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Wikimedia Conference 2015: Program & Engagement Coordination
The Wikimedia Conference is a yearly conference, that gathers relevant decision makers of the Wikimedia movement: All active Wikimedia organizations send their delegates, board and staff of the Wikimedia Foundation and members of the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) and Affiliations Committee (AffCom) participate as well. In contrast to Wikimania, the editing and tech communities of the Wikimedia projects do not participate. This shapes the conference in a way to be the main forum for organizational, political and strategic topics as well as knowledge sharing and capacity building for organizations.
The conference never tackled its full potential
The Wikimedia Conference itself has always been a kind of monolith, a one-shot instead of being an episode in a series for the Wikimedia movement. As the mandate to organize the conference had been assigned year after year, there has never been a link between each conference. The movement still faces many tough and open questions that have not been answered since last year. Since there is no dedicated process and mandate to further tackle those issues, it is a challenging job for the program team to develop a schedule that truly reflects the current pain points. What makes things even more complicated is that not all stakeholders are involved and informed equally.
Until now, sessions were not described and designed in a way that they contextualize the topic, set goals and propose further work packages. Aside from that, it has never been clear which audience each session addresses, how they should prepare and which “types” of participants are essential for a productive and sustainable outcome. This led to the effect that many of the intensive and potentially valuable conversations seemed to be isolated, not necessarily linked to movement discussions after the conferences or silted-up quickly. Decision making processes were slow, non-existent or became inefficient. Activity literally just died on Sunday afternoon, after the last participant had left the conference venue.
Documentation teams created visual documentation as well as minutes for many of the sessions. But these documents did not include learnings, work packages or designated people to be in charge of following-up on certain topics throughout the year. Aside from that, documentation was hardly used for preparing the subsequent conferences.
To sum up, there was never a common understanding of the conference’s goals, outcomes, nor impact. In the light of all the time and money going into this event, this must be considered as a constant source of inefficiency for the movement organizations as a whole. Up to now, no one felt responsible, nor had the mandate or the resources to follow up on all these issues and facilitate the process throughout the year.
Let’s take the conference to the next level
The Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Deutschland jointly agreed on WMDE being the host to organize and facilitate the conferences in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Starting in 2015, the conference can be organized with a long-term perspective, specific goals and with proper involvement of all affected parties.
For the first time, Wikimedia Deutschland will hire a dedicated staff member/contractor (Program & Engagement Coordinator, PEC) whose primary assignment will be to support the participants and speakers and liaise with the program team throughout the year. The coordinator ensures that essential conference topics are constantly been worked on and further developed. He/she will help to build bridges to other events and future Wikimedia Conferences. To tackle the above-mentioned main challenges, we want to focus on two essential points: productivity and outcome orientation as well as sustainability and continuous engagement.
Productivity & Outcome Orientation
Together with the program team and the facilitators, the coordinator will set a strong focus on improving the session design. Session descriptions should include specific goals and, if possible, work packages, outcomes and learnings. The Program & Engagement Coordinator will help to assign clear responsibilities as well as strong commitment and sufficient resources for each topic. This will lead to a structured and inclusive knowledge management process around Wikimedia Conference topics. Conversations will become more productive and outcome oriented. To asses the impact of the conference, we will implement an evaluation process.
Sustainability & Continuous Engagement
We want the Wikimedia Conference to become more sustainable: Conference topics must be developed and discussed throughout the year. We are aiming for the conference to be the discussion forum for strategy, movement roles, learnings, partnerships and the future of the organizations. In the course of one year, the conference should present the “climax of engagement” of its participants and not just be an end in itself.
Starting at the Wikimedia Conference in 2015, the coordinator will enable the participants to form working groups and to have an iterative, continuous discussion process on Wikimedia Conference topics. This includes preparation, wrap-ups and post-processing of conversations held at each conference. Future conferences (2016, 2017) will build on the outcomes of the 2015 conference.
A participatory process, designed by the participants
Please note that the whole process will be designed together with the essential stakeholders. We do consider it important to make this a participatory process; one that is iteratively adapted according to the participants’ challenges and needs. This also means that we will not present any ready-made solutions or tools right now, but will develop them in the coming months.
What needs to be done
A first important task for PEC is to liaise between the Program team, the facilitators, the speakers and participants of the Wikimedia Conference 2015. The program team and the PEC have to ensure that sessions and tracks are contextualized in movement discussion threads, that they are goal and outcome oriented and are designed to generate work packages. This includes to consult with the speakers about the expected level of preparation and participation for their sessions.
The PEC will work with the program team and speakers to ensure this information is available to all participants ahead of the conference. Participants understand which session they should attend, what is needed from their side and what benefit and learning they can get out of the respective sessions. Having all important stakeholders and decision-makers in the same room is a unique chance to tackle important issues; issues that cannot be dealt with on mailing lists or on-wiki in an effective way.
