Wikimedia Conference 2011/Feedback
Feedback and Lessons Learned 2010/2011
- start 3 month before the conference
- have a kick-off face-to-face meeting with all responsible persons
- have one person responsible for the program and one for the logistics
- have weekly calls with logistics and program coordinator
- rent a car for the days of the event
- have a project plan open to all involved people; let the others know the status of your tasks
- try to convince partners/suppliers to give you discounts or not charge for their service
- have one project manager for the logistics and one for the programme. The manager for the logistics should be assisted by at least one person (e.g. for visa, flights and accommodation booking), and another person for assisting at the conference.
- make totally clear who is responsible for which tasks and what the deadlines are.
- make a detailed project plan (especially detailed for the last weeks before the conference), update it regularly and present and discuss it regularly with all other people involved. Let the others know the stage of all tasks.
- have several face-to-face meetings to check if you’re in time and everyone has the information they need.
- Try to have the registration in only one form and one process! On the one hand, it makes it easier for you to handle/process the data, on the other hand, the participants have to be clear about their wishes and dates at a very early stage. This helps you to plan and calculate the number of attendees and to have an overview over their requirements.
- Try to limit the number of forms and tables – have one "master table" for everything.
- find a good tool for the registration.
- open the registration three months before the event, send a reminder two weeks before registration closes, close the registration two months before the event.
- set strong deadlines!
- be totally clear in the description of the fields (you could insert mouse rollover information)
- ask everyone – also the people you don't book accommodation or travel for – for the exact dates of arrival and departure. This helps you to better plan meals and social activities.
We used several tools for communication, documents and project management
- Project Management: Excel. Still looking for a good PM tool. :(
- Registration via Amiando: 2010 and 2011: bad user experience, use another tool next year!
- Dropbox: a shared folder with all documents we were working on
- Skype: for weekly skype calls, conference calls with the facilitators
In 2010 and 2011, all chapters were allowed (and encouraged) to send max 2 representatives; the WMF board and several experts from WMF and WMDE staff. In 2010 there was the chapters committee, in 2011 the movement roles project. It is important that the division of participants over chapters happens "fair" and transparent. Travel costs were covered for those from far away. Chapter-to-be were also allowed to attend. There was some criticism on where to draw the line. Some considerations for next year:
- How many representatives per chapter? 1 or 2.
- Are experts/staff counted as representative?
- if not, are they allowed to participate all meeting?
- How much is it worth to let each chapter participate with 2 attendees (and not with one only).
Some participants will need extra care (visa/funding) and therefore it makes sense to start in time and ask who is participating. However, keep in mind as well that some chapters have board shake-ups in this period, and will not be able to send the names of their representatives in early enough. In that case, it is advisable to have at least a contact address for each chapter with a contact person.
Try to keep a clear overview of all information about the participants at a central place. If they send it by email, enter it to that sheet too. We mainly used amiando for updating all information, all information and files were stored in our dropbox folder.
- start 3 months before the conference, find out who needs an invitation letter for their visa or employer
- Collect data for the invitation letters (name, date and place of birth, passport number, address, date of arrival and departure (does not have to be the exact date here)) in the registration form
- Travel health insurance is mandatory, book it together with the flights (covered up to 30.000, can be concluded into the flight booking) Visabestimmungen, Einladung Health Insurance, Checklist)
- Write invitation letters (see last year’s letters)
- Private or business visa? (if business: attach Vereinsregister-Auszug)
- Some embassies only accept the original letter, which is signed and notarized, some also accept a printed copy with “normal” signature. Get in touch with the Auswärtiges Amt (foreign ministry) in Germany and the embassy in the respective countries and ask for their rules. In 2011 we had all letters notarized and send via express which is both very expensive and not necessary in all cases.
- In 2011 we made the experience, that embassies in Cairo (Egypt), Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), Johannesburg & Capetown (South Africa), and the consulates in India are more easy going while Moscow (Russia), Kyiv (Ukraine) and Nairobi (Kenya) were more complicated.
