- Title of the event: WikidataCon 2021
- Date: October 29-31, 2021
- Organizers: Wikimedia Deutschland and Wiki Movimento Brasil
Format of the event
Online conference, including 1 day of program curated by the organizers, 2 days of community-built program, several pre-conference events.
3 days (October 29-31) on extended times to accommodate participants from various time zones
The WikidataCon is an event focused on the Wikidata community in a broad sense: editors, tools builders, but also 3rd party reusers, partner organizations that are using or contributing to the data, the ecosystem of organizations working with Wikibase. Built around Wikidata’s birthday, the main goals of the event are to gather the community, to help them share knowledge and experiences, and to lead discussions regarding the strategy and challenges of Wikidata.
During the WikidataCon 2021, we wanted to envision a sustainable future for Wikidata and address challenges the Wikidata ecosystem faces while the project is growing. We are especially interested in tackling four interrelated points in the conference: technical infrastructure; data quality; community health; and diversity.
We also wanted to provide a meaningful online event that would engage people all over the world and make sure that people in marginalized communities were also actively participating in the conversation. Before WikidataCon itself, we designed actions to create momentum for the conference.
Main target audience
The WikidataCon is an event focused on the Wikidata community in a broad sense: editors, tools builders, but also 3rd party reusers, partner organizations that are using or contributing to the data, the ecosystem of organizations working with Wikibase. For this year’s event, we also gave special attention to bringing people from the Global South and other marginalized communities of the North to join the discussions.
Total number of participants
As often with online events, there is not one but several answers to this question. We had 1025 registrations on our ticketing system, 777 users checked in on the conference platform at least once, and through the different times of the conference, the average number of participants was around 120 people in parallel, up to 300 people on the first day. Overall, we can safely estimate that 500 people actively attended the event.
For its third edition, the WikidataCon was co-organized by Wikimedia Deutschland and Wiki Movimento Brasil. In total, 20 people (staff and volunteers) of both organizations were involved in preparing and running the event. See more details about the roles.
Language(s) spoken during the event
English was the main language used for discussions and presentations, but we also had subtitles in Brazilian Portuguese for some sessions of Day 1, a few sessions took place in Portuguese, Spanish or French, and the Latin America and Caribbean gathering was multilingual with instant translation.
We built the conference on an ecosystem of tools that were connected with each other. The services we used had to be compliant with the European data protection law GDPR, and we tried to use open source software as much as possible.
- Conference platform: Venueless (embedding BigBlueButton video conference rooms)
- Program design and schedule: Pretalx
- Registration: Pretix
- Documentation: Etherpad and wikis
- Livestream: Zoom or Microsoft Teams + professional setup
WMDE’s and WMB’s joint work started in March with a routine of meetings suited for organizing the conference program and tackling production tasks.
- Definition of roles & responsibilities for the team
- Biweekly coordination meetings with WMDE and WMB
- Risk analysis for the conference
- Tasks management via Asana
We used on and off wiki communications to engage participants in the event.
- Recurrent updates for the community on the event’s discussion page
- Press release
- Social media and Telegram groups
- Direct contact with Latin America and Caribbean communities involved in the grant
To create momentum for the conference and engage participants specially from Latin America and Caribbean, the WikidataCon organization team and some Wikimedia affiliates organized preparatory events. We also participated in other conferences to highlight some initiatives linked to WikidataCon.
- Transbordados: WikidataCon pre conference for Latin America
- Latin America and Caribbean grantees capacity building and discussion events
- GLAM das Bibliotecas da USP
- Wikimedia Argentina
- Wikimedia Chile
- Wikimedia Haiti
- Wikimedia Peru
- Whose Knowledge
- Reimagining Wikidata from the margins
- Wikidata Lab XXXI
- Creative Commons Summit 2021
- Wikidata Workshop 2021
Collaboration between WMDE and WMB
This conference was the first time the WikidataCon was co-organized by two Wikimedia affiliates. Wikimedia Deutschland wanted to partner with another group in order to bring the conference to multiple locations. Although the onsite component didn’t happen, the collaboration with Wiki Movimento Brasil was a great occasion to highlight the work of the Wikidata community in Brazil, to develop specific programs such as Reimagining Wikidata from the margins and the pre-conference events, to engage participants and speakers from countries of the Global South and to bring their voices to the event.
The common work on the conference allowed the organizers from both affiliates to form a strong bond, to learn a lot from each other in multiple areas (not only the logistics of organizing a conference, but also processes, looking for sponsors, designing an online conference, and cross-cultural communication).
