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Wikimedia Conference 2018/Program/48

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48. The 6 pillars of community support[edit]


Rémy Gerbet (WMFR), Raimund Liebert (WMAT), Veronika Krämer (WMDE), Natalia Szafran-Kozakowska (WMPL)

Length (min)


Audience / Target group

Staff members / volunteer supporters

Session Format

Presentation / input with discussion


What is successful volunteer support in the Wikimedia movement? 12 volunteer supporters from 10 Wikimedia chapters recently came up with 6 statements which might answer this question. In this session, we would like to share and discuss those statements with other staff members / volunteer supporters from Wikimedia organizations and talk about concrete examples of how those principles can be brought to life in the everyday support of Wikimedia communities.

Desired Outcome

Sharing and discussing ideas about successful volunteer support in the movement, followed by a documentation of the session.

Next Steps and Milestones

Possibly a follow-up at Wikimania

Documentation (Notes)

What is successful volunteer support in the Wikimedia context, and what do we as Volunteer supporters want to achieve with our work?

A group of twelve volunteer supporters from ten chapters met in November 2017 to work on volunteer support related topics and discuss – amongst others – this question, resulting in a collection of statements about volunteer support. During the session at Wikimedia Conference 2018, four members of the group presented those „6 pillars of community support“, followed by concrete examples of how each statement could be implemented in our daily work as Wikimedia volunteer supporters.

The 6 statements were extracted from a long brainstorming session about what it is that we hope to achieve or change for the better with our work. One of the most mentioned points formed the cluster „community happiness“:

1. Successful Volunteer support gives rise to a happy Wikimedia community. It makes volunteers feel that their work is valuable and appreciated. It fuels their motivation and spiritedness.

This is certainly one of the main mission of volunteer supporters: supporting their communities by creating a framework that positively influences motivation, and expressing the appreciation that we have for our communities and their work. The latter can for example be done in a material, symbolic or interactional way – offering awards for certain achievements, sending seasonal greetings or simply thanking volunteers and showing an honest interest in their work. More about the topic of motivation and appreciation in voluntary work can be found here: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Volunteer_Supporters_Network/Resources

2. Successful volunteer support lays the basis for fruitful relations between Wikimedia affiliates and the wider Wikimedia community. It facilitates mutual understanding and the alignment of goals. It makes Wikimedia affiliates more trustworthy and approachable.

This statement is especially relevant for volunteer supporters who are employed by a Wikimedia chapter. In those cases, the role of a volunteer supporter is not only to directly support the communities, but also to be a connector between the chapter and the community. The bigger a chapter and the respective community are, the more difficult it can be to maintain an intense exchange about current developments and goals. And even if a chapter's staff members are often contributors to the Wikimedia projects themselves, some community members might not feel comfortable approaching the chapter or asking for „official“ support. Good chapter-community relations and an intense communication are vital for the functioning and development of the structures in the Wikimedia contexts and for working towards the shared vision. Successful volunteer support should therefore aim at establishing good and strong relations and an open communication between chapter and community. This starts with a respectful everyday communication with volunteers and the monitoring of relevant Wikipedia talk pages to stay informed about current events in the community. However, it also includes transparency of a chapter’s work and the possibility for community to participate in decision making processes.

3. Successful volunteer support helps Wikimedia volunteers to use and to improve their skills. It enables them to focus on their quality driven objectives and to express their needs and wishes.

Creating quality content – be it in the form of pictures, articles or scripts – requires various forms of skills. Community supporters can help volunteers put their skills to work by providing them with additional help they might need (for example by providing technical equipment or a room to hold workshops in). But volunteer supporters can also encourage community members to meet and teach each other about certain topics, or they can organize photography workshops or the like themselves, enabling a number of people to acquire new skills or improve their skills.

4. Successful volunteer support leads to a higher number of volunteers contributing to Wikimedia projects. It sets examples of friendly, supportive and empowering working environments.

This objective can be reached through two ways: firstly, creating an environment where new and existing contributors feel so welcome, that it is more likely that they stay, and secondly, taking measures to gain more contributors. For the latter, there are numerous ways that have been tried and shared with the movement: from organizing edit-a-thons around a certain subject, teaching students to edit, targeting a specific audience such as librarians, or running banner campaigns, all those things can lead to an increased number of contributors and can be organized by volunteer supporters.

5. Successful volunteer support implicates more free content on the Wikimedia projects. It adds to making the providing of free content a pleasant experience.

This statement describes what is ultimately the goal of what everyone in the movement is trying to do: working towards our shared vision by helping Wikipedia and the other projects grow. Whether we are trying to provide the best possible framework for our contributors, gaining new editors or spreading the idea of free knowledge, we always do that hoping that it will lead to more content that is created and freely shared. On a small scale, volunteer supporters can directly support that by encouraging and helping their communities to organize writing or photography contests and providing communities with things needed to do their contributions (such as access to literature).

6. Successful volunteer support values the involvement of the general public and external partners. It contributes to the high reputation and widespread usage of Wikimedia projects.

Something we also want to achieve by supporting our communities is to help spread the knowledge about and usage of Wikimedia projects. A good way to achieve this objective is by organizing projects together with GLAM-institutions or other partners (such as cities or regional associations). We can support our communities to do that by helping them establish contact with institutions, providing them with information materials they can use, or doing press work and public relations. In order to teach and inform more people about Wikipedia and the other projects, workshops, open editing sessions or talks can be held in schools, universities, libraries or at various events. As volunteer supporters, we can assist our communities in doing all that by taking care of the organizational aspects, providing funds for snacks and drinks at events, and by making brochures and other useful tools or skills (e.g. a training on how to hold successful workshops) available to them.

Those six statements about volunteer support that we presented during the session show that the work of a volunteer supporter or community manager in the Wikimedia context is very varied and aims at more than simply providing project grants or funds. However, during the discussion following the session, it was also made clear that those statements mainly apply to contexts where a chapter has paid staff volunteer supporters – after all, focusing on all of those six pillars requires certain resources, both time-wise and material / financial.

Overall, there seemed to be agreement in terms of the importance of the six pillars of community support, and we would be happy to receive further feedback (for example on the VSN talk page on Meta) and continue the discussion.