- Notarization costs around 13 € per letter
- send invitation letters and the copy of the German association register ("Vereinsregisterauszug") to the participants via email first and post (check how long it will take until the letters arrive - use extra express mail if needed)
- send all names and dates to the Auswärtiges Amt (Federal Foreign Office, http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/), get in touch early, they are very helpful and friendly
- send names and dates to the respective embassies via email
- in case of any "unscheduled" event like a volcano eruption:
- visa can be extended at the Ausländerbehörde (something like a foreign registration office, not to be confused with the "Auswärtige Amt")
- if you miss to extend the visa or the visa is running out on a weekend, go to the federal police ("Bundespolizei") at the airports; they can extend visa as well, (hotline 0800-6888000, Tegel 030-410330)
Travel (Support, Booking)
- ask in the registration form if the participants a) want you to book the flights for them and b) if they need support in paying their travel costs.
- make clear that you offer financial support; every chapter who cannot afford the flights will be granted support.
- find a travel agency that takes care of flight bookings and health/travel insurance (this service costs around 20-30 Euro per return flight) -- the service of the travel agent really saved us when the volcano erupted in 2010. Let the agency find the offers, but check if these are really the cheapest ones.
- offering a pick-up service from the airports or main station is only "nice to have", not mandatory! No one complained about it as we couldn't provide one. It is important however to provide clear directions from the airport, train station etc to the location/accommodation. Provide this well in time so that they can print it. If a participant package is put together, add it.
- bring reimbursement forms for those whose travel costs will be refunded, only pay against the original documents/tickets!
- send reimbursement forms to the participants and ask them to fill and send them via email before the conference. Have counted cash prepared for the reimbursements, only reimburse against receipt/invoice. Since it is very expensive and often complicated to make bank transfers to countries outside of the EU/US, we offered three ways of reimbursement:
- Participants from inside the EU or US handed in the form including their bank account data and were reimbursed via bank transfer.
- Participants from outside the EU or US, who didn't had an international bank account were reimbursed in cash (EUR) at the conference. They had to send in their documents before the conference so that we know how much cash we have to bring.
- Third option for everyone was the transfer to a PayPal account.
- make clear to those who ask us to book their flights that we also book travel cancellation insurance and – for those who need an invitation letter – health insurance and that the agent charges a booking fee. If they are to pay for the flights themselves, make clear that these costs are added.
- try to have all participants in one hostel (if possible rent a whole floor for participants)
- 3- to 4-bed rooms (if there are non-participant guests in the room, try to make sure they are the same gender as the participants. E.g. in some cases "male dorm" is in reality a "mixed dorm".)
- 25 to 30 Euro incl. breakfast
- stable and free WiFi
- close to the venue
- close to public transport
- WMF board and staff
- would be appreciated to be nearby the participants accommodation and venue
- have a pre-registration and welcome event on the evening before the conference somewhere near or even in the hostel.
- have the guests who pay for themselves pay for their rooms at the pre-registration. Provide lists of “who needs to pay what” in advance and send those via email to the participants.
- have a cash box and some change with you, as well as the “master lists” with all data incl. the costs for the rooms; have the hostel invoices ready, most participants need them as a receipt.
- carefully document every payment! With all the reimbursements and cash payers, it is very important to slow down and handle one participant after the other.
- accept special wishes/special treatment only to a certain degree!
Besides the obvious requirements like the optimal size for the number of participants, nice atmosphere etc, have an eye on
- good and stable WiFi!
- enough power outlets and multi power plugs
These two topics are REALLY important. Be totally clear that, if 100 people are there, every one of them has at least two devices with them that need internet access. Also, these devices need power! Make totally sure that the venue is sufficiently equipped, even if you get on their nerves! People at the venue might not have had such a crowd before at their place, previous events with "low intensity internet users" might fool them.
- good access to public transport
- accessibility for wheelchairs
- do they have a canteen? Is there enough space for catering/buffet?
- make sure the place is cleaned once a day
- what are the opening times? can you leave your stuff there over night? Is there a room where you can lock valuables like laptops or video cams.
- have a contact person who is reachable all time in case of questions/emergencies and is also familiar with the technical equipment
- Make sure that there is some space for hanging out, like a lounge or corner with couches or beanbags
- think about the ideal seating arrangements. (Circles and chairs facing each other can result in a better discussion dynamic than with front facing chairs. On the other hand, it is difficult to give a presentation if half of the audience is facing the wrong way. Consider U-shape, Fishbowl shapes, or rooms with different arrangements as possibilities.)
- besides the standard technical equipment (like projectors, screens, multi power plugs or notebook), bring apple adaptors and a printer for last minute prints (there are always some).
