WikiProject remote event participation/Documentation/Remote Wikimedia Hackathon - May 2020

Format of the eventEdit

Main format
Hackathon
Duration
48 hours
Main goal
Provide an alternative for the Wikimedia Hackathon 2020 in Tirana that got cancelled because of the coronavirus health crisis. Encourage people from the Wikimedia community to work on technical and non-technical projects together, and showcase their work.
Main target audience
Technical Wikimedia community & newcomers
 
Group photo
Total number of participants
We estimate 150 individual participants stopping in, normally about 80 people were actively reading the telegram channel at all times, 55 people joined the hackathon showcase to view.
Number of organizers
8 facilitators + plenty of volunteers, speakers, people helping with documentation
Language(s) spoken during the event
mostly English
Tools used
  • Documentation: onwiki (Mediawiki)
  • Social channels: IRC & Telegram (bridged to each other)
  • Video calls: Google Meet, Jitsi instance installed on WMF servers
  • Showcase: Remo.co
  • Task tracking: Phabricator
Methods used
Communication
Communication happened mostly on the existing hackathon Telegram group, on the wikimedia-tech mailing-list, and by people reaching each other directly and talking about the event

Lessons learnedEdit

SuccessEdit

  • We had a large number of facilitators / organizers who all felt personal ownership over the event and wanted it to succeed. Each facilitator brought interest and ideas around different areas and was able to support a different timezone. Each person was generally able to focus on the parts of the event that they felt the most strongly about. The facilitators were constantly communicating behind the scenes and coming up with solutions and ideas throughout the event. (more on this point in the challenges section)
  • We had great success with collaborations between different social events and sessions. As a few examples one participant streamed music for others to listen to while coding. Our untapped meetup streamed music from the piano concert and and participated in the piano concert chat while still in a separate social video call. Many participants of our women's team time social event join COVID-19 discussions and support groups.
  • Twitter event where people chatted with each other, connected, and had some fun pretending to arrive at the event. It provided some of the connection that was missing and generated excitement. It was able to partly re-create the feeling of arriving to a physical event and meeting your friends. In order to re-create this type of community fun, you should consider:
    • jumping on suggestions and supporting whoever starts a fun thing
    • Leave space in your event for this type of thing
    • Quickly include people who would have the same mindset and will play along
  • Our Social events worked well, even with no main social chat channel. The main chat channels had a good balance between useful chat and social chat. Some of our social events included: Outdoor walks, Untapped meetup, Women tea time (which really helped people to connect and support each other around projects), Piano streaming with chat, board games, a group photo.
  • The event was messy (in a good way), unconference-style, and organized by many people - and we had guidelines and help for newbies, but didn't have clear strict rules of engagement. This was by design (some of our in-person events can be similar) and helped make people feel like they can create their own things and feel responsible for their own things. Program was built during the days before the event and during the event themselves. People were able to change their approach during the event. (example: switch video software tools depending on what they wanted / reactions from previous sessions)
  • This was truly a Wikimedia Community event. All organization of the event was done by volunteers, all newcomer support was handled by volunteers, all attendee questions were answered by volunteers, and all of the events, pre-planned sessions and content were organized by volunteers. A few Wikimedia Foundation staff joined in as participants after it became clear that there was a lot of community interest around the event and some staff from a few of the Wikimedia affiliations also participated. It was a beautiful collaboration and celebration of volunteer efforts and a demonstration that volunteers can successfully run a large scale remote event.
  • We really enjoyed using Remo software for our showcase and mingling. People were able to see an image on a large conference room with lots of individual tables with people discussing individual topics and join in small group conversation and switch people tables / conversation. The organizers were able to bring people all at once into a main keynote area for the events closing and showcase.

