Wikimania 2017/Programme report

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Wikimania 2017 programme

Program overview[edit]

The Wikimania 2017 program consisted of:

  • A technical preconference (hackathon) (2 days, led by Wikimedia staff + volunteers)
  • subject-specific preconferences:
  • main program - (3 days, led by Program team). The main program had 420 submissions, and around 150-200 accepted talks/workshops/events, in 10 concurrent tracks over 3 days.
  • social events


  • All preconferences were organized by separate organizing teams (the hackathon team, WCNA team, etc)
  • Ellie Young & Louise Wo (full time staff) organized the rooms in the hotel for all of this as well as budget, travel, private meetings, and other participant needs
  • Main program was organized ahead of time by the program committee (membership listed here), and on-site largely by Phoebe (all part time volunteers)

Program committee tasks[edit]

The program committee was responsible for producing the main 3-day program, including keynote speakers and additional talks, sessions & workshops.

The program committee was responsible for:

  • getting keynote and invited speakers
  • soliciting talks for the main program, reviewing and accepting/rejecting these
  • communicating with speakers, including dealing with cancellations and special requests (or triaging these to logistics team)
  • making the program schedule and publishing this on wiki, etc.
  • working with additional events (unconference meetups, poster session, etc) to make sure these fit
  • getting volunteers for poster session, lightning talk management
  • communicating about the program (overall themes, speaker biographies) out to conference communications (for the website & marketing)
  • communicating timelines, status and needs with the rest of the organizing committee.

The program committee did not plan:

  • preconferences
  • social & evening activities
  • non-keynote participant travel
  • mics, projectors & speaker technology (this was handled by Louise's group)
  • community village

but did work with closely with the groups planning these.


For the main program:

  • Note: no submission review acceptance dates were met; the committee was overwhelmed by more applicants than they anticipated
  • Keynote speakers were brainstormed beginning in February and were invited in a March-April timeframe (with the exception of Susan Herman who was invited earlier). A second round of invited speakers was invited a bit later.
  • Site visit to look at rooms occurred in June
  • Waitlist acceptances went out very late - June/July -- as space was mostly dependent on visa notifications
  • Schedule was put out in June and finalized in late July, based on waitlist slots, with last minute changes happening through the conference

Technology and communication[edit]

  • The program committee has a long-standing Wikimedia mailing list that Ellie is administrator for; we used this to communicate.
  • program submission happened on the conference wiki (a long standing tradition, to support open review & visibility by conference participants):
  • There is a wiki-templated form page that speakers used to submit talks
  • submissions were then assigned a tracking number and added to a wiki table grid for reviewing, all by hand (mainly by Deror & Phoebe); talks were arranged for reviewers in blocks roughly by topic
  • individual reviewers reviewed talks on a 1-10 scale
  • meanwhile, we developed a room + track grid based on available rooms, in a google doc spreadsheet, and available times were counted
  • an assessement of how much time was available was made, and based on this talks that rated 9 & up were accepted
  • acceptances were sent by hand in OTRS
  • rejections (rated under 7) were sent by hand in OTRS
  • a separate google doc for communication with speakers was made, with all accepted talks and speaker replies marked
  • talks rated 8 & up were sent waitlist notices in OTRS
  • 9 and up talks that possitively replied were placed in a schedule grid in a google spreadsheet by Deror
  • gaps were filled in with keynotes, invited speakers; places held for waitlist talks were assessed
  • as cancellations came in, these were taken off the grid and waitlisted talks were accepted
  • final schedule on wiki was published (by hand, from google doc)
  • the last 5 steps were repeated in several rounds
  • OTRS was used for acceptances/rejections; some speaker communications were sent in mailchimp. Only a few people had access to either system (not the whole committee)
  • Meanwhile, keynotes were brainstormed and voted on in a google doc by the program committee with help from Ellie & WMF communications. The top choices were emailed directly via personal email from Phoebe (with a few invited directly by others). Phoebe followed up acceptances with personal phone calls/meetings to talk about Wikimania and referral to Ellie to book travel etc.
  • On-wiki program grid was based on a templating system that calls CSS classes to produce room colors, identify breaks etc. This could be used at some point in future to produce a mobile version, if applied consistently. Unfortunately this also means it's difficult to update the onwiki grid -- you have to leave blanks appropriately to leave spaces, etc. This schedule system has its origins in 2006's system and has been developed and tweaked over many wikimanias. Brion Vibber helped Phoebe understand and update the CSS classes.
  • Also meanwhile, Phoebe met with logistics team (Ellie, Louise & Erin) by phone regularly about mics, rooms, social events, etc. Preconferences were largely coordinated separately, but some talks were referred to preconferences.
  • the whole conference planning committee leads met by phone occasionally and on-site once ahead of the conference.

