowledgement
- There is a lack of legitimacy and official recognition for volunteers and the work they do which makes developing official partnerships challenging.
- There is little recognition for those who contribute in other ways beyond editing.
- There is even less recognition for female contributors. They often feel that their contributions don’t matter.
- Volunteers feel like they are not recognized by the foundation for their work.
A Need for Mentorship and Support
- Newcomers feel alone and left behind when no one is responding to their online needs and questions.
- Many feel lonely and isolated and don’t know who to ask for help.
- Volunteers feel that they are over burdening others when asking for help.
- When the same people have to retain and retrain volunteers over and over it causes burnout.
- People want first hand technical support and don't want to feel alone
- Some volunteers may not be aware of the skills that they should develop for growth in the movement
- Mentorship pages that do exist are not easily found by newcomers.
We already knew that the term “leadership” has many interpretations throughout the world, which vary greatly depending on culture, language, political environments, context, personal experiences, professions, and more. Even within Wikimedia, the broad concept of leadership exists in different spaces and contexts. These include (but are not limited to) offline organizers, on-wiki functionaries, trainers, facilitators, members of decision-making bodies, and individuals operating in technical spaces. There isn't a shared understanding of leadership within our movement. Further, we learned from the research that leadership is a key component of a volunteer’s growth, whether this is because they are seeking to develop their own skills or behaviors to have greater impact or because they have been influenced in their journey by leadership exemplified by others.
Defining Leadership in the Wikimedia Movement
A goal of this research was to use community insight to define the concept of “leadership” within our unique context and begin to ground us in a shared understanding of the term. Of the interviewees that answered the question about what leadership meant to them, only 22% mentioned hard skills, and no one mentioned specific titles or roles. This leads us to conclude that leadership is not any one definitive thing, action, or role but instead is a continuous demonstration of certain qualities that are valued across the movement. The research with our community participants illuminated the following main qualities comprising leadership:
Why does leadership matter?
In addition to leadership being closely associated with the learning and development journey of volunteers through mentorship by others and through their own desire to take responsibility, volunteers often ask to learn the qualities and behaviors of leadership in training workshops. From our experience and evaluations from training and developing volunteers, the Community Development team believes that leadership and the development of this capacity is a core part of strengthening the Wikimedia communities, platforms and projects. We feel that strengthening leadership capacities creates more equitable learning and development pathways and improves access and support systems for movement engagement. What we heard from the research supports the need for and importance of leadership within Wikimedia. As we continue to support our communities and make progress on our movement strategy goals, we need to support and build for accessible leadership development.
“ ” You can give people certain access to delete articles or give people certain edits rights but this is not what leadership means. Leadership is to guide your community and to help grow and motivate your community. It is about trying to keep the people in Wikipedia, and trying to attract more people to Wikipedia. We have to teach people and bring awareness to Wikipedia. -- Wikimedia Volunteer
Demonstrations of Leadership
Leadership is not simply obtained with a particular role or title, certification or training, but is a pattern of behavior that is developed over time at different depths and speeds, often driven by the specific needs and circumstances of a volunteer's community. Leadership in Wikimedia is seen as acting in a way that demonstrates and prioritizes the values of the movement and furthers the Wikimedia mission.
“ ” Leadership is helping other volunteers reach their goals, be more participatory, create more projects, and see the core objective of the movement achieved - Wikimedia volunteer
“ ” For me, the perfect leader would be very hands-on, talk to us, lead the projects, know everyone, knows the skills, the strengths and weaknesses, and lead by example, respectful to the views of everyone in the community, on track.” - Wikimedia volunteer
The following categories express the ways leadership is often demonstrated in the Wikimedia movement:
“Leadership means spending quality time with the people to accomplish a goal and inspire them and motivate them and give them the best of you.” - Wikimedia volunteer
Demonstrating this looks like:
- Elevating and supporting those around you
- Representing and amplifying the views, concerns, and goals of the community, not just your own
- Recognizing and acknowledging the work and contributions of volunteers
- Agreeing to a standard to be held to
- Building trust
- Engaging in civil discourse
- Maintaining transparency and openly sharing information
- Motivating, inspiring and guiding others
- Removing barriers that are in the way of others’ success
- Actively supporting new contributors and finding ways to teach them and help them feel welcome
- Collaborating with other communities, sharing best practices, and supporting mutual learning and knowledge transfer
“It’s about creating opportunities and bringing people together to work on a common goal, knowing people’s expertise, how they work best, how they work not so well. It’s about knowing people and putting things together so that the effort is maximized.” - Wikimedia volunteer
Demonstrating this looks like:
- Creating space for people to speak and share thoughts and ideas
- Seeking feedback and embracing the importance of learning from others
- Creating opportunities for others to get involved and take on responsibility
- Being aware of your context and that of others and adapting as appropriate
- Assuming good faith, not acting on assumptions
- Recognizing and affirming good work and ideas initiated by others
- Recognizing and encouraging efforts to close content gaps
- Recognizing various points of view and demonstrating fairness when contributing to articles for deletions, third opinion, talk pages, etc.
