Organizing Wikimania 2023 : Where it started

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Butch Bustria of the Philippines (professionally working in Singapore) is the event lead of the ESEAP Wikimania 2023 Core Organizing Team (COT), also serving at the Wikimania Steering Committee. Vanj Padilla, also COT and from the Philippines assisted Butch in documenting Wikimania. This is the first of the three part blog about ESEAP region’s experience in organizing Wikimedia Movement’s largest annual event.

Wikimania 2023 was the 18th edition of the annual conference that celebrates Wikimedia projects like Wikipedia and the volunteers who make them possible. This event took place from 16 to 19 August 2023 at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre and online, with the theme of “Diversity. Collaboration. Future.” The conference was hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia volunteers, chapters, user groups and allied groups from the East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (ESEAP) region. Close to 800 participants attended the conference in person, and thousands more joined online through event platforms eventyay and YouTube as well as chatting over the Telegram messaging app and internet relay chat channels. The closing dinner and dance party happened at the Gardens by the Bay, south of Singapore.

The conference featured a rich and diverse program of lectures, open discussions, workshops, hackathons, exhibitions, and entertainment, covering topics such as the future of technology and generative AI, advancing gender equity on Wikimedia projects, preserving cultural heritage on Wikipedia, closing knowledge gaps by and for underrepresented communities, such as the ESEAP region and many more.

So… How it all started?

Wikimania 2020 in Singapore, are you joking? No. Let’s do it in Bangkok.

In the 2010s there were several Asia-Pacific locations interested to host Wikimania. These were: Manila (Philippines), Bali (Indonesia), Perth (Australia), and Bangkok (Thailand, by a single person).

The Wikimania Steering Committee, an organized group of Wikimedia volunteers (mostly past host organizers) and the Wikimedia Foundation recognized that Wikimania should rotate in every continent and reach to locations where it makes a significant impact to the surrounding community and for attendees to experience the local hospitality of the host city. According to the committee the 16th edition is allocated to Asia.

Five years prior, on August 22, 2018, Andrew Lih, a member of the Wikimania Steering Committee went to Singapore at a meetup organized by local and expatriate Wikimedians living in Singapore. One of the persons leading the event was me, just four years semi-retirement after being involved with then Wikimedia Philippines. To my surprise, Andrew brought up an idea of having Wikimania in Singapore. I respectfully declined the idea as the local Singaporean Wikimedia user group or chapter is not established and significant majority are based online, not as established like in Hong Kong or even Malaysia which is based in Johor Bahru, just a strait across Singapore.

Then the discussion shifted to Bangkok, Thailand which expressed interest at that time to just host the ESEAP Conference in 2020 after Australia. Andrew requested me to pitch the idea to the Thai Wikimedians. After series of correspondence between me and Athikhun Suwannakhan, the Thai community agreed on around February 2019 to host provided that it is a shared hosting of the then emerging East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (ESEAP), a regional collaborative of volunteers, affiliates and allied groups in the Eastern Hemisphere.

What? We are the next host of Wikimania?
Image courtesy of Fuzheado CC-BY-SA 4.0

On the night of March 29, 2019, in Berlin, Germany, Athikhun and I invited Andrew Lih to the ESEAP meeting in the sidelines of the 1st Wikimedia Summit. We brought the news to much surprise to the attendees of that meeting including Wikimedia Indonesia and Wikimedia Australia which were also expressed interest to have it either in Bali, Indonesia or in Perth, Western Australia. The model being conceived and proposed by the Wikimania Steering Committee haven’t done before and will debut on Wikimania 2020. After much thought by the attendees of that meeting, the idea was accepted. The affiliates attending the Summit relayed the news to their respective constituencies including the community in Perth who expressed to host Wikimania.

ESEAP Community consultation on June 30, 2019 in Bangkok.
Image taken by Wisdom Ferrer uploaded by Vanj Padilla CC-BY-SA 4.0

ESEAP’s hosting of Wikimania 2020 was announced globally on mid-June 2019. On June 30, 2019, a meetup on the sidelines of the 2019 ESEAP Strategy Summit happened in Bangkok, Thailand where it is formally presented to the regional community. Wikimania 2020 was scheduled to happen in Bangkok Convention Centre, Centara Grand at CentralWorld from August 5-9, 2020, hitting the spot in Wikimania’s 15th anniversary. We inspected the site to much delight. That happened after the ESEAP Summit followed by a shoot for the audio-visual presentation that featured the first drone footage presented in Wikimania 2019.

A month later, the ESEAP Wikimania 2020 Core Organizing Team (COT) was constituted. It composed by Athikhun, who serves as the chair, while I serve as the vice chair and head of the communications subcommittee. Jamie Lin of Taiwan headed the program subcommittee, Robert Meyers of Australia for community affairs, Dimas Hardijanto of Indonesia for volunteer coordination, and Gnangarra for scholarships subcommittee.