ChallengesEdit

  • Our distributed team of facilitators was a great success of the event, but also caused a few challenges: working in a group like this, facilitators need to be extra transparent, everyone should communicate about their plans, especially across time zones. We had a few situations where one facilitator was planning something but did not clearly communicate it so another facilitator would begin solving the same issue.
  • Time zones were a large challenge for us. More on this in other sections.
  • Funding: this event cost $150 total (for the remo subscription) initially a volunteer shouldered the cost until WMAT offered to cover the costs. With more access to funding earlier some of the organization would have been easier and we could have considered more types of attendee support.
  • Event length. Our in person hackathons are usually three days long. We decided at the last moment to shorten this event to two days in order to ensure people prioritized being online all at the same time and so that people would not need to take time off work / get screen burnout. Remote conferences should be shorter than in person events and if anything is "required" it should be much less than a full 8 hour day. Don't just fill time because you can or would in person. People are participating from their homes and have to deal with their own chores, families, and lives.
  • People without access to a video camera on their laptop, or those who were concerned with privacy found it much more difficult to participate in the social events or the social mingling on Remo. This was something we didn't consider until the event was underway.
Opening/orientation session on WikipediaWeekly podcast


Possible improvementsEdit

  • If you are running an un-conference, assign someone to pay close attention to scheduling conflicts and ask people to change their session time with lots of advanced warning as needed.
  • Make sure each session has an assigned "facilitator" or "session host". This person would be responsible for helping keep the session on track, welcoming and orienting people as they join late, digging for and chatting relevant links, possibly making announcements to the rest of the event as the topics change and new people are welcome to join, and generally helping out.
  • Although it was by design (to address time zone) , people reported feeling disoriented by the fact that there was no proper start/opening session. While we still would recommend this for remote events similar to a hackathon (so that people can start hacking as soon as they wake up), organizers should consider new approaches to what people's joining experience would be like. We had an orientation / welcome video, but more explicit starting directions and help would be welcome. On the other hand, the end of the event was better at marking the close of the event.


RecommendationsEdit

  • The quality of the sessions was very diverse - we would suggest having session facilitators, provide guidance & guidelines to speakers before the event.
  • We organized this event with with the attitude of "this is an experiment, we're going to try together and see what happens." We explicitly communicated that this event was for everyone to test out ideas related to remote events and learn from what happens / document. This really helped us as our attendees mostly "went with the flow" and provided all sorts of very helpful feedback. Many attendees experimented with their own ideas throughout the event which was excellent. We recommend practicing with all of the software you plan to use in advance of your event multiple times and being very clear if anything is an experiment.


Other commentsEdit

  • Some participants noted that they did not always actively follow the sessions, but instead played audio of the sessions while they are working for background sounds and to feel social. This is mostly a tip for working events with sessions, but we felt this was a good way to consume the event and could be encouraged.
  • Holding a truly international event will be a challenge no mater what you do. People will miss sessions or need to be awake in the middle of the night. It is important to not always prioritize the same time zone and make sure there is content and support offered across all time zones. While organizing this event, we had to accept that not everyone would be able to attend everything, it will be different experiences, some discussions will happen asynchronously, you will miss stuff, etc. Still we had some complaints about the program being very Europe-focused. Not having a specific start time, allow the event to slowly build, have channels already open, have an orientation content if needed. We also ran some sessions multiple times, but often the session leaders wanted to run just one session in a time that was comfortable to them. Record your sessions when its appropriate and get the recordings and a a few points of contact (across time zones) who can answer questions about that topic up on your event page as soon as possible. Ideally immediately after each session concludes. If you have an event with paid staff, assign someone this task.
  • We took a new approach to registration. We allowed people to sign up publicly for the event and indicate what they were planning to work on if they wanted to, but its was not required. Open events allow for people to stop in at any point during the event and we did not want to limit anyone who wanted to participate from participating. When there is no registration form you don't have an exact expected headcount or participants email addresses, so we worked out new ways to communicate with participant about the event and changes to the event. We also worked on different ways of collecting metrics.

DocumentationEdit

Questions & discussionsEdit

If you want to talk to the the organizers, ask further questions, feel free to use the talk page.