Organizing Wikimania 2023 : Program design

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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 the second 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 did we conceptionalize and designed Wikimania 2023?

How the theme was formed?

The original wording of the Wikimania theme is “Power of diverse collaboration: sharing knowledge brings people together.

The formation of the theme started at the meetup in the sidelines of the ESEAP Summit in Bangkok. Attendees of the Summit wish to highlight the diversity and collaborative nature of the ESEAP Community. The ESEAP Wikimania 2020 Core Organizing Team sent out a survey to the ESEAP Community after the handover from Wikimedia 2019. The survey asked the respondents on where Wikimania 2020 will center on, how it is significant to the regional community, the target audience it aims to invite, how quantitative and qualitative success will be measured and which goals the audience aims to attain.

The online survey answered by 41 individuals, two region-wide virtual meetings in the month of October, and three physical meetings (1st Wikimedia Summit, ESEAP Strategy Summit and Wikimania 2019).

The survey concluded that the theme of Wikimania 2020 will emphasize four principles, which are also strengths of the host organization, ESEAP:

  1. collaboration – thematic, geographic, linguistic hubs or mixed;
  2. recognition & respect for diverse individuals, communities and affiliate organizations;
  3. sharing a diverse knowledge – best practices, innovation, challenges experienced in enriching content on Wikimedia projects;
  4. social connection – an event that opens new partnership and/or strengthens cooperation;

The selection of the theme is crucial to the Asia-Pacific communities as majority of its active members are young – either in age, living in emerging economies, or organizational growth (supporting its online and offline communities). Wikimania will be a great venue to reap good knowledge from developed communities.

Most respondents see Wikimania as 

  • an opportunity to showcase ESEAP as example of inclusion: different volunteer groups, individuals, and affiliates, at different stages of development, different cultures but closely involved in an equitable way; and 
  • as a distributed growth mechanism, a way to learn and share new knowledge like tools usage, solving a problem, organizing onsite events / online campaigns and many others.
Wikimania 2023 Planning Workshop with ESEAP Conference 2022 participants
Image taken by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

After the conclusion of Wikimania 2022, the newly formed ESEAP Wikimania 2023 Core Organizing Team revisited the theme. On the sidelines of the ESEAP Conference 2022 in Sydney, Australia on November 16, 2022 the 2023 COT decided to still adapt the 2020 theme but it needs shorten the wording for easier comprehension and can be translated quickly. The Core Organizing Team asked the attendees of the conference to give their suggestions and it came up with a phrase “Diversity. Collaboration. Future.” Knowing that many Wikimedians in ESEAP are young and communities emerging and stressing the Wikimedia communities’ role on the movement strategy, “Future” was added to the wording in lieu of the social connection which is already present in every Wikimania anyways.

The theme was chosen as it reflects the core values, principles and aspirations of the ESEAP region as well as it matches the same of the host location, Singapore: Diverse in race, cultural beliefs and social status, a hub of regional and global collaboration as well as a model futuristic city.

Event Goals

Wikimania 2023 adopted the goals of originally crafted for Wikimania 2020. These were:

1. Increase participation of attendees, especially from the ESEAP region. Host 800 attendees at Wikimania. (+1000 online participants)

2. Increase visibility and participation for Wikimedia movement in East, Southeast Asia & Pacific region.

3. Create a Wikimania legacy for both the ESEAP region and ESEAP community.

4. Create a welcoming environment for Wikimania newcomers.

5. Increase participation in interactive events/demonstrations during the main conference.

How we were able to do it?

The attendance from ESEAP region was significant with highest attendance from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. The scholarship mix of close to 200 scholarship slots were allocated a large majority to ESEAP region as well as the underdeveloped, emerging communities in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and Central Asia. We also made close coordination with the Regional Grant Committees to allow local scholarships in the ESEAP region through the affiliates (user groups and chapters) and allow movement of general support funds to augment satellite events (which many African communities did).

There was strong interest to have participants be engaged on online remote participation brought about concerns of COVID-19 as well as carbon emissions from long haul travelling and optimal time management on Wikimedians with families and professionals with tight working schedules. Some unexpectedly shifted to remote participation due to visa matters.

ESEAP became from an unknown acronym in the Wikimedia Movement to a now developed identity of the region and its regional collaboration. The regional hub was fulfilled through the ratification of the declaration statement with 90 signatories and the Summit meeting in the sidelines of Wikimania. Renewed interest on ESEAP was attained through online project collaborative partnerships like in the case of Japan and increased local engagement like in the case of Malaysia.

Wikimania’s program design was carefully designed to bring in newcomers and increased participation both onsite, online and satellite remote activities.

