Movement Learning and Leadership Development Project/What we learned

Movement Learning and Leadership Development Project

Barriers to Engagement


In order to best support the healthy and sustainable engagement and leadership development of our volunteers, we must first have a clear understanding of the many barriers that slow, discourage, deter, and/or challenge their development within the Wikimedia movement. Below is a summary of the primary barriers encountered by volunteers.

Lack of Access or Awareness

  • The English centric nature of the movement excludes many from engaging more deeply in the movement. Things like grants, scholarships and other resources are difficult to find and often only in English. This leaves Non- English speaking communities feeling less resourced and unacknowledged.
  • The platforms are complex and unwelcoming - often new users are confused, scrutinized for their mistakes, and unaware of how to ask for help, leaving them discouraged and hesitant to engage further.
  • Learning and engagement is often stunted when volunteers are:
    • not sure what to do and which skills to develop,
    • not invited into or made aware of learning and networking opportunities, and
    • not engaged or invested in.
  • Not all volunteers have access to computers or reliable and affordable internet and this can limit their contributions and ability to learn and develop.

Limitations to capacity and successful knowledge transferring

  • The lack of volunteers to take on various roles keeps the same people in power for years and causes burnout and capacity gaps.
  • Lack of volunteers to train new volunteers causes burnout.
  • When volunteers leave or no longer have capacity to keep projects going it can cause a void leaving things unfinished. Communities around the world feel disconnected and have a hard time knowing what other communities and projects are doing.
  • The lack of term limits and the increasing experience requirements for roles decreases the opportunities for newer volunteers to learn and gain such experience and causes unhealthy power dynamics.

Feeling unsafe or uncomfortable

  • On and offline harassment creates an unwelcoming environment and hampers volunteer engagement and retention.
  • Disclosing a marginalized identity can lead to lack of support and opportunity, harassment, undo attention and unnecessary scrutiny.
  • Context, local government, and political climates create additional challenges for volunteers.

Lack of recognition and acknowledgement

  • There is a lack of legitimacy and official recognition for volunteers and the work they do which makes developing official partnerships challenging.
  • There is little recognition for those who contribute in other ways beyond editing.
  • There is even less recognition for female contributors. They often feel that their contributions don’t matter.
  • Volunteers feel like they are not recognized by the foundation for their work.

A Need for Mentorship and Support

  • Newcomers feel alone and left behind when no one is responding to their online needs and questions.
  • Many feel lonely and isolated and don’t know who to ask for help.
  • Volunteers feel that they are over burdening others when asking for help.
  • When the same people have to retain and retrain volunteers over and over it causes burnout.
  • People want first hand technical support and don't want to feel alone
  • Some volunteers may not be aware of the skills that they should develop for growth in the movement
  • Mentorship pages that do exist are not easily found by newcomers.



We already knew that the term “leadership” has many interpretations throughout the world, which vary greatly depending on culture, language, political environments, context, personal experiences, professions, and more. Even within Wikimedia, the broad concept of leadership exists in different spaces and contexts. These include (but are not limited to) offline organizers, on-wiki functionaries, trainers, facilitators, members of decision-making bodies, and individuals operating in technical spaces. There isn't a shared understanding of leadership within our movement. Further, we learned from the research that leadership is a key component of a volunteer’s growth, whether this is because they are seeking to develop their own skills or behaviors to have greater impact or because they have been influenced in their journey by leadership exemplified by others.

Defining Leadership in the Wikimedia Movement


A goal of this research was to use community insight to define the concept of “leadership” within our unique context and begin to ground us in a shared understanding of the term. Of the interviewees that answered the question about what leadership meant to them, only 22% mentioned hard skills, and no one mentioned specific titles or roles. This leads us to conclude that leadership is not any one definitive thing, action, or role but instead is a continuous demonstration of certain qualities that are valued across the movement. The research with our community participants illuminated the following main qualities comprising leadership:

Emotionally aware

Why does leadership matter?


