Wikimedia CEE Hub/Research
The results are based on 21 semi-structured interviews conducted with the communities and affiliates of the CEE region and a survey filled by 11 people from 7 language communities.
What we were looking for:
- the needs of the communities and affiliates
- understanding the local context of the communities and affiliates
- ways the hub can help the communities and affiliates to grow
- potential points of cooperation and mutual learning
In order to provide a safe environment for the communities to share stories of their challenges, all the interviews were confidential, with results being published in a summarized and anonymous fashion.
Most of the interviews were conducted in English with some conducted in Russian. The surveys were available in 8 languages.
Most of the communities rely on the funds provided by different WMF funding programs. These are relatively easily accessible and designed specifically for Wikimedia activities. They have also proven to be very stable and predictable which was especially helpful in the uncertain times of COVID. When the pandemic came and a lot of other income sources (especially those related to the cultural and governmental institutions) were at risk, the WMF grants were a stable source of resources, helping the communities continue their work.
On the other hand, WMF grants bring a lot of additional administrative work, which is difficult to handle by the smaller communities (see: Administrative challenges) and makes it difficult for them to reach for higher amounts, especially transitioning from single grants to annual grants. Some of those problems could be solved by fiscal sponsorship.
Some also communicated that the WMF grant programs are not tailored to the local needs and that universal metrics make it hard to capture local, very specific, work. There is also a feeling that grants which would depend more on a longtime relationship and activity throughout the year, rather than on a fixed report formula would make it easier to highlight the specific work of communities.
We’re working the whole year and this complex work is then put in a one page document which the decisions are based on and funds denied
Some communities in the CEE region are unable to receive funding from abroad due to local laws. This is a significant barrier for the growth and professionalization of those communities, which can only reach a certain growth point without receiving outside funding.
When it comes to other financial resources, some communities are able to receive additional funding (from governmental or cultural institutions) but in general fundraising is a challenge and the communities lack resources, people, and expertise to handle that on their own.
Smaller communities and affiliates are overwhelmed with administrative work. They rely on a very small number of volunteers (see: Community) who serve both in administrative and programmatic aspects. So every hour spent on administrative work is an hour not spent on programmatic work, directly impacting the output. This is even visible in small tasks which pile up on a single individual or a small group of them, limiting the programmatic capacity.
Administrative burden seems so engaging that volunteers feel like they are unable to fully engage in the things they would like to do. In addition to that there is a lot of legal and financial responsibility on volunteers, which is a burden itself.
I think the reason it feels like we have less of this resource than we actually have, is because we get caught up so much in the administration of the activities (...) We are so consumed by applying for the rapid grants, administering the rapid grant, sorting out prices, you know, and all the administrative work that goes with putting together an event like ‘Wiki Loves Monuments’, that we then… [ ] … don’t have the capacity to do the other things.
The CEE Spring model has been frequently mentioned as a good way of reducing administrative burden - the administrative work (grantmaking, reporting, resource dissemination) is handled globally. Local affiliates and communities have the freedom and flexibility to shape the local campaigns in the way that it can best suit their local needs.
We are lacking active volunteers. We have many members who are interested generally, but most of them are more like viewers or observers. And it is very hard to start any bigger project with only a few people who can participate.
No matter the size of the community - active volunteers seem to be the most precious and lacking resource. But it is especially pressing in smaller affiliates and communities where often all the work lies on one or two people. Single volunteers are handling most tasks (from administrative to programmatic work) and in result there is a high risk of burnout.
The problem is that activities which could bring more volunteers need volunteers to happen which is a problem for smaller affiliates. Bigger ones have paid staff and community/volunteer support and therefore it is easier for them to take care of the volunteer pool. Smaller communities can also be found in geographically dispersed contexts, which creates another obstacle.
A small number of volunteers translates to smaller capacity which means that some communities cannot do a lot of projects or do them regularly.
Another problem is leadership development - there are not enough volunteers to take leadership roles and those who do are overworked suffer from burnout. And when they reach burnout - we lose their knowledge and skills.
It would be good to have a general, 'knowhow hub' which would help in sharing the information and experience. Because I think no one can really catch what other affiliates really do. You need to ready all the impact and progress reports just to find out what’s going on.
There is a need for knowledge exchange between communities of the region. During the interviews all communities have named something that they are especially good at and can teach others. The knowledge exchange can both relate to unique projects that are done by just one community on a very local level and can serve as an inspiration for others but also to larger projects which are processed by many affiliates that keep solving similar problems on their own.
But as for now there are no solutions which would allow communities to easily share knowledge about their activities and solutions that they have invented.
The hub could also be helpful in sharing other resources. Local communities often lack resources and services which could easily be shared - they would benefit from a shared workforce in some areas (graphic design, fundraising, etc.). This especially applies to technical resources - there are a lot of technical needs in the movement. Some of them could be addressed by inventing a new technical solution, others - are already solved locally by tools that could support other communities but the problem is those other communities don’t know about their existence.
One of the reasons GLAM projects are becoming increasingly difficult is that they become more and more tech driven. And Wikidata is becoming increasingly important. And this is where we can share resources. It does not make sense for every organization to have a separate Wikidata specialist.
Many active contributors do not conceive Wikimedia as a "movement" and this restricts their involvement; CEE Hub could help to change this.
While the CEE communities recognize the importance of global discussions and participation, it is difficult for them to engage. There is too much information to process, too many activities and meetings and conversations to participate in, too much to understand and give feedback to, and too many communication channels to follow in order to be able to do so.
In most cases participation is reduced because information is often only provided in English or non-CEE languages, and this participation means taking people away from their local work. This is true not only for smaller communities but also for larger chapters.
Another challenge is finding the right people to contact about a certain matter, especially at the WMF (also because of the high turnover at the WMF).
On the other hand, global groups are a good source of support and onboarding for new staff members of affiliates.
While the Hub seems to have a potential to solve a lot of challenges related to global participation, there are some fears in that area: the hub may become just another global thing to follow. There is also the fear of hub-related decentralization making knowledge sharing and cooperation more difficult.
The most exhausting thing is the amount of energy that goes into conflicts. This is something I have not expect when I became part of the Wikimedia movement. Without those conflicts we could just work together.
Conflict resolution was most often mentioned in the survey as a weakness of participating communities and affiliates. At the same time it seems that there is a great need of supporting conflict resolution in different areas:
- between conflicted affiliates
- inside the Wikimedia projects
- between affiliates and editing communities
Conflicts bring a lot of tension and disturb affiliate work. The tools and bodies which are now in place to help with the conflict resolution seem to work too slowly or are not successful.
Some of the other issues mentioned in the research:
- neutrality of content related to difficult CEE history is especially important and difficult
- protecting Wikipedia from dissinformation
- need of support for language minorities
The hub brings not only possibilites but also raises some fears which need to be addressed in the hub creation. Fears mentioned in the research:
- the hub as a yet another global thing to follow and participate
- too strong decentralization and in result - less access to global knowledge and connection
- hub as another source of beurocracy
- hub activities can potentially take people away from their local activities
- uneqal access to support and knowledge - bigger affilates will have more time to participate and therefore they will have more impact on the hub