Research:Movement Organizers PreResearch

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
14:53, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
Astinson (WMF)
no affiliation
ARipstra (WMF)
no affiliation
Duration:  2019-July – 2019-September
This page documents a completed research project.

Building on the experience of the New Readers and New Editors research at the Wikimedia Foundation, the WMF Audiences and Community Engagement departments are implementing a research project focused on “Movement Organizers”. These organizers are the community members which facilitate community building in the movement by: building connections among individuals and communities, developing events, activities and partnerships, and communicating the community to the world.

This page documents the findings of an initial pre-research project implemented during Wikimania, to provide evidence and knowledge to help in defining a full scale research project during January-June 2019, as described in the Wikimedia Foundation Annual plan (see Community Engagement and  Audiences ). The full project will produce findings, recommendations and personas to help Wikimedia organizations better support this community.


At the Wikimedia Foundation, the Community Engagement department has long been responsible for interfacing with many of the members of the Wikimedia community who facilitate community building within the Wikimedia movement. These organizers run events, create movement organizations, do outreach, and generally facilitate the social fabric that maintains Wikimedia communities. This community has distinct opportunities, needs and challenges. However, knowledge about the work of these organizers is not shared among all parts of the Wikimedia Foundation or among different parts of the Wikimedia movement. Though there is a lot of experience amongst affiliates and other community organizers in facilitating this audience, that knowledge is not very accessible: requiring either direct experience with that group or anecdotal experience.

Some existing research documents specific needs related to organizers with more targeted research goals (for example, the Leadership Development Dialogue or the Community Capacity Development research). However, this research doesn’t fully explore the lifecycle and experience of organizers over their whole development as participants in the movement. Thus investments in capacity that supports the growth of new organizers is very inconsistent across the movement and requires deep experience working with organizer communities.

Completing this research advances the ability of WMF and others to develop these organizers. It is even more important, because movement organizers are fundamental implementers of the Wikimedia movement direction, allowing best practices and capacity to grow within the movement for advancing Knowledge as a Service and Knowledge Equity. These organizers are a core asset necessary for sustaining and growing the movement.  In order, for more strategic investment by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Affiliates in this space, the final research project will develop a series of personas and recommendations on how to overcome the challenges faced by this audience.



  • The recruitment for this research can be characterised by a few elements:  
    • Opportunistic and self selected -- we used the venue of Wikimania to recruit organizers who were available during the windows of time when we could interview at the event. Moreover we coordinated finding organizers onsite which means that we selected individuals based on willingness and availability to participate, rather than a well defined sample.
    • Through the opportunistic recruit, we found individuals with various levels of experience and backgrounds, including:
      • Organizers from different regions -- 2 from North America., 1  active organizers working in both Europe and Africa, 1 organizer active in North America and the Middle East and North Africa , 3 Asia, 3 Africa
      • Organizers with different levels of experience (ranges): ranging from 1-13 years of experience in organizing
      • Organizers who started organizing online, offline, in the technical/developer community, and as external organizers to the movement.
      • Some of the organizers we spoke with started organizing right away, and others started organizing after beginning their wiki work as content contributors.
    • As part of the larger research project, we plan to make a more deliberate recruit that engages a range of community members and experience. Selection for recruitment will be based on research questions and audience needs for stakeholders at the foundation.

Interviews and analysis[edit]

The interviews were conducted with the following method:

  • We conducted semi-structured interviews. We had a list of questions, and made sure to ask them at some point in the conversation, but allowed the conversation to flow naturally with each participant. There were two researchers, so one could facilitate the conversation, and ensure we gathered useful data, and the other took notes, to ensure we would remember and be able to analyze the collected data. Researchers took turns facilitating the interview and taking notes. Notes were organized in a structure to make analysis easier.
  • A privacy policy was created, informing each participant about how we would use the data. Each participant read the release form before our interview started, and could choose to participate or not. The privacy policy defines researchers not sharing any personally identifying information publicly, including wiki identity, and only sharing findings publicly in a summarized, anonymized way. This includes not telling specific stories that could identify a participant. No pictures or video was taken, so there was no requirement for a release form.
  • After we completed 10 interviews, researchers organized the data and coded the data for analysis. Each observation, quote or story was put in a post-it, and then we analyzed the collected post, looking for patterns, and collecting them into groupings. In this way, we were able to identify the below published patterns from the interviews. Along the way, the researchers identified open questions which can be used to better inform the full research project (examples at the end of the research).
  • Because there were only 10 interviews, this research is just scratching the surface of understanding and learning. This will all inform research planned for the Q3/Q4 (Jan-June) of 2019 that will have deeper resources.
  • There are no recommendations from this research because it was an opportunistic recruit, with self selected participants, and with only 10 interviews, were were not able to develop a significant enough set of findings to make recommendations.