In addition to leadership being closely associated with the learning and development journey of volunteers through mentorship by others and through their own desire to take responsibility, volunteers often ask to learn the qualities and behaviors of leadership in training workshops. From our experience and evaluations from training and developing volunteers, the Community Development team believes that leadership and the development of this capacity is a core part of strengthening the Wikimedia communities, platforms and projects. We feel that strengthening leadership capacities creates more equitable learning and development pathways and improves access and support systems for movement engagement. What we heard from the research supports the need for and importance of leadership within Wikimedia. As we continue to support our communities and make progress on our movement strategy goals, we need to support and build for accessible leadership development.

You can give people certain access to delete articles or give people certain edits rights but this is not what leadership means. Leadership is to guide your community and to help grow and motivate your community. It is about trying to keep the people in Wikipedia, and trying to attract more people to Wikipedia. We have to teach people and bring awareness to Wikipedia. -- Wikimedia Volunteer

Demonstrations of Leadership


Leadership is not simply obtained with a particular role or title, certification or training, but is a pattern of behavior that is developed over time at different depths and speeds, often driven by the specific needs and circumstances of a volunteer's community. Leadership in Wikimedia is seen as acting in a way that demonstrates and prioritizes the values of the movement and furthers the Wikimedia mission.

Leadership is helping other volunteers reach their goals, be more participatory, create more projects, and see the core objective of the movement achieved - Wikimedia volunteer

For me, the perfect leader would be very hands-on, talk to us, lead the projects, know everyone, knows the skills, the strengths and weaknesses, and lead by example, respectful to the views of everyone in the community, on track.” - Wikimedia volunteer

The following categories express the ways leadership is often demonstrated in the Wikimedia movement:

People Centered

 Leadership means spending quality time with the people to accomplish a goal and inspire them and motivate them and give them the best of you.” - Wikimedia volunteer 

Demonstrating this looks like:

  • Elevating and supporting those around you
  • Representing and amplifying the views, concerns, and goals of the community, not just your own
  • Recognizing and acknowledging the work and contributions of volunteers
  • Agreeing to a standard to be held to
  • Building trust
  • Engaging in civil discourse
  • Maintaining transparency and openly sharing information
  • Motivating, inspiring and guiding others
  • Removing barriers that are in the way of others’ success
  • Actively supporting new contributors and finding ways to teach them and help them feel welcome
  • Collaborating with other communities, sharing best practices, and supporting mutual learning and knowledge transfer


 It’s about creating opportunities and bringing people together to work on a common goal, knowing people’s expertise, how they work best, how they work not so well. It’s about knowing people and putting things together so that the effort is maximized.” - Wikimedia volunteer

Demonstrating this looks like:

  • Creating space for people to speak and share thoughts and ideas
  • Seeking feedback and embracing the importance of learning from others
  • Creating opportunities for others to get involved and take on responsibility
  • Being aware of your context and that of others and adapting as appropriate
  • Assuming good faith, not acting on assumptions
  • Recognizing and affirming good work and ideas initiated by others
  • Recognizing and encouraging efforts to close content gaps
  • Recognizing various points of view and demonstrating fairness when contributing to articles for deletions, third opinion, talk pages, etc.
  • Inviting others into spaces where they can learn, engage, and contribute


 You always need to check yourself, you have to be sympathetic when you listen to people and be an effective communicator. You have to be very concrete about the things you are trying to say, you cannot lie to the community. The idea needs to be focused for the community. Focus on things that are necessary for the community. Never lose sight.” - Wikimedia volunteer

Demonstrating this looks like:

  • Proving to be reliable and following through on tasks and commitments
  • Protecting Wikimedia content
  • Maintaining neutrality
  • Being present, active, and available for the Wikimedia community
  • Remaining consistent
  • Asking clarifying questions


 For leadership is the one setting a good example and leading the movement towards a clear direction and clear goals, asking the members to be on the same page with the movements goals and objectives so that we can come up with the same goals at the end of a project for what we are trying to achieve.” - Wikimedia volunteer

Demonstrating this looks like:

  • Defining roles, expectations, and guidelines to follow to ensure fairness and accountability
  • Providing helpful technical solutions
  • Setting a clear direction and SMART goals (specific, measurable, assignable to a responsible person, realistic, and time-related with a reasonable deadline)
  • Designating tasks and involving others in the process, project, or conversation
  • Recognizing current capacities and skill bottlenecks and taking action to address gaps to help others develop and improve
  • Recognizing editing errors as an opportunity to teach and support others to become better contributors
  • Stepping in to mediate conversations
  • Initiating and driving positive impact

