This session documentation was approved by the speakers.
Volunteers are the core of the Wikimedia Movement. On one hand, in this session we would like to quickly present a few simple but very effective approaches and case studies on supporting, enabling and appreciating volunteers in the Wikimedia Movement. The approaches (on- and offline) which are going to be depicted are easily adaptable as well as scalable by other chapters and user-groups. On the other hand, we wish to discuss and further develop these approaches in collaboration with the participants in order to learn from each other and improve the facilitation of volunteer-activities.
Listening (Sharing of case studies and individual experiences)
Sharing of experiences and raising awareness for different approaches in the area of community support. An additional outcome will hopefully be new inspiration and ideas for volunteer support activities throughout the movement.
Raimund Liebert (Wikimedia Austria), Veronika Krämer (Wikimedia Germany) and Muriel Staub (Wikimedia Switzerland) opened the session. First, they introduced the Volunteer Supporters Network (VSN). It was was founded at Wikimania 2014 in London to exchange ideas and experiences.
The VSN presented four different approaches on how to support volunteers, appreciate their work, and keep them engaged in the projects. The speakers encouraged the participants to also share their experience.
There have been four approaches:
1. Appreciation for volunteer work with prizes
The first approach was on appreciating volunteer work with prizes, e.g. for writing or photo contests. Most groups and chapters have experience with these. In the case of Wikimedia Austria, the community organized the contests entirely by itself, while the chapter only paid for the prizes.
Raimund explained that the prizes don’t have to be expensive, but original and diverse (trophies, chocolate, books). A problem may be that community expects the same support in the next years.
The speakers asked the participants about their experiences on contests:
Photo contests help bring new people- chapter keeps in contact with them
Special prizes according to the needs of the active participants
Encyclopedic books as prizes
Some people don’t want prizes, they want to do it just for fun or competition, motivation depends also on the topic
It may not be good to have more than one contest simultaneously- choose and plan carefully. Furthermore, too many prizes are the problem, because after a couple of weeks everybody has gotten a prize.
2. Supporting Commons photographers
The second approach was on how to support Commons photographers the best way possible. Veronika explained that of course, they provide technical equipment.
Furthermore, it helps to get press accreditations for many events. You can empower volunteers (or a team of volunteers) with official e-mail addresses (@wikipedia.de) and business cards for a more professional appearance. Meanwhile, volunteers take care of the press accreditations by themselves because WMDE would not be able to handle the amount of requests. An example here is the volunteer team of the “Festivalsommer” project, where a small team takes care of the accreditations for photographers who want to participate in the project.
Wikimedia Austria supports volunteers with press accreditations as well, but handles it centrally. This assures a high standard because certain procedures are already in place. Centrally coordinated efforts prevent situations like different photographers asking for an accreditation in the name of Wikipedia which can be considered as unprofessional.
Alex Stinson (Wikipedia Library, WMF) explains that they give volunteers in some countries a “coordinator status”, so the they can represent the community or the project towards external parties (publishers e.g.). This opens the door for them.
One participant asks if WMDE asks for any pre-requirements for receiving a “photographer certificate”. Veronika explains that they look at the activity of the editors and also pay attention to the aftermath like quality. For the Festivalsommer people who did not upload pictures were told at their second accreditation to upload first.
3. Supporting editors
The third approach presented was on supporting editors with access to literature as well as providing micro-grants for small amounts.
Veronika explains that WMDE provides “Literature Scholarships” (Grants) to volunteers, per request (around 150 requests per year). But they not only pay the books, but also refund the costs for library passes. Over the years, several cooperations with publishing houses have been established. It started with a community initiative some years ago with one big publishing house. Wikipedians can post their wishes on a special talk page for each publisher. The publishers provide the requested book, for leverage use of “your books will be cited on Wikipedia”. WMDE and WMAT have around 7-8 cooperations with publishing houses, they are more used than regular literature grants.
One participant asks if these cooperations are “official partnerships” or more a casual cooperation. Raimund answers that the partnership is quite casual, everything works via e-mail. Veronika answers that it depends on the publishing house; some were more casual, some were quite formal with official regular meetings, etc.
The discussion in the audience touched also micro-grants (grants for small amounts). Most Wikipedians understand that there are people who need funding for small amounts, although the process of refunding can be more expensive than the refunding itself.
4. Strengthening the community by meetups
The fourth approach presented was on how to strengthen the community by organizing meetups. Raimund gave the example of Wikimedia Austria, where they turned their small office into a community meeting-space. The community meets there once per week (“WikiTuesday”). WMAT provides the room, drinks, and coordination. The community therefore feels at home at the chapter’s office, which over the long run reduces the gap between the chapter and the community.
Veronika explained that Wikimedia Germany supports regular community meet-ups more on a larger scale, e.g. regional meet-ups (“South German Meet-Up”), cooperations with local partners or local space. Often, meeting spaces are provided by GLAM partners.
In the end, the speakers highlighted their initiative and asked the participants to share their experience on the VSN mailing list.