Strengthening Connection in the Wikimedia Movement

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When taking a regional lens to the work of our movement, what is the common thread between different regions? A desire for greater connection, both within and across regions. Whether it is conferences, hubs or thematic collaboration on shared projects – connecting with other Wikimedians on and off wiki is important.

As discussed in previous posts, the Wikimedia Foundation is experimenting with a renewed focus on regional work as part of its 2022-2023 annual plan, which runs from July 2022 through June 2023. For each region, regional “wranglers” – staff who live and work in the region – are tasked with bringing together staff in the region to better coordinate and connect the dots on Foundation and community work happening in each region.  At the end of the first quarter, each regional “wrangler” team presented updates within their region, which we then summarized in a series of regional blogs on Diff. To wrap up the second quarter of fiscal year 2022-2023, the Wikimedia Foundation tried a new approach: bringing together all eight regions in a single call to identify shared opportunities and challenges. Following on from that call, regional wranglers began connecting on a biweekly basis to share lessons learned from each region, on a rotating basis. 

Across regions, one overarching theme is emerging: a desire for greater connection, both within and across regions. Here are some focal topics around interconnection that emerged through the Wikimedia Foundation’s engagement with regional volunteers in recent months.

Conferences: A Starting Point for Connection

Between October 2022 and April 2023, a slate of regional conferences is helping volunteers to identify and express their desire for togetherness more clearly. At Wiki Indaba, African communities developed a shared understanding of the importance of supporting one another as an African community. WISCom, the Wiki Indaba Steering Committee, chose to host the event in Rwanda in order to offer an opportunity for growth and capacity building to local volunteers in the recently formed Wikimedia Community User Group Rwanda. African Wikimedians also affirmed their shared desire for increased capacity building , particularly on the topics of on-wiki culture, policies for contribution, navigating challenges around IP blocking, and getting more Wikipedia Admins and Stewards from the region, especially in local language Wikipedias. A majority of people in the region acknowledge that Foundation-led projects like Organizer Lab and Let’s Connect have helped provide the much-needed spaces for cross-regional  learning and collaboration. Wiscom also leveraged on Wiki Indaba 2022 to solidify its leadership role in the region and invited communities in the region to work with the committee in defining Africa’s agenda in the movement.

Conferences can also be a useful connection point for identifying shared goals and intentions. At the East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific (ESEAP) conference in Sydney, Australia last November, volunteers jointly realized that while many of them have deep local knowledge, there is a genuine curiosity to nurture a deeper and more complete understanding of the ESEAP region through more intentional collaborations. There was also a collective desire to better define and advocate for equity in areas of time zone, language, representation, and digital inclusion while building on a shared appreciation for diversity in the region and holding space for new people to grow and thrive in the Wikimedia movement. Through the conference, the ESEAP region has also set up an interim development committee to continue conversations on the needs of the region and what a hub could potentially offer for the region. These developments are taking place in the backdrop of intensive planning and anticipation for the upcoming Wikimania 2023 event that is hosted by the region and to be held in Singapore from 16-19 August 2023. 

In other regions, recent or upcoming conferences themselves are creating the space for togetherness that volunteers and affiliates desire. As travel restrictions and periods of isolation related to the global COVID-19 pandemic wind down, many regions have recently met or will soon meet in person after long periods of separation. This is particularly true for WikiConference India (WCI), which will take place in Hyderabad and will be the first conference in South Asia in seven years and focussed on Strengthening Bonds. The movement in the region is very excited for the event, and are working in close collaboration with Foundation staff on topics such as communications, logistics, trust and safety and program/event design. The South Asian regional wranglers have been providing support and guidance to the organizers who have created new coordination platforms, such as a new Telegram group and more regular regional calls, which are helping to bring in new volunteer leaders into the Wikimedia movement and boosting collaboration.  

Hubs: Opportunities for Sustained Connection

Strengthening interconnection also includes building more robust structures for collaboration. The “hubs” concept and process emerged from the movement strategy process, when focus initiatives were identified that would advance the movement strategy recommendations from 2020. There are now four active “pilot” hubs, spanning both geographic and thematic areas, with eleven more candidates in the research or discussion phase.  

At the recent regional conferences in ESEAP, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and North America, volunteers left with a shared goal of developing a regional hub to strengthen collaboration. A hub structure may be particularly valuable in MENA, where wranglers identified two shared needs: greater awareness about how to apply for and use grants from the Wikimedia Foundation, and capacity building in communications so that volunteers and affiliates can better tell their own stories. Because establishing formal affiliates is particularly challenging in the MENA region due to the political and regulatory challenges, a hub could be especially valuable in helping volunteers connect, coordinate, and support one another. 

In other regions, the work of hub development is already well under way. At the quarter two gathering, Foundation staff from the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) shared about the progress of hub development in their region. The CEE hub was the first regional hub established within the Wikimedia movement, and it has developed rapidly in the last three months, including hiring its first staff member. A second staff member joined in February. The CEE regional conference in Macedonia in October 2022 brought further clarity to its work when the interim steering committee was replaced by a permanent one, and the new leaders led discussions about how to translate the regional needs assessment that led to the hub’s creation into practice. The CEE region already has a long tradition of collaboration within the region, such as through the CEE Spring annual content campaign, as well as a willingness to embrace experimentation and failure. These attributes may be of use to two potential new hubs, one for Central Asia and one for the Turkic languages, that are taking shape nearby and can benefit from CEE’s lessons learned. 

Thematic Collaboration: Connection through Shared Projects

The final area of increased collaboration is thematic projects. Volunteers in multiple regions are actively coordinating around new or growing areas of shared work, and in others, there is a new sense of intentionality around collaborating in the future. 

One region already showcasing the power of working together is North West Europe. In late 2022, the group Free Knowledge Advocacy EU officially became Wikimedia Europe, a collaborative effort across affiliates for joint public policy advocacy to the European Union on free knowledge topics. At the Big Fat Brussels Meeting last December, affiliate and community members identified four focus areas for their work together: educating policymakers about the Wikimedia model, developing European digital public infrastructure and commons, public domain status for government-funded works, and privacy and age-gating. 

In Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC), volunteers spent much of quarter two and into quarter three preparing for Iberoconf 2023, which took place in Bogota in late February. Their joint work together rests on strong collaboration around addressing the gender gap and advocating for human rights within the region. For example, the region has held gender gap contests since 2014. This year’s contest is called Stop! Women working and will focus on creating articles and uploading pictures of women working throughout the month of March. Through work in these areas and others, the LAC community has developed a strong sense of shared importance around decolonization methodologies, which led to a more comprehensive way to generate diverse projects across the regions, such as Wikipeetia and Wayuunaiki

Finally, in North America, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), an aggregator of digitized cultural heritage material from GLAM institutions, recently received a $750K grant from the Sloan Foundation that will be dedicated to scaling and maintaining a digital asset pipeline to Wikimedia Commons and creating a community of professionals dedicated to this work. This builds upon a successful first stage collaboration led by Wikimedian and DPLA Data Fellow Dominic Byrd-McDevitt. The Community Programs team at the Wikimedia Foundation played a significant role in enabling this grant, and sees opportunities to tie this into the hub exploration and GLAM partnership work being led by Wikimedia DC

All together, these regional updates paint a picture of a Wikimedia movement that is growing, and sees our greatest asset as our ability to work together in pursuit of free knowledge. What are other ways that volunteers and affiliates should be thinking about working together? Are there other ongoing collaborations that should be highlighted next quarter?

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