Emotionally Aware

 “You need to be conscious and be humble and learn new things, and bring it back to the community doesn’t have to be editing but something positive for the local movement.” - Wikimedia volunteer

Demonstrating this looks like:

  • Having self-awareness - awareness and management of one’s own identity, values, desires, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, power, and privilege.
  • Self-regulating - exercise control over one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals.
  • Motivating
  • Empathizing
  • Being an effective communicator by:
    • Checking in with team/community and keeping them informed
    • Providing clear, honest, and timely communications
    • Giving and receiving feedback
    • Facilitating discussions
    • Mediating conflict
    • Exercising patience
    • Offering support
    • Showing respect
    • Being an active listener



Mentorship in the Wikimedia Movement


As we have detailed in this report, there are many ways to demonstrate Leadership in Wikimedia. However, one of the strongest themes in this research was the impact and importance of mentorship in the movement. As defined by the Simple English Wikipedia article, “Mentorship is when a person who knows a lot about a certain kind of thing helps a person who doesn't know as much about it.” Mentorship exhibits many of the Leadership behaviors previously described and was described as particularly influential in helping volunteers to understand, navigate, and contribute to the complex world of Wikimedia. Mentorship was also seen as a direct representation of the Wikimedia mission to share knowledge and empower and engage people around the world to contribute to the free knowledge ecosystem. Based on the research, mentorship in the Wikimedia context may include the following behaviors:

  • Sharing knowledge
  • Offering support, feedback and guidance to help others learn and build confidence
  • Providing a safe space for others to ask questions and learn from mistakes
  • Creating access and connection to opportunities and networks
  • Setting a positive example
  • Making Wikimedia a kind and welcoming place

“Mentorship is aligned with the mission and vision in that we need to share knowledge for the community to grow.” - Wikimedia volunteer

The benefits of mentorship


Our community participants unanimously agreed that mentorship in the movement was important and expressed the benefits they received from this in a variety of sentiments shown below.


“What involved me was the vision that Wikiwomen had for the movement, those editors from Wikiwomen, are the people who influenced me to be part of the movement.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“I think mentoring is one of the most important things. I’m where I am today - experienced editors are where they are - because they were mentored. They were told how to do what they do. Without mentors, people start losing interest.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“I cannot stress how important it [mentorship] is for someone but they are afraid to ask someone but it is extremely important to have someone you can ask for help in private or by email.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“There is always something to do. Something exciting that is meaningful. Something to bring about change. Early on I discovered that this is a place where I can take steps into positions that before I wasn't quite comfortable with. It’s uplifting that someone trusted me with that position. Now I'm more conscious of taking on positions I'm not quite comfortable with yet but seeing it as a growth opportunity.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“Getting to where I am today is credited to my mentors. Most times we need such figures to actually help us take on new levels.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“It [mentorship] ties you to someone and makes you accountable, whether you are a mentor or mentee. It creates a point of anchor. You feel responsible for people. It creates something that is more fun. It’s not just a random activity, at the end I can choose to engage one step further. On the other hand if you are the mentor, you get a concrete way to be more useful because in the end what we want is to recruit people and to have them become Wikimedians and have fun editing, etc.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“Firstly I owe it to them (mentors) for giving me opportunities because they gave me access to opportunities to travel to the wiki peace editathon and for introducing me to the queer community, they are very humble, they are generous with sharing their knowledge and their know-how. We share the same perspective and the same goals for the movement. I want to be just like them.” - Wikimedia Volunteer


“There’s a lot of complexity in the movement and it’s not easy to find the right tools. I keep finding new tools on Wikidata for example. I am still a newbie there. It [Mentorship] really opens up new ways to contribute, so I want to help people find these tools more easily. I don’t think that editing Wikipedia should be a torment. It should be as easy as possible.” - Wikimedia Volunteer

Building for and encouraging more mentorship


As evident from the various impacts of mentorship in the Wikimedia Movement, it is critical that we develop leadership by building and supporting mentorship opportunities so more volunteers can engage and benefit from such relationships. Mentorship demonstrates mutual learning, knowledge-sharing and leadership, all which are core qualities which support movement growth and development.