At the opening ceremony, many donned on their country’s traditional attire, a celebration of Wikimedia movement’s rich diversity.
Image courtesy of AssFeder CC-BY-SA 4.0

In the diversity component of the event, we introduced a few things:

  1. We introduced the first ever WikiWomen Summit at Wikimania. We recognized that various activities on feminist solidarity, the state of the participation of women in Wikimedia outreach, and empowerment were initiated in various locations in the globe. The content about women including biographies in key projects such as Wikipedia, Commons and Wikidata. We see the need that an international forum like Wikimania would be a great venue to bring the voice together from a strong local and global advocate to a curious conference attendee who shares the same vision.
  2. Aside from WikiWomen, we fully also engaged the thematic communities.  Whether they are photo enthusiasts gathering to picture the flora and fauna in the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by Bay, to the Wikisource volunteer archivists sharing knowledge with newcomers, technical contributors and sysops converging to solve an issue or discuss pressing issues like IP address range blocking or even IP masking to the struggles of young Wikimedians with established and pioneer Wikimedians.
  3. We highlighted the development and empowerment of regional collaborations and hubs. The movement strategy recommendation of formation of hubs as a support structure became a highlight on the pre-conference activities and meetups. The ESEAP Strategy Summit, Afrika Baraza, Iberocoop, WikiFranca, Turkic-speaking community, Arabic speaking community and the next Wikimania host, Central -Eastern Europe as well as Indic-speaking and Bangla used the opportunity to collaborate. Debutant Timor Leste Community was also engaged with Wikimedia Portugal.
  4. We also introduced activities and features to feature cultural and personal identities. The opening ceremony donned with various traditional cultural attires. This was suggested way back 2018 but we put it to life this year. I wore a Barong Tagalog, an indigenous attire from the Philippines. Aside from that, the venue has a Muslim prayer room, a quiet room and a gender-neutral toilet. We ensure the food caters to halal, koshier, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Program schedule to respect the time of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other religious groups. The accommodation is carefully positioned near a Mosque, Synagogue, Church and Temples.
  5. Social activities such as WikiRaces, Karaoke, Fashion Show as well as cultural performances from Malaysia and the Pacific region on social hours such as meal breaks and after conference hours. To top it off the Cosplay event next door became an instant attendee attraction. The Wikimania Exchange Center allowed exchange of cultural materials from coins, post cards to stickers and sweets!
  6. Finally, many of you suggested the reincarnation on the Wikipedia sphere/ globe that happened in Wikimania 2007 in Taipei, Taiwan. In spirit of diversity of the Wikimedia online projects the W cardboard was introduced this year. We appreciate many of you signing / writing your wonderful messages as well as your cultural/ organizational symbols in the W cardboard.
Pre-conference at Google Asia Pacific Head Office, August 15
Image taken by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

In the Collaboration component, we introduced measures and accepted program submissions to create collaboration both locally, regionally and globally.

  1. We are greatly pleased with the attendance both online and onsite of Creative Commons, Open Knowledge Foundation, UNESCO, Mozilla, Singapore’s MyCommunity and the National Heritage Board as our keynote and resource speakers in our breakout sessions.
  2. A session introduced by Eric Luth and moderated by Florence Devouard invited guests online from UNESCO, OECD, World Intellectual Property Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization highlights the importance of partnering with intergovernmental organizations (IGOs).
  3. A side event was held at Google Asia Pacific Head Office, where participants discussed strategies and best practices for increasing the representation and participation of women and gender minorities in the Wikimedia movement. Presentation of other Wikimedia online projects such as Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource were discussed in the pre-conference event as well as language translation tools, heritage, arts and culture.
  4. A side event post-conference also happened at the National Library of Singapore to discuss advances made in knowledge sharing and accessibility. It allowed engagement with librarians and library users to contribute to Wikimedia projects, such as Wikipedia, Wikidata and Wikisource.
  5. A Mapathon event hosted by the WikiMaps User Group showcased the benefits and challenges of collaborating between Wikimedians and OpenStreetMappers
  6. We set aside prime hours for gatherings such as lunchtime and afternoon sessions, which provided enough opportunities for thematic and regional groups to explore ways of working together and to address the challenges faced by Wikimedians and identify solutions. This is the same in the spacious concourse area where they can do impromptu meetings and socialize. Meetups are strategically positioned early morning (60 minutes), lunch time (90 minutes) and late afternoon (2 hours) to encourage a hybrid session through video conferencing that is suitable in various time zones.
Post-conference at the National Library (Singapore), August 20
Image taken by Rachit Sharma (WMF), uploaded by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

In the Future component, Wikimania 2023 became a a forum to discuss implementing the 2030 Wikimedia Movement Strategy (#Wikimedia2030), and other current and future priorities facing the Wikimedia movement, from technology (Generative AI emerged as a hot topic) to policy around the world.