Initial Findings[edit]

Previous experience and path to organizing[edit]

A number of the findings from the interviews clustered around the organizers’ path to organizing including: previous experiences, how they became involved and examples of how they were pulled into organizing. Themes included:

Community Connection[edit]

  • Organizers' connection with the Wikimedia community is crucial to their growth as organizers
    • Among a substantial group of the organizers a moment of invitation or introduction to other Wikimedia community members facilitated deeper interest and access to opportunities for organizing. These invitations including invitation to trainings, participation in regional and international conference, and participating in facilitated meetup groups.

Original motivation for Organizers[edit]

Several clusters of motivation for organizing were apparent among the organizers interviewed:

  • Organizing out of desire to preserve language and culture.
    • Most of the organizers described a core motivation for organizing in trying to help preserve language, culture, country or history that is underrepresented on the internet or in other documentation. This fundamental desire to “represent” is often expressed as seeming like a “necessity” for those particular languages or cultures, or as an opportunity for expression of about something personal (their own language, culture, nationality, etc). Frequently discussion of this motivation  were paired with a moment of “realization” that Wikimedia had gaps around these topics.
  • Finding community or a sense of purpose in Wikimedia which inspires them to be organizers
    • A group of the organizers described finding a sense of community among Wikimedians, and wanting to extend that same experience to other people.
  • Originally inspired to organize as a result of personal interests or passions
    • A group of the organizers described their organizing from growing out of their own existing passions about specific topics or personal learning experiences in Wikimedia. This passion extended to involving others in that process.

Having the space, desire and intellectual context to be an organizer[edit]

  • People being organizers when they are in a stage of life that affords them time to do so.
    • A group of the organizers described their entry into the Wikimedia community through editing or reading, and then subsequent growth into organizers happening while they had time and space as students.
  • People being organizers when they work in related employment that allows space and time to organize.
    • A group of the organizers described their careers or employment as giving them space and time to organize.
  • A few originally learned about Wiki through leadership in other "open" or ideological spaces.
    • Several of the leaders from the group described themselves as having experience or background in contributing to the open software community, before joining Wikimedia,

Work of Organizers[edit]

A substantial portion of the interviews focused on what the work of organizers consistent of. Themes include:


  • Organizers described looking for partners (education, government) to work toward goals with.
    • When talking about their work as organizers, half of the organizers described their role in creating partnerships with certain kinds of institutions: mostly government organizations, libraries or educational institutions. However, a substantial group of these organizers also described a hard time “convincing” these institutions or individual professionals from these institutions to participate. They also told us  about strategies for what they would do next to further persuade institutions to partner with them and their communities.

In person interaction with broader Wikimedia community is crucial to supporting their own community.[edit]

In our interviews, most of the organizers described in-person engagements with other parts of the community as beneficial. Being at Wikimania, we expect that there might be sampling bias of community members able to and motivated to attend these events. However, for each of the organizers, and especially the very deep/successful organizers, two major trends were clear:

  • Organizers' connection with Wikimedia community is crucial to understanding the broader Wikimedia community
    • Organizers described their participation in both international and local events as important for understanding the broader Wikimedia community, and the opportunities available within the  movement. Several of the organizers placed particular emphasis on participation in their “first” event, or originally being invited to participate by someone in the movement, for opening up the opportunities available to them in the movement.
  • Organizers' connection with Wikimedia community is crucial to organizers gathering resources for their local community
    • By attending movement events, specific interactions and opportunities to talk with other community organizers, in person, helped a number of the organizers develop ideas about what to “do next” with their local communities, including identifying specific tactics, connections to other organizers, and get help filling in awareness about other parts of the community. Some of the outcomes identified by folks from attending these events took several years to act on: organizers reported learning something at one event and then acting on it or advising other community organizers on implementing that program several years later.

Understanding and recruiting the roles needed for success  in their community[edit]

Most of the organizers expressed concern, interest or awareness of the different types of skills and roles required for organizing in their local community, and for accomplish the work their community hopes to.