Increasing access and improving mentorship programs will:

  • Develop well equipped mentors that demonstrate Wikimedia Leadership qualities
  • Distribute the training and support responsibilities across more people in the movement
  • Decrease the burnout of individuals by building up the capacity of volunteers who can then support the learning of others
  • Build trust and accountability between movement volunteers
  • Create additional opportunities for volunteers to engage and contribute to Wikimedia
  • Provide space for Wikimedians to solidify their own knowledge by training and supporting others
  • Equip volunteers with the skills, confidence, and knowledge to contribute to the Wikimedia mission

Key themes


The primary themes that emerged from our conversations with participants were related to the need for access and awareness of information and opportunities, the importance of connection and inclusion, as well as the need to support and encourage mentorship in impactful and sustainable ways. We further synthesized our findings to build upon these categories in ways that will allow community facing teams and individuals to take and encourage action in the following ways:

  • Design for Access - by addressing context, language, and resource needs as well as making opportunities and resources more visible and accessible to all Wikimedia volunteers.
  • Increase Invitations - by acknowledging that invitation (i.e. inviting someone to an event or into a community group or communication channel) is hugely impactful for a volunteer’s retention and Movement engagement and therefore increasing invitational actions to build for inclusion and connection.
  • Encourage Mentorship - by recognizing that this is a critical component of success and retention in our movement and that we should encourage relationships where volunteers can safely ask questions, get support, learn, and become more connected and integrated into Wikimedia.
  • Create opportunities for skill development - through the creation of online learning modules, more accessible resources, and creating spaces for more knowledge sharing between communities.
  • Promote healthy Communities of Practice - by supporting community learning and engagement, it is important to recognize and amplify the many ways volunteers are already cultivating strong, resilient, and engaged communities that support the movement.

Movement Learning and Leadership Development framework


The Community Development team has previously piloted learning and volunteer development trainings (ex. Learning Days 2019) using a "track model". This model supposes that individuals at different stages of involvement in Wikimedia will have different learning and skill development needs. Expanding on these successful pilots we used this research to further develop a Learning and Leadership Development Framework that builds upon previous learning cohorts to create more focused and relevant training for each individual. This framework is meant to act as an informative tool for the Wikimedia Foundation and movement leaders. This framework can support learning and leadership development during the lifespan of a volunteer’s movement engagement.

The framework utilizes four categories which loosely define the levels of engagement (both online and offline) in our movement. The categories are not meant to be rigid or exclusive but to serve as a pathway or guide for actions and behaviors to train for and encourage, based on the engagement level of the volunteer. Because we recognize that volunteers often start, stop, pause and return (often even expanding into new avenues as they do), movement through the stages may be fluid and non-linear. Volunteers may also be engaged concurrently in multiple stages at any given time, such as exhibiting higher levels of engagement in online functionary contributions and lower engagement in offline community building.

Engagement Taxonomy

  • Nascent Engagement: This is where all volunteers start their Wikimedia journey, building their fundamental knowledge by becoming familiar with the platforms and projects, learning the contribution basics and wiki policies, and developing their awareness of the movement. With seemingly endless information to be absorbed, many will find themselves expanding their foundational knowledge throughout their Wikimedia journey. However, this is seen as the launching point for engagement and development within the movement.
  • Emerging Engagement: At this stage volunteers typically have a stable and broad understanding of Wikimedia and may become interested in getting more heavily involved in the movement. This may look like increasing their interactactions on the platforms, participating in more events, discussions, meetings, etc. or seeking opportunities to acquire skills and abilities to perform movement tasks.
  • Expanding Engagement: Building upon the prior stages, here volunteers often have a strong understanding of Wikimedia and are generally becoming quite integrated into movement. This may look like making regular movement contributions through various roles and positions, and continuously strengthening their skills to increase their impact.
  • Elevated Engagement: At this stage volunteers have an advanced understanding of Wikimedia, typically having a variety of experience and wiki know-how. It is common for volunteers at this stage to play a more strategic role by influencing behaviors and actions in an effort to make significant contributions to our mission and movement strategy goals.

The Learning and Leadership Development framework focuses on three primary themes that are informed by our research;

  • the need for more conscious and deliberate efforts to design for access which will meet and serve our diverse community,
  • the need to build and expand a positive community of practice that recognizes and encourages the wonderful and impactful work of our communities,
  • and the need to develop skills and capacities that support the movement by increasing learning and training opportunities within the movement.