Our presentation at Wikimania 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden on August 18, 2019.
Image courtesy of *Youngjin CC-BY-SA 4.0

On August 18, 2019, Wikimedia Sweden handed over the hosting rights to ESEAP in the closing ceremony of Wikimania 2019. At the closing ceremony, I told the audience that it will be 5-day event. A transition meeting happened hours prior that and weeks after the 15th Wikimania concluded.

As early as October 2019, we planned a bold plan to have a hybrid Wikimania, which will only involve all but private sessions live streamed online and allowed question and answers of the chat. This idea was brought to the global community and it received an optimistic reaction. A page was set up and some community members offered to have video conferencing too using Zoom or Jitsi.

Business continency and the pandemic

COVID-19 restrictions in Bangkok.
Image courtesy of Chainwit CC-BY-SA 4.0

On November 2019, there were uncertainties raised by some community members of having a dengue fever epidemic during Wikimania 2020. Understanding that Bangkok lies in a tropical area and it is expected that monsoon rains occurs during August, risk analysis and planning was setup. Around January 2020 it was determined that the dengue poses no significant risk provided that precautions were done by attendees and the convention centre 22 stories high is not likely be reached by mosquitoes. By the end of the month and crossing to February, a news of an emerging viral disease coming from Wuhan, China started another uncertainty. The 2020 ESEAP COT actively monitored the situation and called again a risk analysis. This time the risk of having Wikimania is high. At the time the pandemic was formally announced by the WHO, later calling it as COVID-19 and series of event cancellations which include the Olympics, Creative Commons Summit and Wikimedia Summit, the ESEAP 2020 COT together with the Wikimedia Foundation in a unified consensus decided to move the event one year later in 2021. It was announced by then Wikimedia Foundation CEO Katherine Maher on March 18, 2020. The ESEAP Wikimania 2020 COT decide to suspend its operations.

While waiting for “the light at the end of the tunnel” in the rest of 2020, I started watching old videos of previous editions of Wikimania, read the old Wikimania pages to do benchmarking. This helped us on what will be our game plan once we are back. ESEAP community on the other hand started a habit of doing regular monthly video conferencing on August 13, 2020, just days after the original date of Wikimania 2020.

The online Wikimanias (2021, 2022) and road diverted to Singapore

The Wikimania Steering Committee started thinking what will be an alternative strategy while the world was in a standstill during the pandemic. On February 2021, I was formally admitted to the Wikimania Steering Committee representing the ESEAP region. It was decided to have a completely online Wikimania rather than what was originally announced March 2020 and “Wikimania Bangkok 2021” was cancelled. In an extraordinary move, the Steering Committee made a new process. The original mandate of the committee (which is known before as the Wikimania Jury) was to select the host of the next Wikimania. It expanded its role of formulating a new core organizing committee since it is not feasible to host an online Wikimania from ESEAP, nor a single country, considering 24 time zones it needs to serve.

I was given an honor to grace the closing remarks for Wikimania 2021, sending hope of we will be back physically in Wikimania sometime in the future.

On February 2022, the Core Organizing Team using the same process formed the 2022 Global Core Organizing Team. That time, there is strong certainty that the pandemic will reach its end and allowed the usage of simultaneous event at various locations in the globe. We at ESEAP regional community offered our renewed interest to host the 18th Wikimania in 2023 and the Steering Committee affirmed. On March 2022, Wikimedia Thailand, requested that the ESEAP regional community to decide the fate on where Wikimania 2023 to be held. After the 19th ESEAP meeting (May 15, 2022), a survey was sent out to the ESEAP community. The results were announced in the 20th meeting (June 5, 2022) and all countries involved in the survey except Hong Kong will accept the decision should Wikimania will be held in their respective countries. At the 21st ESEAP meeting (June 9, 2022), host locations were short listed to Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan. A risk analysis was commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation afterwards. At the 22nd meeting (July 10, 2021), each country locations were given opportunity to speak on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of Wikimania happening on each country. I spoke for Singapore and the one of the voices for the Philippines. The results of the risk analysis were presented at the 23rd meeting. The community decided the fate of host location on the 23rd meeting at the night of 12th of July, 2022.  In the first round of voting, ESEAP Community narrowed its choices to Japan, Singapore and Thailand. On the second round on the same night, Singapore was selected but it got very narrow difference of 2 votes to Japan. The community decided to put the vote to meta-wiki to allow more ESEAP community members to express their choice. This also allowed local community members from Japan and Singapore to chime in to the discussion. The voting closed on July 17, 2022 with 44 votes for Singapore and 24 for Japan.

We present at Wikimania 2022.
Screenshot from Wikimania 2022 YouTube video (WMF) CC-BY-SA 4.0

Upon receiving the result, I got sick. Later I found out I got my first experience of COVID-19. I recovered after 5 days but worried being alone in Singapore for Wikimania 2023. It was four years from the time I declined the idea and by stoke of fate the offer to host returned back. Blessing came when Jacqueline Chen, a Wikimedia Foundation staff based in Singapore, connected me with Robert Sim, who is an active editor in Singapore. Jacqueline, Robert and I pre-recorded a presentation about Wikimania 2023 at 4:00 pm in Gardens by the Bay, flew a drone and record video at a close proximity. It is also at 4:00 pm where it is played in Wikimania 2022 on its last day on August 14, 2022.