- Inviting others into spaces where they can learn, engage, and contribute
“You always need to check yourself, you have to be sympathetic when you listen to people and be an effective communicator. You have to be very concrete about the things you are trying to say, you cannot lie to the community. The idea needs to be focused for the community. Focus on things that are necessary for the community. Never lose sight.” - Wikimedia volunteer
Demonstrating this looks like:
- Proving to be reliable and following through on tasks and commitments
- Protecting Wikimedia content
- Maintaining neutrality
- Being present, active, and available for the Wikimedia community
- Remaining consistent
- Asking clarifying questions
“For leadership is the one setting a good example and leading the movement towards a clear direction and clear goals, asking the members to be on the same page with the movements goals and objectives so that we can come up with the same goals at the end of a project for what we are trying to achieve.” - Wikimedia volunteer
Demonstrating this looks like:
- Defining roles, expectations, and guidelines to follow to ensure fairness and accountability
- Providing helpful technical solutions
- Setting a clear direction and SMART goals (specific, measurable, assignable to a responsible person, realistic, and time-related with a reasonable deadline)
- Designating tasks and involving others in the process, project, or conversation
- Recognizing current capacities and skill bottlenecks and taking action to address gaps to help others develop and improve
- Recognizing editing errors as an opportunity to teach and support others to become better contributors
- Stepping in to mediate conversations
- Initiating and driving positive impact
“You need to be conscious and be humble and learn new things, and bring it back to the community doesn’t have to be editing but something positive for the local movement.” - Wikimedia volunteer
Demonstrating this looks like:
- Having self-awareness - awareness and management of one’s own identity, values, desires, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, power, and privilege.
- Self-regulating - exercise control over one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals.
- Being an effective communicator by:
- Checking in with team/community and keeping them informed
- Providing clear, honest, and timely communications
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Facilitating discussions
- Mediating conflict
- Exercising patience
- Offering support
- Showing respect
- Being an active listener
Mentorship in the Wikimedia Movement
As we have detailed in this report, there are many ways to demonstrate Leadership in Wikimedia. However, one of the strongest themes in this research was the impact and importance of mentorship in the movement. As defined by the Simple English Wikipedia article, “Mentorship is when a person who knows a lot about a certain kind of thing helps a person who doesn't know as much about it.” Mentorship exhibits many of the Leadership behaviors previously described and was described as particularly influential in helping volunteers to understand, navigate, and contribute to the complex world of Wikimedia. Mentorship was also seen as a direct representation of the Wikimedia mission to share knowledge and empower and engage people around the world to contribute to the free knowledge ecosystem. Based on the research, mentorship in the Wikimedia context may include the following behaviors:
- Sharing knowledge
- Offering support, feedback and guidance to help others learn and build confidence
- Providing a safe space for others to ask questions and learn from mistakes
- Creating access and connection to opportunities and networks
- Setting a positive example
- Making Wikimedia a kind and welcoming place
“ ” “Mentorship is aligned with the mission and vision in that we need to share knowledge for the community to grow.” - Wikimedia volunteer
The benefits of mentorship
Our community participants unanimously agreed that mentorship in the movement was important and expressed the benefits they received from this in a variety of sentiments shown below.
Building for and encouraging more mentorship
As evident from the various impacts of mentorship in the Wikimedia Movement, it is critical that we develop leadership by building and supporting mentorship opportunities so more volunteers can engage and benefit from such relationships. Mentorship demonstrates mutual learning, knowledge-sharing and leadership, all which are core qualities which support movement growth and development.
Increasing access and improving mentorship programs will:
- Develop well equipped mentors that demonstrate Wikimedia Leadership qualities
- Distribute the training and support responsibilities across more people in the movement
- Decrease the burnout of individuals by building up the capacity of volunteers who can then support the learning of others
- Build trust and accountability between movement volunteers
- Create additional opportunities for volunteers to engage and contribute to Wikimedia
- Provide space for Wikimedians to solidify their own knowledge by training and supporting others
- Equip volunteers with the skills, confidence, and knowledge to contribute to the Wikimedia mission
The primary themes that emerged from our conversations with participants were related to the need for access and awareness of information and opportunities, the importance of connection and inclusion, as well as the need to support and encourage mentorship in impactful and sustainable ways. We further synthesized our findings to build upon these categories in ways that will allow community facing teams and individuals to take and encourage action in the following ways:
- Design for Access - by addressing context, language, and resource needs as well as making opportunities and resources more visible and accessible to all Wikimedia volunteers.
- Increase Invitations - by acknowledging that invitation (i.e. inviting someone to an event or into a community group or communication channel) is hugely impactful for a volunteer’s retention and Movement engagement and therefore increasing invitational actions to build for inclusion and connection.
- Encourage Mentorship - by recognizing that this is a critical component of success and retention in our movement and that we should encourage relationships where volunteers can safely ask questions, get support, learn, and become more connected and integrated into Wikimedia.