Qualitative notes[edit]


  • All keynote sessions had women speakers (either alone or paired with men) and were balanced in terms of different topics
  • A wide range of Wikimedia projects were showcased
  • outside keynotes included sister organizations and a global range of perspectives
  • there were bilingual French-English and French-only sessions, with translation
  • there were several Canadian & local invited speakers
  • Poster session was great as were lightning talks
  • the most submissions (we think) of any Wikimania to date
  • the creative commons led "New Palmyra" exhibit and on the fly memorial for Bassel was moving and important
  • Lots of workshops and meetups
  • there was a lot of focus on the Wikimedia strategy process, which led to something of a coherent theme for the conference (Katherine kicked off by talking about strategy and then there were sessions throughout the conference, as well as the dedicated strategy space)
  • Room monitor system (organized by Louise outside of the program committee) and special accommodations for disabled speaker, for speaker with no photo/video requirements, etc all went very smoothly; on-site technology was also smooth
  • program committee was international & multilingual, with several French speakers and both experienced and new people


  • Wiki submission and email tools completely failed under the number of submissions -- there was a lot of manual data entry and at least two separate groups tried to make excel spreadsheets off the schedule, neither of which was complete
  • timelines collapsed under the number of submissions too -- reviewers were largely responsive but there were not enough reviewers to review everything at once
  • somewhat inconsistent reviewing techniques without a strong process for resolving disagreements -- there were not many serious disagreements about content but because we could only take about half of the total submissions, there were disagreements about focus and emphasis
  • There were "tracks" submitted by several WMF groups, including multiple talks from the editing team, the strategy team, the international outreach team, the communication team, etc. These tracks put together would have taken up most of the conference with no community submitted talks. So it was difficult to know exactly what to accept and what not to accept from these groups.
  • (related to the above) some WMF departments were unhappy that some of their sessions they thought were important to convey information to the community were not accepted
  • difficulty scheduling program meetings that everyone could attend, across timezones, which meant that there was less communication between members of the program committee than would have been good -- the same is true of communication with and within the main conference committee
  • visa uncertainty for participants led to many last minute cancellations
  • Many last-minute changes were unavoidable (visas, attendee proposed editathon for Bassel) but some were due to lack of planning (eg last minute keynote with sister organizations)
  • last-minute changes and the difficulty of making a spreadsheet meant the wiki page was the ONLY up to date version, with no non-wiki backup
  • because of changes + wiki table technology, proved difficult to produce a schedule in multiple formats (wiki + pdf + excel) and difficult to produce a mobile-friendly schedule from the wiki -- which led to some issues as people edited the schedule page on the fly to try and make a mobile version during the conference
  • Program committee chair (Phoebe) ended up doing most of the final scheduling and keynote management single-handed, which led to her being the only person on site with a complete understanding of the schedule -- both stressful and inefficient, as many things had to be routed through her (this was due to a lack of coordination with others more than a lack of volunteers to help -- many of the above problems have a root cause of lack of delegation). Also meant that Phoebe had many competing demands on site as she also emcee'd the conference.
  • Lack of communication with colleagues related to the above -- the program committee (ie. Phoebe) dropped the ball on working with the volunteer poster session coordinators, for instance
  • sessions were sometimes poorly scheduled -- primarily wikidata talks, which were in a smaller room that was always over capacity. These should have been scheduled in a ballroom, while some ballroom talks were low interest. Scheduling was based on showcasing talks and making "tracks" that would all be in one room, but signups ahead of time didn't give enough data about how much interest there would be for wikidata (though this was guessable).
  • lack of good notetaking in the sessions (this was arranged at the last moment)
  • there was overlap in submissions between preconferences and wikimania, and referring submissions back and forth could have been done more smoothly.

