Wikimedia CEE Meeting in times of COVID-19 pandemic

Wikimedians from Central and Eastern Europe were to meet for the ninth consecutive year at the Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2020, scheduled to take place from 18–20 September in Ohrid – the Macedonian city whose cultural heritage and nature of the eponymous lake nearby earned it the status of both Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the first quarter of the year, however, prompted the Wikimedia Foundation to step up in support of people’s health and respond by postponing this year’s Wikimania for 2021, which eventually led to the cancellation of many other events in the movement, including the Wikimedia CEE Meeting.

Time brings changes but never stops

As the world plagued by pandemic began a period of tremendous changes, the world-transforming Wikimedia movement had to inevitably swallow the bitter pill. Nonetheless, the uncertainty and difficulty of accepting the new normality, albeit altering the way some processes are done, did not stop the progress of what had been previously started. In the same vein, notable developments that the Wikimedia movement has seen amidst the difficult times are the publishing of the Wikimedia 2030 Movement Strategy Recommendations and the preparation of the transition process, the introduction of Abstract Wikipedia as a new Wikimedia project after a years’ long break and, of course, the adaption of communities to the changing reality.

There is nothing significantly different when it boils down to the CEE partnership. The unstoppable progress of the movement requires engagement in the global processes for the good of building a future that relies on diversity of heard community voices and grasping the novelties help communities develop in the desired direction. And yet, there are topics of regional importance for the CEE communities, such as the future expansion of Wikimedia CEE Spring, that need to be put forward for discussion. All in all, as time brings changes, we have to accept it and change; but as time also never stops, we ought not to stop either.

The birth of Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting

One of the main changes that the new normality brought to the world for sure is the process of moving everything online. Things that were inconceivably offline in their nature are slowly becoming available in a new environment hitherto thought as alien. And here logically pops up the question: “Can the largely online-oriented Wikimedia movement ride on this wave of changes?” The correct answer is probably: “Yes and no.” While it is true that the end product appears online, the work of the editors as main production force is substantially harnessed with operations done offline. Looking on the bright side, the successful match of going online and offline at the same time in the past gives a clear direction of how things should be moved online. The most challenging issue in that context is perhaps the new set-up for hosting events and the community has initiated the WikiProject remote event participation for the purpose of its facilitation.

After the cancellation of this year’s Wikimedia CEE Meeting, the members of the programme committee have accepted the challenge and decided organise an online event known as Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2020, labelled with the empathic slogan “Stay Stronger Online!”. The dates for this event were not fixed until the CEE community members decided for the period from 2–4 October in a poll with three options that was open from 27 July to 2 August. Given the change of participants’ environment, the programme is envisaged to be modest compared to the preceding in-person conferences with around 10-12 sessions in total. About a half of the sessions will cover topics pertaining to the major goings-on in the movement and the other half will be filled with submissions received through a call for submissions from 1–31 August on three tracks: COVID-19, Advanced capacity development and Basic capacity development. Moreover, the event will not be restricted to members of the CEE communities only and interested Wikimedians from other parts of the movement can sign up to participate.

Considering that online events on a smaller scale have already taken place in the movement recently, such as the Wikimedia Polska Conference 2020, the team behind the Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2020 includes people with previous experience from those events who are eager to share it in order to make the first regional online conference happen.

Online vs offline: What changes to expect?

The replacement of an in-person meeting by an online event bears some changes provoked by the new participants’ environment.

  1. Fewer participatory restrictions. Since the event will take place online, no travel or accommodation costs exist, which oftentimes are the main reason for limited number of participants. As a consequence, every individual contributor from the Wikimedia movement (not only from the CEE communities) with a Wikimedia account can take part in the event.
  2. One session in a time slot. Participants usually have a choice between several sessions on different topics held at the same time but this is technically difficult to implement online. That said, each time slot will be filled with only one session.
  3. Shorter duration of sessions. Unlike in-person meetings where people can easily spend 90 minutes listening to a talk, it is hard to maintain high level of concentration for the same amount of time while online. Therefore, the duration of sessions will be significantly reduced.
  4. Topics of general interest. Because the programme will be modest with only a dozen of sessions and it is necessary to discuss goings-on, the coverage will tend to focus on topics of general interest rather than topics for a limited group of people with specific competences.

The best way to make a change is to learn, experiment and try. See you at the Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2020. Stay safe and healthy!