Wikimedia Northern Europe Meeting 2018/Story

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By Karen Mardahl, vice chair of Wikimedia Denmark

Reflections on the first WikiNEM in Stockholm[edit]

The weekend was the beginning of the beautiful collaboration between engaged, inspiring, passionate, fun, awesome, and really nice people. That was the top take away for me after a weekend in Stockholm with the community of Wikimedians from countries in northern Europe attending WikiNEM.

The Swedish Wikimedia chapter gave us a welcoming framework where we could share ideas, plans, dreams, and visions that we could all use to develop and strengthen our local communities as well as the northern European region. We were lucky that the chapter lived in a co-working space with wonderful spaces for various meetings and kitchen staff who prepared healthy lunches to keep our brains and bodies well charged for all our thinking activities. We could step outside for a breath of fresh air and watch boats sail by the office. There were two giant swings on the dock to the great delight of many attendees. With our hotel and many restaurants close by the office, no time was wasted on transport and we could immerse ourselves in thinking about Wikimedia all the time.

Getting to know you[edit]

Participants add post-its with hopes they have for this weekend
Hopes for the meeting.

We first met on Friday evening where we had a fun icebreaker exercise to get to know one another in a friendly atmosphere. This was the first inkling of the power of good facilitation by the amazing Ulrika Eklund, member of Wikimedia Sverige and hired to facilitate our meeting. Over the next 48 hours, she helped us dig deep within ourselves to create a purpose for our meeting, to find the definition of leadership for communities, to seek out the vision for our journey over the next five years, and to begin to learn who and what our community is.

Before we went to dinner on Friday, we answered three big questions written up on big posters:

  • Friendly space - how can we secure it?
  • What is your fear for the meeting?
  • What is your hope for the weekend?

We had a fourth poster called "chit-chat". This was for capturing other ideas and thoughts we might want to discuss during the weekend.

Begin at the beginning: Day 1 and the Organizational Compass[edit]

Why did we have this meeting? Saturday morning, Ulrika introduced us to the WikiNEM organizational compass. As you can read on the pages for the meeting, this compass was used as a tool for finding answers to lots of questions:

  • What is the purpose of this meeting and of our network?
  • What is our vision for the next five years?
  • What are the leadership values we need to achieve our purpose?
  • Who is involved in this community?
  • How do we manage all these areas and all these ideas?

Our very own purpose[edit]

"We need to start this meeting and this network with a purpose", said Ulrika. She gave us all paper on which we could write a purpose. We then passed our definition to the person on our left. We now sat with someone else's definition of the purpose! We could edit or re-write that definition as we pleased, and then that new definition was passed to the person on our left. We did this about 5 times in all. It was utterly fascinating to see these definitions grow and slowly reshape themselves. We then almost magically regrouped and reshaped these many definitions into around eight definitions. We continued to rework these definitions until we had one definition for the purpose that satisfied us all.

What is the purpose of the Northern Europe Wikimedia collaboration?
To do awesome stuff together by establishing a framework for active collaboration in Northern Europe, identifying common issues and using our expertise and resources in dealing with and developing them.

the participants of WikiNEM.

As I recall that morning, I thought of the process of baking bread. Our brains provided words that were like flour, water, and yeast. Sharing our written definitions and talking throughout the process was like kneading bread dough. Together, we pushed and pulled the words about until we had the perfect dough for baking our delicious definition.

Finding our leadership values[edit]

Karen of Wikimedia Denmark talks to other participants and takes notes.
Karen of Wikimedia Denmark during WikiNEM.

We continued around the compass using this process to define the leadership values that we needed to achieve our purpose. This process seemed harder. Our different cultural backgrounds and life experiences gave us excellent critical skills for finding the right values. It also raised our level of expectations so the words had to be almost more than just right to meet our approval. We would probably still be discussing if we didn't have Ulrika's firm guidance to help us make decisions!