Good ideas we had![edit]

Some ideas that we had that we wanted to implement this year (and what we would do differently):

  • presenter training -- every year there is a need for presenters to have their slides and talks reviewed, as many presenters are new to presenting or new to presenting in English/at Wikimania. We wanted to have a presentation clinic but plans (i.e. the trainer availability) feel through at the last moment. Instead we put up a webpage with presenter tips and asked people to share tips on the mailing list.
  • next time: try putting out presenter tips with call for submissions; have a presenter clinic
  • different formats -- we wanted to experiment with sessions that were not just formal presentations, including art exhibits etc. We got some submissions along these lines; our major success was a photo exhibit and the poster session.
  • Next time: be open to different formats and solicit these intentionally, and possibly separately from the main CFP
  • remote participation -- we did not end up trying to implement remote participation, but I would love to have more remote participation and possibly even sister "satellite conferences"
  • next time: consider planning this as a part of the event, or asking a separate volunteer group to plan this, and make sure to livestream some talks to facilitate this. (It wouldn't be hard -- just put out a call well ahead of time and make a wiki page for people to list satellite meetups)
  • All-women keynotes -- this was a goal of Phoebe's, was successfully implemented (achieved by being mindful of this and asking lots of women.)
  • showcasing local and bilingual projects -- this was a goal of the whole committee, and was successfully implemented, particularly with local library talks and first nations groups attending. (This was achieved by translating the CfP, having bilingual members of the program committee, and doing outreach to local presenters)
  • mobile schedule -- we wanted to use the WMCON mobile schedule app, but everyone underestimated how much time data entry for a 3-day, 10 track conference would be, and last minute changes + people unfamiliar with mediawiki made this untenable
  • next time - plan the mobile schedule from the beginning as part of the technology workflow
  • etherpad notetaking -- this was an idea from the communications department, but was a lot of work to make preloaded etherpads for all 150 sessions.
  • next time: plan ahead and make this part of the submission template maybe? or some other way to automagically generate etherpads

Things to bear in mind for the future[edit]

  • make a master timeline and line it up with the conference timeline. How will the program timeline intersect with visa and registration/hotel deadlines? This will be of concern to many participants.
  • think about your technology workflow (from beginning to end) BEFORE you get submissions -- how will people submit, get notified, get reviewed, be placed on the final schedule, etc? (and improve technology, hopefully). If you use the current wiki templates -- each change has consequences down the line, and adding an additional workflow step (eg we added a draft/final switch) can lead to large amounts of unanticipated work (e.g. we then needed to contact authors to see if their submission was final).
  • the CFP and contact with keynotes both need to happen as early as possible. If you are waiting on the CFP due to the above technology issues, put out a "pre-cfp" so people will be thinking about submissions
  • the CFP should reflect what you want the conference to be. Want lots of art? Nothing but panels? multi-lingual talks? Ask for it! Don't just copy past years. Talk about this early on with the committee, and figure out how your vision will mesh with the "state of x" talks that come every year from various groups (or address this head-on in the CFP)
  • the program committee should all block out plenty of reviewing time and their should be a lead on reviewing (not nec program chair) who gets everyone to submit reviews on time, coordinates several reviewing meetings, who will deal with changes on site, etc
  • Designate roles in the committee -- who will coordinate meetings, who will deal with keynotes, who will lead reviewing, who has OTRS access. The program is a major piece of work for about 8 months for at least a couple people and a smaller piece of work for several others.
  • have a person who is lead for each keynote and make sure all communication w/ the keynote goes via them or with their knowledge, to prevent confusion & mixed messages.

Attendee feedback, notes[edit]

  • add your ideas & comments here

Feedback from WMDE staff[edit]

In a Wikimania debrief session at WMDE, we came up with the following suggestions:

  • Communication: Create a better and updated overview of program and communication channels, e.g. with projections on walls.
  • Community Village: Change the format: A message board as contact base, displaying an overview of the respective User group/Chapter's participants and sessions/activities, and with the possibility of leaving messages + maybe a poster session to introduce what the chapter/user group is working on/who they are.
  • Program content and format:
    • Better on-boarding for newcomers, e.g. ask-anything corner.
    • 20% limit for North American and UK native English speakers.
    • Program and Engagement Coordinator for Wikimania (to have a more structured program, and ensure that some topics develop/that learnings are collected from year to year).
  • Venue: To have an open space at the conference venue where also external guests can join in, e.g. world café/meet-up point.

--Anne Kierkegaard (WMDE) (talk) 08:48, 14 December 2017 (UTC)[reply]