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

Demographics of Participants and Reduction of Barriers to Entry[edit | edit source]

By virtue of being a virtual conference, Wikimania organizers hoped that the event would be able to reduce barriers of entry and enable meaningful participation.

Registration: Wikimania was an opportunity to open participation to a wider group of people with different expertise and knowledge. A total of 3,888 individuals registered to attend the conference. Of those that registered, seventy-four percent had not previously attended a Wikimania conference.[1] Individuals were most excited about learning from others, connecting with like-minded peers and friends, engaging and collaborating in projects, and finding ways to support new projects and initiatives. The registrants were spread evenly across all the continents. Analyzing the sub-regional data, it shows that 20% of registrants were from North America, 13% from Southern Asia, and 9% from Western Europe. Men predominantly applied to participate (61%), followed by women (34%), and other gender identities at 2%.[2]

Only half of registrants created user profiles in Remo. A week before the conference began, registrants could create their user profiles in the event platform, Remo. Less than 50% of registrants created a user profile. When it came to attending the event, 1,740 individuals participated in the conference.[3] The percentage decrease from the number of registrants to the number of participants was slightly higher for those living in Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Anecdotally, these numbers are on par with virtual conference participation standards, however given the infancy of virtual conferences no comprehensive study has been conducted on registration vs attendance numbers.

Wikimania2021 traveling.svg

The conference was able to reduce barriers of attendance entry and it led to a greater number of first-time attendees. By virtue of being a virtual conference, individuals did not have to travel, and personal costs were lower. The organizers were able to invite more people through many different channels, which was the most common barrier of entry among registrants. The program was strategically designed to provide sessions on the weekend and weekday, and it spread across different time zones. Simultaneous audio translation was also made available. These strategies helped ensure that 62% of attendees were first-time newcomers and 34% of attendees were returnees.[4] Comparatively, only 46% of participants at the 2019 Wikimania were first-time attendees.

One important data point is that the most picked reason why individuals did not attend Wikimania in previous years is that they were not aware that the event was taking place. In the event of future in-person events, Wikimania organizers may need to revisit how Wikimania is publicized and advertised. While out of scope of the evaluation, this datapoint highlights that the communication and invitation strategy of Wikimania 2021 reached individuals that otherwise were not aware of the annual conference.

Top 5 reasons why you were NOT able to attend prior Wikimanias

(Registration Results among participants)

Top 5 reasons you were ABLE to attend

(Survey Results)

Not aware of event taking place Limited costs involved (i.e. no travel, and not giving up work)
Not able to Travel Flexibility of timing of sessions
Too expensive Sessions spread across different time zones
Other responsibilities Sessions on the weekend
Other Availability of sessions in many languages

Participants attended from across all continents. Participants came from Africa (23%), the Americas (25%), Asia (23%), Europe (26%), and Oceania (2%). The top five sub-regions that they came from were: North America (323), West Africa (227), Western Europe (174), South Asia (140), and Southeast Asia (104). Even with a rewarding scholarship program, it is unlikely that as many individuals living in West Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia could participate in an in-person Wikimania conference due to costs and travel restrictions, such as visa requirements. As a point of comparison, at the 2019 Wikimania conference, 68% of attendees were from Europe, 12% from Asia and the Pacific, and 11% from North America. Only 2-3% of participants were from Africa.[5]

Percentage of participants by geography
2021 Wikimania 2019 Wikimania
Africa 23% 2-3%
Americas 25% 11% (only North America)
Asia 23% 12%
Europe 26% 68%
Oceania 2% N/A

A total of 999 participants identified themselves as first-time Wikimania attendees. The top six places where newcomers came from were: West Africa (198), North America (169), Southern Asia (107), Southeast Asia (83), Western Europe (75), and Eastern Africa (63). Out of the individuals that participated from the continent of Africa, 82% were newcomers, from Asia, 69% were newcomers, and from Oceania, 64% were newcomers.

How many participants were first-time attendees by geography
Regions Number of first-time Attendees Percentage of first-time attendees by region Total number of participants from region Percentage of participants from certain regions were first-time attendees
Africa 298 30% 364 82%
Americas 219 22% 397 55%
Asia 259 26% 378 69%
Europe 188 19% 417 45%
Oceania 18 1% 28 64%
N/A 17 2% 29 59%
Total 999 1613

The gender makeup of the participants was similar to the 2018 and 2019 Wikimania. A total of 58% of participants were male, 36% were female, and 2% identified as another gender (gender queer, non-binary, transgender, or an identity not listed here.) A total of 5% of participants did not disclose their gender. Organizers had hoped that a virtual conference would help close the gender gap and lead to more female participation.

Scheduling of programming across time zones worked for the most part, but not equally for everyone at all times. The program was designed intentionally across time zones to enable people across geographies to attend, at least part of the conference. Organizers tried to make sure that the time zone distribution was fair, but there were two opportunities that were not in the evening or late night for time zones furthest East (UTC+8 onwards). For example, the day allocated primarily for Asia and Oceania time zones was on a Monday and many individuals were unable to take time off work to participate. That said, many participants appreciated the global connectivity that the virtual conference provided. For example, one participant shared that they were “Glad that I got to connect with people from such different time zones live.”

Wikimania2021 learning.svg

A total of 89 hours of conference material were consolidated into 28 programming hours spread across 4 days. Of the 1740 attendees, 37% stayed less than 1 hour, 38% logged in between 1 to 6 hours, and 24% participated 6 hours or more. While the ambition of Wikimania is to be a multi-day conference, reflection on the length of the conference in a virtual setting is required. The number of people that logged in for more than 6 hours is significantly less than the number of participants at the 2019 Wikimania in-person event (423 at Wikimania 2021 and 879 at Wikimania 2019). Attendance per session spanned from 300 or more in the plenaries to 20 to 80 in individual sessions.[6]

The drop-off numbers within the first 20 minutes of the conference are significant, even in the absence of reliable comparative virtual conference attendance standards. The drop-off numbers highlight the challenge of retaining the attention of participants in a virtual space, as well as the need to ensure that the chosen conference platform is intuitive. Qualitative data suggests that participants did not participate throughout the five days due to the following reasons: (1) registration was difficult and took too many steps (2) unable to log in or navigate the technology platform, (3) data consumption of Remo, (4) time zone availability of program, (5) overlap of program during workday, (6) overlap of conference with summer holidays.

The numerous steps to registration may have also led to a decrease in participation. It is evident from the data that potential participants dropped at each step of the registration process. One individual that did not end up attending Wikimania explained, “I received an email with the event schedule which was in a terrible layout and barely readable. I had to register for a platform to buy a ticket for the event, then I had to create another account for the event platform... I was very poorly organized and not worth the effort.”

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. Registration was managed through Eventbrite.
  2. Other gender identities included: An identity not listed here (0.4%), Genderqueer (0.3%), Non-binary (0.9%), Transgender (0.5%). Moreover, 4.8% of registrants preferred not to disclose gender identity.
  3. Participation is defined as a person logging into the Remo platform for more than 1 minute.
  4. 4% of respondents did not disclose whether they had previously attended a Wikimania.
  5. Learning and Evaluation - Wikimania 2019 Evaluation. Date accessed: September 15, 2021.
  6. Attendance was not systematically taken in all sessions and only a handful of Ether pads included attendance information.