Five personas have been created to demonstrate archetypes of Wikimedia volunteers along their engagement journey. The catalysts (or lack thereof) that have influenced their journey are worth of note. For example, those who speak English and have received mentorship are likely to have a more positive experience and become engaged more deeply and often faster than someone who did have the skills or support. We hope that when individuals review the personas they think about how the framework could help improve a volunteer’s learning and leadership development.

(The framework is meant to be an iterative guide that can continuously be updated in accordance with our growing and developing movement.)

Learning and Leadership Development Framework

  Design for Access

  • Provide guidance & tutorials to become familiar with Wikimedia
  • Direct volunteers to consolidated resources and wikis/projects related to interests and languages
  • Create awareness of the benefits of volunteering and the many ways to contribute
  • Connect to communities a newcomer can learn from
  • Identify and make it easier for newcomers to find and connect to local community
  • Increase translation of learning and support resources
  • Provide internet/device support
  • Offer a Question/answer hotline or group
  • Create list of movement trainings and events and make visible to all users
  • Increase WMF onsite support to create more access for development
  • Create awareness and encourage participation in movement trainings & workshops
  • Prioritize conference attendance/scholarships to those who have never been
  • Require event scholarship recipients to conduct a share out of learnings with their community
  • Increase support for unaffiliated communities and communities where English is not prevalent
  • Validate wiki involvement with certifications to support working with partners and establish recognition of volunteer work
  • Provide grants/stipends for mentors to train others
  • Support Affiliations or former organizations in creating access or direct to resources and opportunities in the movement
  • Create an easier to navigate resource system/ make it easier for people to ask Questions
  • Advertise/ broadly recruit for roles and opportunities
  • Rotating roles and responsibilities/ creating role term limits  
  • Create thematic open calls and public postings to invite new people who may be engaged through various topics
  • Define and share the ways you can engage in movement
  • Provide connection to other projects in the movement
  • Increase invitations - invite others to events, conferences, chat groups, Facebook pages, community meetings, editathons, talk pages, etc.
  • Direct volunteers and encourage them to apply for scholarships
  • Publicize trainings and events where people can get more connected and emerged
  • Direct volunteers to notice boards, sign posts, places to stay up to date and connected
  • Record/document trainings, conference learnings to share with others and serve as a resource to the community
  • Pseudonym support for those in dangerous politic areas
  • WMF support for issues of censorship - provide guidance to people in these circumstances and connect them with similar communities
  • Less restrictions around grants
  • Designate tasks and responsibilities to others
  • Invite others into discussions
  • Broaden opportunities for others to get involved
  • Do not limit engagement by setting unrealistic experience requirements
  • Invest in conferences to form, train, and support leaders in the movement
  • Create ladders of engagement that can serve as guides for how volunteers can engage and gain experience
  • Provide support for graceful exits and wiki-breaks
  • Offer off-boarding interviews to share knowledge, networks, and ongoing work with community
  • Create templates for off-boarding
  • Designate tasks and responsibilities to others

  Build for a Community of Practice

  • Provide clear direction of what to read, groups to join, where to go for help, etc.
  • Hold regular community meetings and opportunities to engage
  • Plug volunteers into local and relevant chat groups
  • Use supportive and welcoming dialogue
  • Offer newcomer meetups
  • Assign experienced editors to new editors
  • Participate in mentoring (mentor/mentee)
  • Share best practices/ values/ behaviors
  • Provide encouragement
  • Encourage newer members to help teach others to engage and prevent burnout
  • Offer local community gatherings to build connection
  • Define and promote ways to give back to community and help others get where you are
  • Create accountabilities/ hold people accountable for their actions
  • Create safe spaces to ask questions and provide answers
  • Connect people based on interests and ideas
  • Create an environment of enablement and empowerment
  • Create terms for roles to prohibit burnout and expand opportunities to learn and grow
  • Create opportunities for repetitive learning and spaces to show what they learned and how they've applied it
  • Create communication (chat) groups to answer questions and foster community and volunteer connection
  • Elevate great community work to show recognition and also allow volunteers to learn from other communities
  • Be inclusive
  • Send messages that show others their contributions are important
  • Recognize people’s skills and how they work best
  • Learn from other organizations/ communities
  • Create space for new voices/ don’t hold onto power
  • Bring online and offline communities together
  • Reach out to other groups with aligned themes to collaborate and expand the reach and scope of a project.
  • Guide and motivate others
  • Adapt a train the trainer model to avoid burnout and increase knowledge sharing
  • Nurture cooperation
  • Recognize and fill gaps in content, community, leadership representation, access, etc.
  • Broaden community participation
  • Build space and process for knowledge sharing
  • Create clear role definitions, expectations, and regular reviews
  • Set terms for roles to create accountability and allow opportunity to step back and make room for others
  • Offer certifications or more formal recognition systems
  • Support volunteers by creating opportunities for others to learn and grow
  • Celebrate wiki-breaks by showing support for their next steps or new chapters