We concluded that the way that we lead ourselves is guided by:

  • Empathy
  • Responsibility
  • Courage
  • Listening
  • Supportive environment, making action and participation possible
  • Fairness
  • Inclusivity
  • Motivation
  • Showing by doing
  • Vision aware
  • Communication

Hoping and dreaming of our vision[edit]

Finally, we unleashed our dreams and hopes in our visions for the next five years. The many quotes on the Vision page showcase our different thoughts, but even more so, our common dreams.

And then it was time for lunch! Yes, a good - no - an awesome facilitator and good tools like the organizational compass are a powerful way to achieve results in a short time.

Opening our minds in Open Spaces[edit]

We still had a lot more to do during the weekend. We had written a lot of nice words. Now we needed to get more active. We had to move to Open Spaces.

Roughly speaking, we had no agenda for the rest of the weekend - we had to make the agenda ourselves in the Open Spaces concept. We did have a theme: Wikimedia Northern Europe - Issues & Opportunities, and the question was what do you need to discuss in order to move things forward? Wishing that theme, we had to work out topics that we really wanted to discuss to develop Wikimedia collaboration in the region. When we had all the topics for an agenda, we needed to set up a schedule for discussing those topics. When people met to discuss the topics, they had to write a report about what was discussed. All of these reports were template-based and became the body of documentation for the weekend and the foundation for all our future collaboration. There was definitely a method to our madness!

It was clear that people had done their homework. Each chapter or group had thought about topics to discuss during the meeting so the agenda was prepared fairly quickly. Most chapters and groups were able to participate both in discussions that were critical to them as well as in discussions that came from the other attendees. These "Open Spaces" topics were where we could get our hands dirty. The report made us accountable in some way. They listed key points, but most important, they encouraged us to reach conclusions or make recommendations and identify actions to be taken (and who would take that action!)

Day 2: More Open Spaces and lightning talks[edit]

We continued our Open Spaces process late Sunday morning and then moved on in the afternoon to making action plans for the most important topics based on our prioritisation. These action plans used a template, too. It was such a huge help having simple templates to follow. This eliminated the need to figure out what to write and what to include. It ensured consistency in our communication to the larger group. We now have our documentation page to hold us accountable to all the actions that were written down in our various groups!

The two key activities for the weekend - the organisational compass and the Open Spaces - provided plenty of inspiration and actual projects for everyone to take home. This was the result of the excellent facilitation process led by Ulrika!

Our takeaways[edit]

Sofie gives a lightning talk about Wikimania coming to northern Europe
Sofie's lightning talk about Wikimania coming to northern Europe.

We were taking home more than just those plans. We closed on Saturday afternoon with talks around our organizational profiles. Each chapter or group had to prepare a poster highlighting our names, our recent success stories, our main areas of interest, and our main pain point. The posters were set up in our main meeting room and we could walk around and chat about the posters with each other. This provided more inspiration, but it also built on the networking that began Friday evening with the ice-breaker activity and continued throughout Saturday. Sunday morning opened with seven lightning talks from each chapter or group. We were constantly learning about each other and our experiences with Wikimedia projects over the years. We were finding lots of common ground on many topics and sharing contact information to follow through on many initiatives such as GLAM work, outreach activities, photography ideas, indigenous languages, and so much more. Our network was growing organically and dynamically. Yes, that was one of the aims of the weekend, but networks did not feel forced in any way. It felt natural. This became clear when we closed the meeting with a round of comments. Each person took a turn to say what they had gotten out of the weekend. Our documented action plans chased away our fears of being a weekend of all talk and no follow-up activities. Our documented action plans contained the realisation of all our hopes. We were always conscious of making the weekend be a friendly space, and our plans were constructed with friendly spaces in mind. For many, the weekend was the beginning of many beautiful new friendships with interesting, insightful, fun-loving, generous, awesome, and truly nice people.

Here's to all of us and to our future together[edit]

We are now on our Wikimedia Northern Europe journey together. A lot of things could go wrong. Fortunately, a lot of things can go very right and be incredibly awesome.

Thank you, Sweden, and thank you to all the participants who made the first WikiNEM meeting a tremendous success.