A last look at the Berlin Wikimedia Summit editions

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From April 19 to 21, the world’s leading bodies of the Wikimedia movement gathered in Berlin for the latest edition of the Wikimedia Summit. For over a decade, this event has been the focal point for decision-makers and enthusiasts of the Wikimedia movement worldwide. Initiated 15 years ago by Wikimedia Deutschland, the Summit has been the catalyst for important discussions, fruitful collaborations, and significant transformations within the community. As we pass the final edition of this iconic event, it’s time to reflect on how far we’ve come, the challenges we’ve overcome and the achievements we’ve made in these years of relentless organising.

CC BY-SA 4.0 license Jason Krüger

To this end, we caught up with Nicole Ebber, Director of Governance and Movement Relations at Wikimedia Deutschland, who has been in control of the entire Wikimedia Summit organizational machine since the second edition in 2010. With her, we delve into the fascinating history of the Wikimedia Summit, exploring its origins, evolution and impact on the Wikimedia movement as a whole. From the modest inauguration of the first edition to the world-renowned international event it has become, Nicole takes us through the history and impact of this theatre of innovative ideas and enduring commitments to free and accessible knowledge for all.

Question : Can you give us a brief history of the Summit?

N.E : It started in 2008 in Nijmegen in the Netherlands as a chapters meeting, from 2009, it was organised in Berlin, with one exception: 2013, Wikimedia Italia organised it in Milan. In the first years in Berlin, the chapters meeting and developers meeting were organised under the title Wikimedia Conference.

It was never a traditional conference with submissions and only frontal talks. Instead, it was designed along the needs and interests of Affiliates. It then evolved into a working conference, with a lot of participatory and interactive elements. Participants did not just attend the event, they participated and contributed to the outcomes. From 2017 on, the focus of the event was movement strategy. 2020 we had to cancel due to the pandemic. In 2022 it was the first global conference after the start of the pandemic and so the social aspect of finally meeting and engaging with peers was at the centre of the event. It was also the first time the affiliates met with the Movement Charter/Drafting Committee (MCDC) and could engage on the future movement charter. In 2024, the movement charter final draft was discussed and outputs in the form of suggestions for improvement as well as topics of relevance for affiliates that go beyond the charter were created. 2024 was the last summit of its kind: WMDE is making space for more affiliates to step in. A committee was formed to create a new concept for future affiliate gatherings.

The new organising team

Q: What have been the most significant initiatives launched thanks to previous summits?

N.E : In 2017, the Summit laid out the basis for the Strategic Direction of the Movement; in 2018 + 2019 it was where the movement strategy working groups came together to gather insights and input into their work on the movement strategy principles and recommendations.

As far as the challenges encountered are concerned, Nicole Ebber points us in the direction of the exhaustive documentation of the various aspects of the event’s organization over the years. This information provides valuable insight into the challenges faced by the team and the strategies deployed to overcome them. Exploring the available reports, it becomes clear that each edition of the summit has been punctuated by its own unique set of challenges, ranging from complex logistics to the coordination of international participants and the implementation of content and programs.

One of the recurring challenges for the organizing team has certainly been managing the diverse needs and expectations of participants from different countries, cultures and Wikimedia contexts. This diversity requires a flexible and inclusive approach to ensure that every voice is heard and every participant feels fully integrated in the process of achieving the summit’s objectives. In this respect, the team had to develop effective communication and project management strategies to facilitate collaboration and coordination.

In addition, the growing size and scope of the Wikimedia Summit posed considerable logistical challenges for the organizing team, particularly in terms of facilities planning, registration management and the organization of parallel sessions. The need to provide a smooth and enriching experience for participants, while respecting budgetary constraints and available resources, was a constant challenge for the team.

Despite these challenges, the Wikimedia Summit organizing team demonstrated resilience, ingenuity and determination to overcome obstacles and ensure the continued success of the event. Building on past experience and drawing lessons from previous years, the team has adapted and innovated to meet the changing needs of the Wikimedia community and ensure the Summit’s sustainability as an essential platform for knowledge sharing and global collaboration. «We have a very thorough documentation of all the steps we took when organising the summit each year. And also a 3-years report, which lead us to renaming the event summit (and no longer conference).» Reminds Nicole, inviting us to read the reports, before we continue our questioning.

Q: What impact has the summit had on the Wikimedia community and the movement as a whole?

N.E : Strengthen ties and trust between affiliates; create a shared vision of the movement’s future, strategy and governance; create spaces where affiliates can exchange and learn about their work with communities, partners and the public.

Q: Do you have a special anecdote to share with us?

N.E : 2011 was the first conference with only vegetarian food and a lot of people freaked out about it and organised a protest march to the nearest kebab shop.

Q: People to thank?

N.E : The participants! They made these gatherings so unique and each one unforgettable in its own way.  It’s been such a joy and honour for Wikimedia Deutschland and for me personally to host this event in different forms for so many years.

Thank you for this interview

In the end, this event is of the utmost importance to the Wikimedia Foundation, which has supported every edition. Maryana Iskander, who has attended every year since she took over the helm of the Wikimedia Foundation, thanked the outstanding team at Wikimedia Deutschland. “This year’s Wikimedia Summit was an opportunity for Movement stakeholders to come together to connect, learn and have important conversations about the Movement’s Charter. Everyone I spoke to, appreciated hearing each other’s perspectives. We also had the opportunity to thank Wikimedia Deutschland for the many years they have dedicated to making the summit happen, which was the last event of its kind. Their contribution was important and we are all very grateful to them”.

With Maryana Iskander

Ultimately, this edition of Wikimedia Summit 2024 marks the end of an era for the Wikimedia community. This emblematic event, organized with passion and determination by Wikimedia Deutschland, has played a crucial role in the evolution and consolidation of the movement. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Nicole Ebber and her team, the summit has been able to adapt and respond to the diverse needs of affiliates, while remaining a place for sharing and innovation. As we turn the page on this latest edition, the spirit of collaboration and commitment to free and accessible knowledge continues to guide the Wikimedia community towards new horizons.

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