How to organize an event for 80 knowledge-hungry Wikimedians

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Organization of the WZLOT 2023 in Krakow

My name is Marek Lewandowski, I’ve been working at the Wikimedia Polska Association (WMPL) since August 2022 as an Event Manager. During this time I have had the pleasure of organizing conferences and meetings for smaller groups of Wikimedians, WZLOT is the largest and most popular meeting for members of this community. About 80 participants registered.

We usually organize conferences and rallies for the Wikimedia community on weekends. This was also the case this time: the meeting opened with an informal dinner on Friday, April 21, and we officially welcomed the participants on Saturday morning just before the start of the substantive program.

My task was to provide all those willing to participate in the conference: hotel accommodation, availability of sufficiently large and properly equipped conference rooms, planning meals and breaks, as well as time for integration. Additionally, the attractions accompanying the event are a well-received practice during the conference; this time, together with Kamila Neuman (WMPL’s Open Culture Manager), we offered the participants a tour of three cultural institutions in the heart of Cracow.

The biggest challenge was to find a suitable place where the conference could take place, as it turned out – for 80 people. We counted on such a number of participants from the beginning, and I also conducted research on suitable places in Cracow from this angle. Despite the fact that WMPL happened to organize accommodation and conference rooms in different locations during one event, I wanted to find a facility that offers both a large number of accommodation and a large conference space and also has catering facilities. At the same time, it was important that the location was well connected by public transport with strategic points of Krakow (railway station, city center) and allowed to take advantage of the charms of this beautiful city in free time. As it turned out – it is difficult to find a hotel with such facilities in the very center of Cracow, but a few stops from the center – yes. We chose the Novotel chain (Novotel Kraków City West).

Choosing a place is a big responsibility and for some time unknown. Even if you know a given place and have had good experiences with it – when you return to the hotel after many years it may turn out that there have been changes that we experience a lot in the post-pandemic reality. However, after making contact with the hotel, my intuition told me that it was a good choice and over time I felt more and more confident. This certainty gave me peaceful sleep 🙂 Eventually this choice also guaranteed a peaceful sleep for 80 participants who have requirements and expectations towards the conference and the employees of the Association.

One of the big tasks that requires special care is planning the travel and stay of people with disabilities. Adapting the facility to the needs of these people is one of the basic determinants in choosing a place. Novotel Kraków City West provided everything that is needed in this regard: adapted rooms and conference rooms and a restaurant on the ground floor, communication without thresholds and other obstacles, elevators, toilets. In addition, we have hung signs and signposts in the common areas to help people with disabilities reach key places. We have also appointed people from WMPL employees to assist people with disabilities. Some of these participants arrived with an accompanying person, one participant was provided with medical transport from their place of residence.

WZLOT’s organization has the characteristics of organizing any other event for Wikimedians, except that this event is the largest in our community. Therefore coordination was a challenge due to:

  • number of participants (81 participants accommodated in 55 rooms)
  • extensive substantive program (19 sessions in the form of lectures, workshops and discussions) and locating it in the right space and planning the right time for breaks and meals
  • production of badges, planning conference packages and their delivery to the hotel in advance

This coordination in practice means long weeks of planning, several extensive tables, close cooperation with the Hotel and dozens of exchanged e-mails and phone calls, as well as attention to costs so as to fit within the assumed budget. At the same time, the large scale of such an undertaking translates into great satisfaction from the event, which ran smoothly and in a good atmosphere 🙂

Finally, my reflections on what to pay special attention to when organizing large events and what to avoid:

What to look for:

  • safety: it is worth analyzing the number of participants and the resources and competences adequate to this number in the context of first aid.
  • availability: location, number of rooms adapted to the needs of disabled, communication difficulties in the facility, access to toilets, support for disabled in basic activities, assistance.
  • information: regardless of whether everything is going according to plan or there are changes, my priority is to keep all participants informed about the plan and its changes and to ensure easy access to this information.

What to avoid:

  • exclusion: regardless of the minority of people with specific dietary preferences or disabilities, everyone has the right to feel like a full member of the event.
  • information mess: information flowing from various sources, but also too much and too detailed information.
  • limitations in infrastructure and services: the possibility of giving a multimedia presentation or a remote debate in VR is also a success of your event. Avoid event venues that do not give you the opportunity to spread your wings during conference speeches, that will not implement your ideas that are not modern.

Translation by Natalia Ćwik (WMPL)

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