- Create opportunities for skill development - through the creation of online learning modules, more accessible resources, and creating spaces for more knowledge sharing between communities .
- Promote healthy Communities of Practice - by supporting community learning and engagement, it is important to recognize and amplify the many ways volunteers are already cultivating strong, resilient, and engaged communities that support the movement.
Movement Learning and Leadership Development framework
The Community Development team has previously piloted learning and volunteer development trainings (ex. Learning Days 2019) using a "track model". This model supposes that individuals at different stages of involvement in Wikimedia will have different learning and skill development needs. Expanding on these successful pilots we used this research to further develop a Learning and Leadership Development Framework that builds upon previous learning cohorts to create more focused and relevant training for each individual. This framework is meant to act as an informative tool for the Wikimedia Foundation and movement leaders. This framework can support learning and leadership development during the lifespan of a volunteer’s movement engagement.
The framework utilizes four categories which loosely define the levels of engagement (both online and offline) in our movement. The categories are not meant to be rigid or exclusive but to serve as a pathway or guide for actions and behaviors to train for and encourage, based on the engagement level of the volunteer. Because we recognize that volunteers often start, stop, pause and return (often even expanding into new avenues as they do), movement through the stages may be fluid and non-linear. Volunteers may also be engaged concurrently in multiple stages at any given time, such as exhibiting higher levels of engagement in online functionary contributions and lower engagement in offline community building.
- Nascent Engagement: This is where all volunteers start their Wikimedia journey, building their fundamental knowledge by becoming familiar with the platforms and projects, learning the contribution basics and wiki policies, and developing their awareness of the movement. With seemingly endless information to be absorbed, many will find themselves expanding their foundational knowledge throughout their Wikimedia journey. However, this is seen as the launching point for engagement and development within the movement.
- Emerging Engagement: At this stage volunteers typically have a stable and broad understanding of Wikimedia and may become interested in getting more heavily involved in the movement. This may look like increasing their interactactions on the platforms, participating in more events, discussions, meetings, etc. or seeking opportunities to acquire skills and abilities to perform movement tasks.
- Expanding Engagement: Building upon the prior stages, here volunteers often have a strong understanding of Wikimedia and are generally becoming quite integrated into movement. This may look like making regular movement contributions through various roles and positions, and continuously strengthening their skills to increase their impact.
- Elevated Engagement: At this stage volunteers have an advanced understanding of Wikimedia, typically having a variety of experience and wiki know-how. It is common for volunteers at this stage to play a more strategic role by influencing behaviors and actions in an effort to make significant contributions to our mission and movement strategy goals.
The Learning and Leadership Development framework focuses on three primary themes that are informed by our research;
- the need for more conscious and deliberate efforts to design for access which will meet and serve our diverse community,
- the need to build and expand a positive community of practice that recognizes and encourages the wonderful and impactful work of our communities,
- and the need to develop skills and capacities that support the movement by increasing learning and training opportunities within the movement.
Five personas have been created to demonstrate archetypes of Wikimedia volunteers along their engagement journey. The catalysts (or lack thereof) that have influenced their journey are worth of note. For example, those who speak English and have received mentorship are likely to have a more positive experience and become engaged more deeply and often faster than someone who did have the skills or support. We hope that when individuals review the personas they think about how the framework could help improve a volunteer’s learning and leadership development.
(The framework is meant to be an iterative guide that can continuously be updated in accordance with our growing and developing movement.)
Learnings from Analogous Organizations
In addition to interviewing volunteers, the research team also connected with several analogous organizations with global volunteer movements to learn more about their approach to supporting the development of volunteers. Consistent with our community interviews, these organizations recognize the importance of mentorship, connection, acknowledgement, creating access to opportunity, and creating clear and accessible ladders of engagement. Organizations such as Mozilla Foundation, Creative Commons, World Scouts, Center for Open Science, and Burners without Borders have built programming and learning platforms to support these needs.
These organizations are consciously aware of the barriers that impact volunteer work and acknowledge how time, capacity, resource and contextual restraints can cause burnout, attrition, duplication of efforts, stalled or canceled projects, and more. Therefore many organizations focused their efforts on building tools, resources, and support mechanisms that provided clear and easy to navigate development guides and learning resources. For example, Mozilla Foundation’s Open Leadership program recognizes the cyclical nature of volunteerism and has built a scalable leadership program to develop leaders that can go on to support and train future leaders - creating space for the ebb and flow of volunteer contributions without major gaps or stalls in movement projects.
Best Practices of Analogous Organizations
- Prioritize mentorship & leadership development
- Develop programming to support and engage volunteers
- Continuously assess what volunteers need, acknowledging that this varies across contexts and cultures
- Establish alignment around core values and principles to maintain behavioral standards which create harmony and accountability within the community
- Create space for engagement and experience by setting term limits and clarifying roles and responsibilities
- Practice adaptability by listening and learning from mistakes to improve resources and support mechanisms
- Develop a central repository of accessible learning resources that offer easy to use guides for skill development, training, best practices, etc.