- laser pointer/powerpoint controller for presentations
- the default meeting equipment: Flipovers, whiteboards, markers, paper, pens etc
- have some info signs and arrows printed, showing the way to the toilet, room numbers, direction signs for the entrance. Some of the participants did not find the way, even with some signs hanging. So better have one more than one less.
- in case of any emergency: Have a first aid pack and the telephone number of a doctor with you.
- you – and the other chapters – surely want to bring some merch, swag or goodies. Have at least one free table for that. Let the participants know this in advance, so they can prepare and bring their stuff.
- It is likely that some chapters have some very specific requests - think ahead what you want to do with that: accommodate everybody or let them take care themselves for "special stuff" like webcams, video cameras for interviews etc.
- Something to make sound after the breaks (gong etc)
- Moderation kit
- One computer for the main room(s) so you don’t have to switch computers all the time when having presentations. Let all presenters bring their slides on an USB-stick or send them via email in advance.
- Clock in the room - in 2011 there were no clocks on the walls, which made it more difficult for the presenters to know how they stand with time.
- We had a timer for the 3-minute state of the chapters presentations, but it was bought in the very last minute and wasn't used much. Next year if there is a timer, test and configure it beforehand, choose who (i.e. facilitator, one of the organisers, the technician on site) is responsible for setting and resetting it and make sure you teach them on how to use it.
Food and Drinks
- ask for the participants food requirements in the registration form. Find out how many vegetarians/vegans will be coming.
- we had free drinks, available all day
- coffee (fresh milk, sweetener, sugar) - extremely important!
- tea (tea bags, thermos flask with hot water)
- water (still/sparkling)
- apple and orange juice
- we provided food for free
- pretzels and (in 2010) fruit all day
- lunch (not too "heavy", meat/vegetarian/vegan food)
- cake, sweets and chocolate after lunch (important, always have some chocolate bars at hand ;) )
- not too exotic or experimental
- some joint dinners
- don't try to please everybody, people always find something to complain about (not enough chocolate, less carbs, less vegetables...) Point people to an option to buy additional food themselves
- we had all veggie food in 2011 which lead to huuuuuuge protests. This should have probably been announced earlier.
Start looking for volunteers early. It is easier to find people for the weekend than for the weekdays. Some tasks are filled up more quickly (making photos) than others (documenting). Get in touch with the community and Stammtisch and ask for their help. Try to offer them free travel and accommodation.
- must have
- 2 (the number of tracks) people for the documentation
- 1 person for taking care of the coffee, drinks, snacks (important in 2010, not needed in 2011)
- 1 person stand-by for setting up/rearranging the venue, infodesk)
- photographer (also photograph the paper sheets!)
- nice to have
- pick-up service (airport, main station)
- video documentation (?)
- 1 person for the welcome/payment at the hostel
- sight seeing, pub tour
- Someone to help with the powerpoint slides (adding them to the presentation computer)
- possible addition for the future
- Give somebody a videocamera (e.g. a cheap and easy to carry Flip camera) and appoint them as the roving reporter of the conference to make a few interviews in the breaks and in the evenings with the attendees/presenters. The reporter should be someone familiar with Wikimedia so he can ask the right questions, and if possible upload some of the materials while the conference is still ongoing. (Similarly to what Pete Forsyth did in 2010).
Communication to the participants
- Infomails before the conference
- venue and accommodation (address, directions)
- pick up?
- bring power plugs & adaptors
- panic phone numbers
- public transport tickets
- rough schedule, free time
- Pick one location to serve as central information desk (online) on beforehand. Most likely on metawiki, considering the strive for openness by some participants. However, keep also a spot on internalwiki for some more confidential information like email addresses, photos etc. if necessary.
- Panic Phone/Info Phone: Get a prepaid card and spread the number (email, website, attendee kit, info signs), activate the phone during the conference (2 days before and after), and make sure to have it switched on at night, too. Make sure that the two people who handle the phones speak both English and German.