  Develop skills and capacities to support the Movement

  • Communicating on wiki - what, where, how
  • Tutorials of the wikis, editing basics, policies, etc.
  • Recognizing and reporting harassment
  • Using Sandbox
  • Understanding Open source
  • Creating wiki categories
  • Referencing
  • Balancing time when volunteering
  • Friendly interactions
  • Wikipedia Adventure
  • Outreach
  • Getting connected to the movement
  • Running events
  • Apply your skills by teaching others - fully grasping what you are studying
  • Building partnerships
  • Onwiki technical skills
  • Writing reports
  • Supportive + welcoming dialogue
  • Project Management
  • How to be a mentor and transfer skills/ offer support
  • Community Organizing
  • Grant proposals
  • Retention strategies
  • Public relations
  • How to manage a team
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Representing the needs/ voices of community
  • Fundraising
  • Lobbying
  • Negotiation
  • Training for specific roles
  • Impact Evaluation
  • Functionary coaching
  • Screen editing
  • Bias training
  • Transparent communication
  • Problem solving
  • Code templates
  • Building healthy communities
  • Articulating wiki experience into resume/ professional experience
  • Report writing
  • Community assessment
  • Retention strategies
  • On/offline facilitation
  • Avoiding burnout
  • Data informed decision making
  • Participatory decision making
  • Policy
  • Civil discourse
  • Governance
  • Skill assessment and development of others
  • Succession planning
  • Mediation
  • Journey reflection (reviewing your journey to think about what you could replicate or do to help others)
  • Influencing change
  • Strategic planning
  • Conflict management
  • Storytelling (communication
  • Power/privilege training
  • Developing ladders of engagement for newer volunteers
  • Contextual awareness
  • Sharing power

Learnings from Analogous Organizations


In addition to interviewing volunteers, the research team also connected with several analogous organizations with global volunteer movements to learn more about their approach to supporting the development of volunteers. Consistent with our community interviews, these organizations recognize the importance of mentorship, connection, acknowledgement, creating access to opportunity, and creating clear and accessible ladders of engagement. Organizations such as Mozilla Foundation, Creative Commons, World Scouts, Center for Open Science, and Burners without Borders have built programming and learning platforms to support these needs.

These organizations are consciously aware of the barriers that impact volunteer work and acknowledge how time, capacity, resource and contextual restraints can cause burnout, attrition, duplication of efforts, stalled or canceled projects, and more. Therefore many organizations focused their efforts on building tools, resources, and support mechanisms that provided clear and easy to navigate development guides and learning resources. For example, Mozilla Foundation’s Open Leadership program recognizes the cyclical nature of volunteerism and has built a scalable leadership program to develop leaders that can go on to support and train future leaders - creating space for the ebb and flow of volunteer contributions without major gaps or stalls in movement projects.

Best Practices of Analogous Organizations

  • Prioritize mentorship & leadership development
  • Develop programming to support and engage volunteers
  • Continuously assess what volunteers need, acknowledging that this varies across contexts and cultures
  • Establish alignment around core values and principles to maintain behavioral standards which create harmony and accountability within the community
  • Create space for engagement and experience by setting term limits and clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • Practice adaptability by listening and learning from mistakes to improve resources and support mechanisms
  • Develop a central repository of accessible learning resources that offer easy to use guides for skill development, training, best practices, etc.