Bringing topics of decolonization
The organization team consulted some members of the Wikidata community to define the main theme of the conference: “a sustainable future for Wikidata”, which would highlight discussions around technical infrastructure, data quality, community health and diversity. The theme embeds the idea that although Wikidata is rapidly growing in terms of data and contributors, there is still an expressive imbalance in how the diversity of human knowledge is represented or even present at all on Wikidata and that this is a concern to be shared across our community.
For 2021, we wanted Wikidata decolonization to have the same weight that classical technical themes usually have in this space, and not to be a side topic of the conference. We were successful in curating content in the main program to set the tone for the rest of the conference and in providing space in the program for open discussions around the topic of decolonization and knowledge justice. The participants reacted in a constructive way and shared their perspectives and practical cases to lead to action in the near future.
Representation means a lot and fortunately WikidataCon had the main program and many community sessions led by women, people of color and/or from the Global South. More data about the participants' demography to be released soon.
Trying new formats for the program
The partnership with Wiki Movimento Brasil and the topic of sustainable future also brought us to design the program in a specific way. We had plenty of ideas of topics we wanted to cover and speakers we wanted to highlight, so we decided that the program of the first day would be curated by the organizers. Although this is a bit unusual in the wiki world, this selection of panels allowed us to make strong statements at the beginning of the conference, and to give a specific angle to the discussions that took place afterwards. The next two days were dedicated to content provided by the community, and we set up a process that we hoped to be a mix between an “unconference” format (sessions proposed spontaneously) and a call for papers with a program committee, more often used at wiki events. As we ran this experiment, we struggled a lot, especially with the tight deadlines, but we managed to present a final program that was covering a huge amount of topics and representing the community’s topics and concerns.
Pre-conference events and grants
The organization team decided early on that the discussions around Wikidata sustainability and diversity should happen in a preparatory process to also engage in the conference people from marginalized communities. This process included pre conference events and grants. As it would not be possible to support initiatives covering the entire Global South and due to the socio economic proximity to Brazil, the organization team decided to focus on the Latin America and Caribbean region.
In September, Wiki Movimento Brasil organized in partnership with Goethe-Institut São Paulo a pre conference called Transbordados with simultaneous interpretation for Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish to introduce theoretical discussions rooted in local practices with Wikidata. The speakers from Brazil, Argentina, México and Uruguay covered themes such as Wikidata decolonization, knowledge organization and digital dissemination of collections in Latin America contexts. The Reimagining Wikidata from the margins project was also the subject of a Wikidata Lab and other presentations in events for the broad community as a means to warm up for the conference in October.
Different from a traditional scholarship for supporting participation on an international in person event, we were faced with the challenge to design a grant format suited for a remote event. We experimented with a new online grant format to encourage affiliates in Latin America and Caribbean to organize their own local capacity building/ critical discussion events to get prepared and empowered for the conference. Besides helping support the development of their local Wikidata communities, it also strengthened the bond among the affiliates in the region, as they face similar challenges regarding Wikidata practices.
Trying new tools
The online format of the conference was the occasion to experiment on tools designed for remote events. We started with a bunch of criteria and constraints (the tools had to be GDPR-compliant, as open source and wiki-friendly as possible, ideally providing multilingual interfaces, while being simple to use and accessible from mobile and from places with low internet quality). We decided to use a combination of tools developed by German companies who evolve in the same ecosystem as Wikimedia, and whose tools work well together: Venueless was the main conference platform, embedding live stream rooms, chats, and BigBlueButton rooms; Pretix is a powerful ticketing system that allowed people to register and receive their individual access to Venueless; Pretalx is a program aiming at covering all aspects of program design, from running the call for papers to presenting the program in a nice and mobile-friendly way. Despite a few inevitable hiccups, we received positive feedback from participants.
For the program of Day 1, we decided to go for pre-recorded sessions. Although this format may seem a bit less spontaneous, and asked us to coordinate with the speakers several months before the event, it allowed us to avoid most of the technical issues that could happen during a livestream with speakers from all around the world, it gave the possibility to contributors to prepare high-quality videos, and allowed sessions in different languages with subtitles.
Choices of the online format
Preparing an international conference in such uncertain times was definitely not easy, and although at the beginning of 2021, we were hopeful that the conference could take place with a hybrid format, including onsite events in Berlin and São Paulo, when we realized that the sanitary situation was still uncertain, we had to change our plans on the way and switch to a fully online conference. This came with various changes in our plans, funds allocation, and made our timeline a bit chaotic, but it also allowed us to focus on only one type of participants' experience. We were also very aware that the Wikimedians were badly missing onsite events and were looking forward to gathering again in person, but at this point, we couldn’t offer an option that would be safe and fair for everyone.