- See 2011 infomails
A good schedule covering all important topics is crucial to the meeting. However, even more important is finding a balance in many ways. Some balances to consider:
- Long sessions vs short sessions
- Presentations vs working groups
- Sessions for smaller chapters (practical) vs for larger chapters (political)
- "WMF-centric" sessions vs "chapter-centric" sessions
It is as well important that the schedule is finally supported by the participants and that they feel that they had their influence on it. However, keep in mind you will never make everybody happy, and you will have to keep taking the lead. If no input comes, after asking, keep going. This year, we had too little time, so there was not enough time to ask for input as I would have wanted to. I asked first for some topic ideas, and sessions correlated with it. Then I tried to destill a number of big topics from it that were broad enough to cover a few sessions to give the schedule some consistency - These were strategy, professionalization and outreach. Next step was to ask general input on that, and more specific topics related to it. Then I worked with that on a rough schedule (trying to have one likely discussion topic and one more information sharing topic against each other, and asked input with some key participants, which triggers more than just throwing it in the open. Finally, I published it (ideally several weeks in advance), and asked for comments and big problems and made some last fixes.
We started at 09:30 - earlier won't work - and ended 18:45, 18:00 and 14:30. Don't try to fill the schedule up as much as possible: More sessions is not necessarily better. Lots of breaks and acceptable working hours are necessary to give people the necessary social time and let them be able to seriously meet - they are usually not professional meeting attendees, and will be quite tired.
Be flexible - the schedule will change, no matter how well you prepare. Take into account some degree of flexibility for last minute topics, and keep space for that in the schedule. For example in working groups (ok, if you want to talk about this, please form a working group on it) or at the wrapup discussion on the last day (we will get back to that on Sunday). In the end, the attendees are in charge of the meeting, so if they really want a change, it is going to happen. This doesn't release you of the obligation to try and communicate as much as possible on beforehand though.
One of the sessions of the past years where chapters had the opportunity to tell something about themselves was the State of the Chapters. This session allowed every chapter a few minutes (2009: 5, 2010: 3) to talk about themselves, and should be strictly moderated to make sure that it doesn't take forever. One of the suggestions by the moderators of this year is to build in an opportunity to have a few chapters go more in depth into their story in a separate session to provide in that need to talk longer. Some people want to prepare themselves thoroughly for the meeting, and to them it is important that they know on beforehand which topics will be covered. A small preperation package is amongst the possibilities - although you should count on it that not everybody will actually study this.
Evenings/Free time/Social activities
- Don't put too much effort in organising a real "party". Loud music, a cool DJ and non-Wikimedians only keep the Wikimemians from discussing and networking.
- A lounge with some easylistening music is more appreciated.
- Let the participants know in advance if there is food provided and if the guests have to pay for their drinks by themselves.
- Offer some sight-seeing, pub tours, boat tour, clubbing in the evenings.
- Offer some social activities on Sunday afternoon/evening, after the the conference ends (e.g. office tour, which was highly appreciated)
Facilitation is important for a diverse group as this. When meetings go well you will hardly notice it, but you will notice it the more when they don't. A good number of facilitators is the number of tracks, this year that was 2. That way every major session can be facilitated - not necessarily every working group.
Finding the facilitators is a tough thing to do. On one side we don't want to spend too much money on it, on the other side we need a certain quality as well. A good start is looking around in your environment and asking other organizations like Creative Commons. Do that well in advance (at least three months) or the good ones are already booked.
All facilitators should speak fluently English, and should be sensible to cultural misunderstandings. They do not have to be a native speaker, it might even be an advantage not to be. You will mostly need one facilitator which can handle complicated discussions, and you can try to schedule around that. The facilitators probably have to be actively facilitating the discussions, not documenting it on a whiteboard and nothing else.
The two candidate facilitators were found through personal networks, and the two Germans were invited for an interview at the German Office. For the part about the contents (ie, not the money etc) Lodewijk - who was working from the Netherlands - was invited through a Skype call, and asked several questions. Although absolutely not ideal, this worked to some extent to get an image. After that, we had a more extensive skype call, and we met in Berlin in person. The second skype call was maybe not tremendously useful, especially since we never meat before. The real life meeting was very useful, but too late. It should happen several weeks before, ideally before finalizing the schedule so that they can still influence that. Especially since we have such a complicated international structure, take your time for explaining wikimedia to them.
Explain for each topic what are the sensitive points and who are the key players (who should be moderated more strongly, who has important information to bring but is shy). Think about possible outcomes. Warn them for potential side tracks of the discussion so that they can be avoided. Explain that the WMF and WMDE and the rest should be treated similarly.
