2021:Evaluation

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Wikimania 2021 - An Evaluation of a Virtual Conference
Wikimania2021 eventlogo.svg

This evaluation was prepared by Vanessa Corlazzoli on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation

Wikimania 2021 took place from August 13th to the 17th, 2021. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a joint-decision by the Wikimania Steering Committee and the Wikimedia Foundation that the annual in-person conference would be hosted virtually. Wikimedia Foundation Event Staff and a nine-member volunteer group, the Core Organizing Team (COT), organized the five-day event. The theme of the conference aligned with Wikipedia’s 20th anniversary: Looking back at the past and celebrating the future. To support the theme of the conference, ten cross-cutting themes were selected.[1]

Wikimania 2021 was an inclusive conference that made significant strides to ensure that all participants had access to the conference. Participants came from across the world. The diverse and expanded program, and the well-executed keynote and entertainment sessions brought people together. Comparatively to in-person conferences, the monetary costs related to attending were greatly reduced. While individuals did have to incur other time-related and technology costs, the availability of programming across several days and time zones provided flexibility. Moreover, the On-Demand programming and YouTube usability were features that also increased access and by extent made the conference more inclusive.

Key Results:

  • Demographics: A total of 1740 individuals participated from all over the world, including Africa (23%), the Americas (25%), Asia (23%), Europe (26%), and Oceania (2%). In previous in-person conferences, most participants were from Europe and North America.
  • Newcomers: 62% of attendees were first-time newcomers and 34% returnees.[2] Comparatively, only 46% of participants at the 2019 Wikimania were first-time attendees. The top three places where newcomers came from were West Africa (198), North America (169), and Southern Asia (107).
  • Belonging: Wikimania helped participants feel like they belonged in the Wikimedia Movement, particularly for newcomers. A total of 77% of survey respondents agreed that the event helped them feel that they belonged in the movement. They felt that the content was relevant, interesting, and appropriate to their skills and experience level. 
  • Inclusiveness: Translation services were appreciated by those that used them. A total of 91% of individuals that used the language services and answered the survey were happy that they could listen to the presentation in their language of choice. The program was also diverse with speakers and content from all over the world.
  • Connections: Most of the participants (59%) felt they were able to make a stronger connection to the Wikimedia movement, including making new contacts and meeting friends and colleagues.
  • Technology: The technology platform provided the feel of an in-person conference. However, key technology aspects related to Remo may have contributed to a decrease in access (high data use, lack of access from mobile, inability to log in using old technology or certain web browsers). The technology also prevented speakers from engaging with participants during their presentations leading speakers to feel that they could not meaningfully engage with the audience.
  • Unstructured Conference Space: The Unconference Space and Community Village did not work as planned. While some participants coordinated and collaborated, this was not a shared experience among all participants.
  • Continued Access to Programming beyond Conference: Individuals participated through YouTube. Participants have continued to watch Wikimania 2021 content even after the conference. The Wikimania recordings on YouTube have been watched 23,608 times with each video receiving an average of 140 views by October 13, 2021.
  • Hackathon: More than half of survey respondents that attended the Hackathon felt that the Hackathon was a worthwhile use of time and that they connected with new tech contributors and editors. 
  • Communication with Participants: Technical support and instructions were provided to speakers and participants but needed more clarity.
  • Friendly space policy was adequately managed: The organizers made significant effort to ensure that participants were aware of the Trust and Safety Policy. According to interviews with the organizing team, there were no significant Trust and Safety issues considering the size of the conference.

Wikimania 2021 -- as a virtual conference -- provided a roadmap that can continue to be modified and improved upon. Many of the strategic decisions, such as diversity of program content and translation services, contributed to participants feeling part of the Movement. Moreover, the conference was able to connect with newcomers and provide them a platform to learn about new tools and generate ideas. While individuals did not meet as many new participants in the conference as organizers had hoped for, this is a particularly difficult task in virtual settings. If Wikimania 2022, as a virtual conference, aspires to be a source of new connections and two-way meaningful participation, the networking and unconference space will have to be more intentionally and purposefully designed than this year.

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. The 10 cross-cutting themes include: GLAM, Education Wiki for Human Rights, Innovation, New communities, Strategy, Regional Hubs, Governance, Gender- Diversity & Inclusion, and Others.
  2. This data comes by merging Registration and Remo attendance data. In the registration, participants stated whether they had previously attended a Wikimania conference or not. A total of 4% of respondents did not disclose whether they had previously attended a Wikimania.