During the Conference, the documentation is one of the most importants tasks to be overseen by the PEC. Documentation means not only gathering simple session notes, but including further wrap-ups and post-processing, aligned with the session design. An essential ingredient for the sustainability of the conference are dedicated persons that can animate, motivate and lead certain topics throughout the year and produce outcomes. Identifying and supporting those key persons is also a task for the PEC. Further tasks of the PEC are regular information of the movement public, as well as the evaluation of the conference.
One of the major tasks of the PEC is enabling a continuous engagement throughout the year: the PEC creates opportunities at subsequent conferences in order to move forward with plans, activities, learnings and conversations. This is meant especially for the Wikimania 2015. As it is the first time that Wikimedia Deutschland works with such a dedicated staff member/contractor, we will run these efforts as a pilot. For the time being, the position’s contract (also funded via this grant) will be limited until September 30, 2015. An extensive evaluation of the outcomes will be part of the Program & Engagement Coordinator’s report. If this pilot results in positive impact, we hope for an extension of the grant for the PEC position.
Wikimedia Conference 2016 and beyond
For the Wikimedia Conference 2015, Nicole Ebber and Cornelius Kibelka created the “Program and Engagement Coordination” concept. Our motivation is to make the Wikimedia Conference as a whole more productive and sustainable. The concept has an experimental character, however, we consider the first six months a success. Please see our report published in September 2015 for a retrospective. As we believe that the long term impact will only be visible after a complete conference cycle of (at least) 12 months and we saw first positive effects on the continuation and participation of WMCON topics, we will continue and enhance the Program and Engagement Coordination.
The position of the Program and Engagement Coordinator covers five areas:
1) Creation and facilitation of the new program design process
We have introduced some improvements already for the Wikimedia Conference 2015, but had no influence on the program itself as we took over being the host quite late. Wikimedia Deutschland as a host will take the lead in the program design process for 2016 and 2017. Nicole Ebber as the curator of the WMCON will work together closely with the PEC as well as with program advisors throughout the process. For 2016, we intend to set one specific theme for the whole conference for the first time, where all sessions and contributions will need to fit in. To ensure an impact oriented conference, we need different formats and target group specific sessions. We have identified four cornerstones that complete the program.
2) Preparation and execution of the Wikimedia Conference 2016
Next to the program design process there are further tasks to be tackled a few months before the conference itself. Based on the learnings from the last conference, the PEC intends to finetune the documentation concept. Especially, as we plan to have clear sessions formats, the mode of documentation needs some adjustments. Along with that, the PEC will look for volunteer notetakers and brief them accordingly.
Based on the program design process (see point 1), the PEC will publish the program outline one month before the conference at the latest. Two weeks before the conference, he will publish the schedule. We consider two weeks before early enough, since all participants are called on to participate in all three full conference days anyway.
Before, at and after the Wikimedia Conference itself, the PEC will be the liaison for all content-related matters between participants, speakers, facilitators and the logistics coordinator.
3) Documentation and post-processing
After the Wikimedia Conference, the PEC will create the documentation, building upon and improving the standard of the 2015 documentation. Using the transcripts of the notetakers, interviews and input by the speaker, he will publish the documentation roughly one month after the conference.
Along with the documentation, the PEC will take care of post-processing the contents of the Wikimedia Conference. This means he will refine the current main topics, as some might have silt up and new ones might have evolved. The PEC will also carry out conversations with all thematic ambassadors and eventually look for new ones.
4) Support of the thematic ambassadors and involving WMCON participants
As for the Wikimedia Conference 2015, the PEC will continue his support for the thematic ambassadors – before and after the Wikimedia Conference 2016. This includes constant check-ins regarding their initiatives/topics, helping to identify and to connect the right people with each other and advising regarding the next steps. The PEC’s main objective is to empower and enable more people to take over the responsibility for certain topics and continuously refine them. The PEC also intends to involve more WMCON participants and other interested members of our movement.
5) Establish more programmatic bridges to other movement events
We consider it a success that the Program and Engagement Coordinator takes part in the program design process for the Wikimania 2016, as he was invited to be the program liaison for WMCON topics. At Wikimania 2015, WMCON had to be discussed on a separate day in a separate venue. For Wikimania 2016, an inclusion of the topics in the main program (e.g. as “WMCON track”) would be a desirable achievement.
Furthermore, the creation (or continuation) of links to other movement events is essential. Until September 2016, there are three other events to be considered: WikiArabia in Jordan, IberoConf in Spain and the CEE meeting Armenia. The intention is to motivate thematic ambassadors (or other people of the WMCON Follow-Up Process) to serve as multipliers and carry the topics over to these events. That would create a scaling effect of the work of the thematic ambassadors.
- Program and Engagement Coordinator: Cornelius Kibelka: cornelius.kibelkawikimedia.de