All with all is atmosphere very important, and that is something that the moderators should also realize. We are working with volunteers and if a good compromise is reached at the cost of the enthousiasm of the participants, that is a large price to pay.
When choosing a moderator it is very important that they are fluent in English and are comfortable speaking, even cracking jokes in English so that they can make the participants feel at ease. It is probably not possible to check this through a multi-person Skype call.
Also important is to have someone with the confidence and strong personality to stay in control in more intense sessions.
In 2011 we had a two-day preparation just on the week of the conference, due to the availability of one of the facilitators. Ideally, this should happen earlier, if possible before the schedule is finalized to allow input from the facilitators as well.
In 2011 we had Anna Lena Schiller as a visual documenter.
Documentation happened by external volunteer note takers in 2010 and 2011. In 2009 it happened by the facilitators themselves and in 2008 by participants who were volunteered by the facilitator. External note takers is probably the best solution so far, because it means everybody else can focus on the discussion. These note takers should be helped however by the facilitators and it is not a fun job to do. Try to get the job done by as little people as possible - and maybe find something in return for them. This year we used volunteer wikimedians.
The documentation in 2010 was first published on internalwiki (with the exception of the Chapter Selected Board Seats discussion, which should be confidential from the WMF) and people were allowed to take confidential things out for the duration of roughly 1-2 weeks. Then they were published on meta and linked from the schedule page.
In 2011 documentation was published usually the same day or a day later on Meta wiki. This has allowed the events of the conference to reach outside the participants (e.g. links to the documentations of certain sessions were shared on Twitter and the Signpost reported on the events of the conference a day after it was over).
Documentation was published on a separate subpage and later linked from the schedule page. As the schedule page acted as a hub of information, people waited for the documentation to be linked from there even if it was already available on the separate Documentation page.
Given that the documentation pages had a uniform name (/Documentation/<Session name>) it is possible to create a wiki template that would automatically link to the documentation page as soon as it is ready.
- Try to give enough information out on beforehand. Where, when etc should be available at a very early stage, some other things can wait a bit.
- Create a map of the surroundings
- Define a hashtag and promote it. Everybody should tag their blog posts, tweets, dents, photos and videos with this tag.
- Better description of the directions (not only turn right at street xy, but also pass the post office, turn right at the toyota dealer...)
- Have two-sided name tags, put the basic information like addresses and telephone numbers on the inner side of the tags. Have a graphical designer design the name tags, have them printed and cut at a copy shop.
We did a short survey amongst the participants. The number of questions was limited, and mainly rating-based. Some open fields on the back side were available for people to add comments on anything they felt important. We tried to keep the questions similar to last year, to be able to make a comparison. The surveys were A5 size, and left at a table near the entrance/exit with a box next to it. Everybody was asked several times to fill it in, but it was also needed to tell people personally to fill it in while standing at the door when the left.
- Think about having the surery only online next year. It is much effort to type all answers into an spreadsheet. (On the other hand, it might be more difficult to really get the majority of people to fill it in.)
- Think about having a 5-step survery instead of a 4-step one (add a neutral option between "satisfied" and "not satisfied")
- Add an extra question specifically for internet quality/availability of power plugs and similar
- A question concerning the visual documentation was missing. If you offer different services, make sure you'll be able to evaluate them.
- provide public transport tickets for the participants
- BVG in Berlin offers a "Kombiticket". Get in touch with Bettina Sikora (030) 256 25978. A 4 day pass (AB) for example costs 14,40 Euro
- Separation of staff into two people helps to catch up peaks.
- Clear responsibilities are important, but it is more important to talk to each other
- What if... someone is out of the business?
- ~ 50.000 € incl. staff
- have an extra budget for „international exchange/intercommunication” (like movements roles project and chapters committee)
Photos, privacy etc
- Be careful with specific privacy preferences. Especially photos are not appreciated by everybody.
- In order to balance the privacy needs with the need to document the event properly, chose "opt-out": Use signs to tell people that pictures are taken and offer them "do not take pictures"-buttons.
- Is it a good idea for the program coordinator to attend the conference also as a chapter representative? Bence, were you able to concentrate on your role as a chapter member?
- No, the programme organizer should not be the same person as a chapter's representative. (The coordinator should definitely attend sessions to see that discussions go in the way as planned and to be able to give suggestions to the facilitators in the breaks.)