Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2021: A gateway to a better future

A giant heart symbolising love for Wikimedia CEE Meeting was adopted as a conference logo (Credit: Kiril Simeonovski, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Wikimedians from Central and Eastern Europe were unable to gather and meet in-person for a second consecutive year, which prompted the organisers of last year’s online conference to start planning and preparing another virtual meeting. This year’s event, known as Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2021 and labelled with the slogan “Meet for a Better Future”, took place from 5–7 November. As was the case in the previous year, the conference consisted of a three-day programme, but it was substantially expanded to offer participants with more talks and wider coverage of topics. Overall, it attracted about 130 participants from different parts of the world, as well as several dozen others following the live stream of the sessions.

What was different compared to last year?

The conference was conceptually very similar to its previous edition, considering that it was again held in an online environment, with slight differences and novelties.

  • Parallel sessions. Unlike the first online edition of the event, which had one session in a time slot, most of the time slots this year were filled with two parallel sessions, thus giving participants a choice between different themes. This programmatic expansion came primarily as a result of the increased number of high-quality session proposals received in the call for submissions but also because of the determination to expand the coverage of topics included in the programme.
  • Themed sessions. The submission process this year was reversed to the one for Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2019 when interested speakers were given the freedom to indicate the topic(s) which their session proposal suits the best and the themes were defined based on the responses. This was not the case last year when interested speakers were given the choice between three options — of which two related to the very broad theme of capacity development and the third one to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Advancement level of sessions. In the previous two editions, sessions ideal for newcomers were identified and marked with a specific symbol in order to guide first-time participants. For this year’s edition, interested speakers were asked to indicate one of the three advancement levels — basic, medium and advanced — for their sessions, which were marked in the schedule so that participants get a gist about the knowledge required.
  • Sessions in Russian. Following the introduction of simultaneous language interpretation from English into Russian and vice versa last year, the novelty at this conference was that speakers were allowed to speak Russian during their talks, which was deliberately made to stimulate people from the communities of Russia, who usually prefer to use Russian over English, to prepare a talk with insights into their projects and activities.
  • Live streaming. In order to increase the reach and enable people to follow the conference without entering the conference room, all sessions at this year’s conference were live-streamed on YouTube via the Wikimedia CEE channel. This was the second Wikimedia CEE Meeting with a live broadcast after it was successfully implemented for the first time at the last in-person event, i.e. Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2019, in Belgrade.

A brief recap of the conference

For the second year in a row, the conference was hosted using Zoom thanks to Wikimedia Polska, who agreed to lend two of their licences to the conference organisers in order to set up the two conference tracks. Similar to the previous edition, a passcode was required to join the conference room and take an active part, but it was timely publicised that interested participants could passively follow the programme through the live stream on YouTube.

The programme consisted of sessions with numerous talks covering a wide variety of themes formatted as lectures, discussions, panels, workshops and lightning talks. Speakers were mostly affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation and the largest Wikimedia affiliates in the CEE region, such as Wikimedia Germany, Wikimedia Poland, Wikimedia Czech Republic and Wikimedia Serbia, but there were also people representing other affiliates and communities from all over the movement, as well as a session hosted by academic staff members of the University of Belgrade. In order to support a better sharing of experience on successful projects and initiatives, the lightning talks were packed into three sessions and scheduled for the end of each day. Virtually all sessions at the conference were recorded, documented on etherpads, live-streamed on YouTube via the Wikimedia CEE channel, and interpreted from English into Russian and vice versa.

A group photo from the opening session (Credit: Kiril Simeonovski, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Of the sessions attracting more significant attention, a workshop as part of Maryana’s Listening Tour opened the conference in which Maryana Iskander, incoming CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, briefly introduced herself and conversed with the attendees regarding their work within the CEE region; a cross-regional session between Wikimedia CEE and African Wikimedians on the development of regional hubs took place on the second day; and a discussion on the process of founding a CEE Hub and a panel hosted by Nataliia Tymkiv, Shani Evenstein Sigalov and Victoria Doronina on their work in the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees were held on the last day of the conference. The main topics covered in the other sessions include Movement Strategy, Wikidata, Education, GLAM, Research, external partnerships and sustainability.

Wikimedia CEE meets African Wikimedians

Considering that the timing of Wikimedia CEE Online Meeting 2021 overlapped with that of WikiIndaba conference 2021, the organisers of both convened in a couple of video calls and decided to hold a joint cross-regional session. The joint session was part of the CEE Meets You initiative, and it was aimed at giving participants in both conferences the opportunity to get acquainted and mingle with one another, as well as supporting the exchange of knowledge and experience between the two regional communities.

The cross-regional session, which was titled “Wikimedia CEE Meets African Wikimedians” and themed “Community & Strategy”, was formatted as a panel with two speakers — Anass Sedrati as a representative of the African Wikimedians and Łukasz Garczewski as a representative of Wikimedia CEE — introducing the audience with the efforts made within both regions to establish regional hubs in line with the Movement Strategy. Anass presented a summary of the results from a survey to measure the interest in creating a regional hub amongst the Arabic-language community, while Łukasz talked about a survey consisting of interviews made with the representatives of CEE communities in order to get knowledge of their needs as the basis of founding a service-oriented regional hub.

Next steps and near-future plans

In the period to come, the development of the CEE Hub will be assigned priority within the CEE region. Following the cross-regional session with the African Wikimedians, arrangements regarding the regional hubs were made with members of other regional communities in the movement, which resulted in a two-hour Cross-regional hub discussion organised by ESEAP on 11 December 2021 with input provided from the CEE region. By the end of the year, a new mailing list to facilitate hub conversations was created with membership from all regional communities working on the development of regional hubs. These group conversations are expected to grow into a cooperative network between the future regional hubs.

As usual, the next edition of the conference will take place in late 2022, with the conference format being dependent on the future developments of the COVID-19 pandemic.