  • Several organizers described that they, as an individual organizer, are playing many roles.
    • Several of the organizers described how they, as a central organizer for their community, are taking on multiple different roles within organizing for the community. In part this is out of necessity because of lack of other folks with specific skills sets.
  • Organizers know what roles they need for their community to succeed, but don't know where to find the folks to fill the roles, or expressed difficulty in motivating people to participate.
    • As related to the above discussion of how folks are taking on multiple roles in the community, in part it's because they express concern about how to successfully find and motivate  folks with right skills or interests to fill those roles. For example, a gap in trainers or folks who can facilitate events when the core organizers are not there, is something that came up in multiple interviews.
  • Learning there is certain knowledge they need to learn to successfully organize in the Wikimedia movement.
    • A number of the organizers described that by “trying things” (like editathons, for example), they became aware of what they needed to learn about before they can more successfully implement future activities: Whether best practice for organizing campaigns, being skilled at training or teaching other folks, or learning how to facilitate events, they quickly learned they needed to learn more. These moments of realizing often led to an identification of roles for other contributors or that they themselves would like to develop.
  • Describing the need for match making
    • Organizers described listening to people in their communities, and finding ways to match those folks interests and skills with the opportunities or roles that the organizers identified as possible or needed in their communities or organizations. Several organizers described this as a philosophy or practice in their organizing approach, and one organizer described it as something they identify in other organizers.
  • Organizers described thinking about, needing, or doing succession planning
    • Several of the organizers expressed concern and a considerable amount of effort in thinking about “who else will do this work” -- either identifying single individuals as points of failure in their own work, or talking about how they try to cultivate new organizers.

Motivating participants[edit]

A number of the organizers described different approaches or theories on how to successfully motivate participation among contributors. Almost all the organizers emphasized the importance of figuring out how to motivate people in order to create further participation.  

  • Value and opportunity in pulling people from less represented groups into the movement.
    • Several organizers saw part of their role as acting as allies, with less well represented communities. This is in part to support those communities to participate as organizers or participants, and to welcome and gather a more diverse set of perspectives and knowledge into the movement.
  • Connecting with local community and understanding what they need to succeed
    • A number of the organizers described taking the time to understand the needs and interests of their local audience, and finding ways to match those needs with Wikimedia activities. This leads to “inspiring” others to participate.
  • Organizers answering "what's in it for me" to their local community (those they are organizing and motivating)
    • Organizers described the need  to communicate what people “get” from participating Organizers sometimes describe these rewards for participation, as related to the particular cultural, economic or professional context of the people they are motivating.  
  • Organizers using their original motivation for engagement to motivate others with similar interests
    • In several of the interviews, with folks who started as editors themselves as the result of a specific passion or desire, the organizers leveraged their own original motivation to pull in others with similar motivations.
  • Organizing as part of campaigns is a good foundation for starting to create awareness and inspire people to participate
    • A number of the organizers described campaigns, most of them Wiki Loves or online editing campaigns, as powerful tools for inspiring people to participate.

Discussion of “successfulness” of work[edit]

Most of the interviews spent time focused on the question “How is your organizing going?” In these conversations, though they did talk about successes, there was substantial focus on the challenges faced by organizers.


  • Outcomes
    • Most of the organizers were able to describe succinctly metrics or concrete outcomes of their work as organizers.

General challenges[edit]

A group of general challenges when it comes to organizing were highlighted by multiple organizers:

  • Need for better communication tools for engagement, planning and sharing learnings with their local communities, and to communicate with and learn from the broader Wikimedia Community. They described:
    • Using multiple channels, including social media and wikis to reach out and collaborate, because there is not one channel that accomplishes all they need. Sometimes this means using communications channels other than Wikis. We observed a variety of different needs here, from the need to be where the community communicates (when it is not on wiki) to the need for people to either meet in person rather than online, or the complete opposite need to meet online, only when people’s identities were not revealed (on wiki).
      • Several organizers described difficulty of getting repeat engagement from existing community members in activities when using any of these channels.
    • A lack of clear channels for getting access to existing knowledge within the Wikimedia community.
      • One organizer mentioned that a good solution for this might be having an “overarching strategist” to consult in order to help connect and develop their ideas with existing communities, practices or knowledge.
      • Several organizers described needing better channels for more effectively broadcasting learnings from Wikimedia conferences, or other parts of Wikimedia movements with their communities.
  • Internet access challenges
    • Several organizers described  challenges in implementing activities when internet was not available, reliable, or required additional effort or cost for participants to access.
    • Note: This is similar to findings in New Editors and New Readers.
  • Limited access to references and research material
    • A substantial group of the organizers, described a lack of sources for particular subjects, cultures or languages as a barrier to organizing in their context. The organizers were talking about this in light of writing Wikipedia content, mentioning this as a barrier to both encouraging online content creation and representation of culture or language on Wikipedia.
    • Note: this is noted in the Community Capacity Development research
  • Culture / language not translated well onto the web
    • Connected to some of the organizers’ motivation to preserve and share language and culture, a number of the organizers described the lack of representation and technology to support a diversity of language and culture on the internet.
  • Barriers and challenges related to getting and using funding and grants
    • There was a general set of comments and feedback related to grant programs and funding being challenging to manage and get, and a barrier to successfully engaging partners and local participants. For example, one participant was discouraged from using grants because of this difficulty and recommends others do organizing of events without grants because it is easier.

Challenges in motivating folks to participate[edit]

Most of the people we spoke with discussed successful methods or theories for how to engage new participants. However, many of these comments highlighted also challenges they were facing with those methods, including:

  • Challenges in transitioning people from contribution to a larger sense of belonging.
    • In part, this is about needing more people to take on some of the work of organizing, and realizing that it is a start to get folks to contribute content, but another job to motivate people to move from contributing content to contributing organizing of events, and other work of organizing motivating their community. It is also related to recognizing the roles needed within their community, and challenges associated with motivating the right community members (with the right skill sets) to fill those needed roles.
  • Finding and supporting "the elusive contributor"
    • A group of the organizers described a challenge in converting participants into “editors” within the context they are organizing. Conversion from “participant” into “contributor”.
    • Some of this had to do with the organizers’ challenges in teaching people to edit, and some of it reflects the way it is difficult for people to learn to contribute to Wikipedia across communities and wikis.
    • Note: This reflects the findings of  the New Editor Experiences research about the difficulty new editors have in learning to edit, and research that has been done on retention across grants in the grant Evaluation Reports .
  • Need for confidence that the community being built will show up
    • A group of the organizers, mostly newer offline organizers, described it being very challenge to “retain” (and even know if they are retaining) the folks they invest time developing for future activities or programs (in addition to the concern about making them editors/contributors).
  • Transitioning people from contribution to larger sense of belonging
    • Some of the organizers described a puzzle/challenge in trying to take contributors and participants from activities and online editing, and converting them into “members” of the broader community. Part of this concern is that folks start with one major contribution, but don’t get pulled in as repeat contributions or the gap between “simple” contributions and more complex ones is large.

Open Questions[edit]

By doing pre-research, we began to identify different questions which allow us to better frame the full research study. These “open questions” can help us better define the ongoing research. Here are some examples that we collected during synthesizing pre-research interviews:

  • Does the range of motivations around culture and language preservation, a sense of belonging within a community, and personal passions represent all organizers? Or is this just the folks that show up at Wikimania?
  • How do organizers describe the roles needed when organizing the affiliate, activities or community?
  • What are the particular roles / work / capacities  organizers describe as needing in their community? How did they discover, or learn about this need?
  • Where are existing organizers looking for new organizers? Do new organizers come from the communities that existing organizers reach out to (librarians, students, educators, etc)?
  • What happens to the new organizers that don’t make it through initial challenges? What about the folks we have never heard from at the Foundation?
  • How do organizer's perspectives change as they become more exposed to the Wikimedia community? What experiences inform change of these organizers?
  • What kinds of risks or sacrifices do people take when organizing? Does larger government or social environments make it risky to lead?
  • What can we learn from other kinds of community organizing? For example: How will our findings reflect what has been learned in political and activist campaigns?

What’s next?[edit]

In November, a team of stakeholders from the Audiences and Community Engagement teams at the Foundation will be assembled to further define the research that will be conducted in the Q3-Q4 (January-June) of 2019. The stakeholders will be gathered for a summit to discuss and align on the goals, methods, and resources for research to be conducted in the following quarters. The research we conducted at Wikimania, and the perspectives, concerns, and needs of the stakeholders will inform the future research.