  1. In lieu of the Wikimedia Summit in 2023, we offered a space to discuss key governance related topics such as the movement charter, global council, hubs. Let’s Connect team teamed up with the Leadership Development Working Group to develop a whole day learning clinic for attendees to learn soft skills in engaging in outreach activities, networking with partners and reaching out to active community volunteers.
  2. We also gave ample time to discuss the growth of Wikimedia projects such as mentoring new editors on Wikipedia, future proofing the community and discuss the future of the Wikimedia sister projects and community wish lists.
  3. We gave a longer period for our technology and tools development community and showcase their work before the conclusion of plenary activities in Wikimania.
  4. We received a lot of program proposals on generative artificial intelligence, machine learning and large language models, which was a surprising coincidence. These sessions were well attended and watched by Wikimedians.

This edition of Wikimania we had a wide selection of movement volunteers, Wikimedia Foundation and affiliate staff to work on 11 program tracks. The program sessions were thoroughly selected to match the Wikimania 2023 theme, at the same time open avenues for new and continuous learning and partnerships.

Discussion on IP address range blocking in Wikimania. This open discussion ran on a completely hybrid format.
Wikimania 2023 CC-BY-SA 4.0

We also encourage open discussion to prioritise various topics such as:

  • Limitations in collaboration and outreach caused by the IP address range blocks
  • Offline projects, asynchronous activity as well as hatching of incubated Wikimedia projects and development of small Wikimedia projects.
  • Sister projects such as Wikisource, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons
  • Future of Wikimedia ranging from governance, volunteer committees, generative artificial intelligence and large language models.

Basic Workshops on Wikimedia Projects

Wikidata Basics at Wikimania
Wikimania 2023 CC-BY-SA 4.0

We long planned to have Wikimania to be an avenue for newcomers. This year Wikimania was held in a region with young, developing and underdeveloped communities, both economically and organically in terms of volunteer involvement and organizational maturity. This region also holds a significant number of Wikimedians younger than 35 years old which is significant in making our projects sustainable and future-minded.

Wikimania became an opportunity to have a convergence of skilled and knowledgeable Wikimedia volunteers with new and under-skilled Wikimedia volunteers. The basic workshops involve Wikipedia, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikisource. While Wiktionary was delivered in Malay language. All of the events were well received.

Exploring Singapore and peer learning on photography through photowalks and group tours

Photowalk in Singapore’s Downtown Core
Image courtesy of Suyash Dwivedi CC-BY-SA 4.0

This is the first Wikimania in a tropical location as well as near equatorial. After going down South in 2018, up North in 2019, and two years of virtual conferences, Wikimedians enjoyed their stay in Singapore by exploring its heritage structures and modern architecture through photowalks.

We partnered with MyCommunity of Singapore on heritage tours around the city as well as the National Heritage Board on the self-guided tour of Singapore. The National Library and National Archives opened its doors for tours for Wikimedians as well as discounted rates to the National Museum of Singapore. Singapore’s National Gallery was also an attraction Wikimedians did not fail to miss.

We are also delighted and grateful to my fellow Wikimedian expatriate Kenrick Angarra in bringing Wikimedians to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for the tour during the pre-conference. We appreciate the kind hospitality of Gardens by the Bay for the display of flora  and greenery during the closing dinner and dance party.

We partnered with the Commons Photographers User Group as well as volunteers of the National Youth Advancement Awards Council (NYAA) for the scenic tour & photowalk of Singapore’s city center and Marina Bay area. We are happy that the Republic of Singapore employs the Panorama Statute that allowed Wikimedians photograph the modern structures, architecture and elements of Singapore and safe to upload to Wikimedia Commons.

Other innovations

Other features of Wikimania 2023 are:

  • The hybrid format, which we the organizers to balance the needs and expectations of both the in-person and online attendees. We partnered with FOSSASIA to use Eventyay, an open source virtual and hybrid event platform, to provide a seamless and interactive experience for the online attendees. We also had to ensure the quality and reliability of the internet connection, the audio-visual equipment, and the live streaming.
  • The diversity and inclusivity of the event, which require us the organizers to cater to the different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and perspectives of the attendees. We had to provide translation and interpretation services, religious, cultural and accessibility guides, and codes of conduct. We also had to ensure the representation and participation of the underrepresented and marginalized groups in the Wikimedia movement
Video greetings after Afrika Baraza
Video taken and uploaded by me CC-BY-SA 4.0

The first part of the series narrates ESEAP’s journey to 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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