Formation of the ESEAP Wikimania 2023 Core Organizing Team, Wikimedia Foundation Wikimania 2023 Event Management, and volunteer roles

Wikimania 2023 planning workshop in Sydney, Australia on November 16, 2022.
Image taken by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

Recruitment for the ESEAP Wikimania 2023 Core Organizing Team was initiated by me and Gnangarra. We first tap Athikhun back and he agreed. He was focused on the regional community relations. Venus Lui of Hong Kong/ Germany made a great mark on the 2022 Global Core Organizing Team so we offered her the role which she accepted. She was tapped to be on the Trust and Safety. Being the best resource on local context and great skills on technology, Robert Sim of Singapore was also invited and he was tasked on two committees, the technology selection team that selected Eventyay as event platform, and Pretalx on conference program management. He is also responsible on the selection of Handbrake on the post production work. He also led the Technology events (Hackathon) management. I invited Nur Fahmia (Mia) to lead the communications and social media while Vanj Padilla of the Philippines is invited and tasked to help her in Social Media. Vanj also given an extra role to work on the diversity program planning that lead to the 1st WikiWomen Summit. Agus Damanik was invited to work on Volunteer & Human Resource Coordination.

Andrew Lih, who was instrumental in Wikimania 2013 planning, a member of the Wikimania Steering Committee was our lead advisor and Steering Committee Liaison. Naila Rahmah and Adien Gunarta of Indonesia were the great people in the visual designs.

Helping on the side of Wikimedia Foundation were from Movement Communications Department. They are Lisa McCabe (general management of logistics), Mehrdad Pourzaki (Program planning), Elena Lappen (speaker management and communications), Rachit Sharma (auxillary events planning). Extra hands were involved like Sakti Pramudya (Partnerships), Gisca Syalindri (Scholarship Coordination), Kelsi Stine-Rowe (Evaluation), Lucas Pascual, Brooke Camarda and Lauren Dickinson (Social Media), and staffs from Trust and Safety Team, Legal Team, Digital Safety Team.     

Volunteers came to help such as Ameisenigel (Wikimania wiki translations admin), Rosie Stephenson-Goodnight (WikiWomen Summit and Poster Sessions), as well as scores of Wikimedians to join the Program Subcommittee, Scholarship Subcommittee, Technology Selection Subcommittee, Technology Events (Hackathon) Subcommittee, Trust & Safety Subcommittee and many others.

Event planning started September 23, 2022 with a virtual meeting then a physical one in Sydney, Australia on the sidelines of the second ESEAP Conference on November 16, 2022.

All Roads to Singapore (and Eventyay)

Event planning happened in Singapore on May 6, 2023
Image taken by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

Scholarship application started January 12 and completed February 5, 2023. Scholarship recipients were announced starting May 5, 2023 and announced publicly late June 2023 where travel arrangements started. Program submissions application started February 28 and concluded on March 28, 2023. Accepted program submission decisions were relayed to applicants on June 16, 2023 and program schedule published on Wikimania wiki on July 16, 2023. Event registration through Eventyay started July 1 and was continuously open till the last day of Wikimania.

From May 5-7, 2023, the Core Organizing Team held a planning workshop together with the Wikimedia Foundation, Andrew Lih and Rosie Stephenson-Goodnight. I invited Rosie to plan out the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity part of the event with Vanj Padilla. We also invited the Wikimania 2024 Core Organizing Team to allow them to observe and evaluate the 2023 planning.

With the youth volunteers for Wikimania 2023.
Image taken by NYAA, uploaded by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

On May 20, 2023 Venus and I together with then future Wikimedian of the Year Taufik Rosman, Kenrick Angarra and Jurina Jonimin conducted a training on the youth volunteers of the National Youth Achievement Award Council for their ushering duties on Wikimania 2023.

The once conceived idea of remote participation after Wikimania 2019 was accelerated brought about the pandemic. Making it hybrid first debuted in the 2nd Wikimedia Summit last September 9-11, 2022. A full end to end hybrid implementation debuted in Wikimania 2023 with the integration of satellite events while Wikimania in Singapore is happening, engagement of more remote speakers via video conferencing even presenting using mobile phones, full engagement of forum participants from various locations as well as the general audience attendance through the use of eventyay.

As the clock ticked closer to the opening ceremony, we the organizers felt a mix of excitement, nervousness, and pride. We had put in a lot of effort and passion to make Wikimania 2023 a reality, and we are happy that it would be a memorable and meaningful experience for everyone involved. We smiled and greeted the attendees, who were arriving from different parts of the world, or tuning in from their screens. We knew that we were not alone, but part of a global community of Wikimedians, who share a common mission: to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop free knowledge, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

Road to Wikimania 2023, update to the community.
Wikimania 2023 CC-BY-SA 4.0

The second part of the series will cover the program design of Wikimania 2023.

The final part of the series will narrate the outcome of Wikimania 2023 and lessons it gained from it.

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