Timeframe, deadlines and community exhaustion
While preparing the conference, we really wanted to involve the Wikidata community in various steps of the process: committees, moderation groups, pre-conference events, and of course, to submit sessions into the program. We realized very quickly that the conditions were not the best for community engagement: a lot of volunteers were facing exhaustion or personal issues, and had a lot of things to deal with related to the sanitary and political context in their respective countries. On top of that, the period of September-November was particularly crowded, with a lot of other events inside and outside the Wikimedia movement happening in the same timeframe. Many people told us that they could not get involved in the WikidataCon program as much as they could, because they had several other CFP or event organization taking place at the same time.
This also helped us realize that contributing to the conference design as a volunteer (and generally contributing to the Wikimedia projects) requires a lot of free time, which is a privilege that many people from our community don’t have, or didn’t have at this specific point in time.
We also questioned our choices of formats a lot. While the original idea of “unconference” format didn’t satisfy the community, we realized that a formal “call for papers” format to design the program, with all of the constraints it contains (being able to write down a proposal, fit to imposed formats, find the time to prepare and fit into the strict deadlines), is not ideal for everyone. Although we eventually decided to go with this format, as we were lacking time to design something more creative and decided to go for something we had prior experience with, we wanted to reflect on this question: what other program design methods can be more inclusive and enable the participation of people outside our “academic-savvy” crowd?
Adopting English as the lingua franca of international Wikimedia events implies that people will be left out of the discussions due to different proficiency levels or for not speaking it at all. Remote events offer some opportunities for lowering the language barrier for the participants, as in providing subtitles or simultaneous interpretation. Although we were able to provide subtitles in PT-BR and in EN for the majority of the main program - which had pre-recorded videos with the invited speakers -, we couldn’t afford simultaneous interpretation for the community sessions taking place over the weekend. The program had more than 150 sessions, with many of them happening simultaneously, which ended up impractical for the organization team and budget to provide the very much needed language support.
Another challenge is to define which languages should be included in such support: for WikidataCon, as it was also organized by the Brazilian affiliate, PT-BR was an obvious choice. We also provided translations to Spanish for the pre conference event, the grant and the post event survey, since Latin America was the focus of the preparatory events, but it doesn’t cover the language diversity already present in our Wikidata community. Further research is needed to better understand which languages should be included in future events. We would also like to highlight and thank the amazing members of our community that supported each other with unexpected translations in the program!
Reimagining Wikidata from the margins
Reimagining Wikidata from the margins was a bold initiative before the conference itself to highlight the imbalance between the Global North and the Global South and other marginalized communities on Wikidata - whether in data representation or in contributors. The idea was to connect communities in similar contexts and identify specific and general problems/challenges/needs/expectations from those communities regarding Wikidata to collaboratively elaborate a strategy for decentering Wikidata from its current focus on North America and Europe.
To properly serve the goals of this project, it would be needed an entire team to contact communities in the Global South (not an easy task), to coordinate conversations and organize the documentation of it all. To properly reach out to the communities and set up spaces for their discussions needs a lot more time than what we initially planned, at least more than one year. Simultaneous interpretation is also key for the success of initiatives such as this, since people feel more comfortable speaking in their native languages, especially when they want to share their local perspectives and practical cases. This type of wiki project is hard to be led entirely by volunteers since it requires a lot of work hours that people in marginalized communities usually can’t afford to do. Our hope is that the spirit of Reimagining Wikidata from the margins is kept alive in our community after the conference itself.
Organizational culture and bureaucracy
This format of collaboration between WMDE and WMB was a novelty for both affiliates, so we couldn’t rely on previous documented experiences to know for sure what type of contract and rules would be needed, so we discovered it on the go. Although we haven’t faced major difficulties working together as we established regular and clear communication throughout the entire process, the bureaucratic aspect of the partnership was quite challenging to deal with.
Also, a good practice is right at the beginning of the collaboration to get to know each other's contexts and organizational cultures. It helps in the long run to understand who reports to whom and what the organogram of each affiliate looks like so it's easier to quickly solve everyday issues and keep the decision making on track.
Organizing conferences for the community under uncertain scenarios is not an easy task, but even with the remote format we can still be very creative and explore new ways for collaboration among affiliates and other stakeholders. Diversity should not be a side topic in our community and all efforts for making our movement more inclusive are valid, so don’t be afraid to lift up marginalized voices or bring hard to solve questions to the table in your event spaces, as they are important moments for the community.
Another advice for anyone trying to organize a bold event like we did is: don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it and make sure to ring the wiki way in your organization processes. One of the most amazing things about being part of this movement is to know that people are willing to collaborate. It is not just about doing something for them, but also doing it with them!
Thanks for reading this documentation page! If you have any additional questions or would like to get in touch with the WikidataCon organizers, feel free to write on this talk page or to contact email@example.com.