Verksamhetsberättelse 2020/Fail fest: Keeping up the involvement – the experience from Wikimania

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In this Fail fest we are focusing on how we have struggled to find a way to effectively engage volunteers in our work at scale. This became obvious after Wikimania when we had a large number of interested and engaged volunteers with valuable skill sets, and still we lacked the strategies, tools and plans to keep them engaged over time.

Wikimania would not have been possible without its volunteers. Even though they enjoyed the experience, we did not succeed with keeping most of them involved after the conference.

One important goal with organizing Wikimania was to attract, involve and keep a large pool of volunteers. While we succeeded with the first two parts – attracting and involving – keeping them has proven harder. The volunteers from Wikimania got an intensive crash course in the work of the Wikimedia movement; they were very content with volunteering for Wikimania in the evaluations afterwards; and we worked hard to keep them in the movement. In spite of all this, it has proven difficult, and there is no general increase in involvement, based on this pool of volunteers.

We have identified a few core reasons for why this is the case. The first reason is an unclarity in what it actually means to be a volunteer for Wikimedia Sverige. Throughout the years, the staff gained competence, efficiency and experience of working with free knowledge related projects, but one downside of this might be higher barriers for volunteers to engage. Other than engaging directly on the online projects, we have also failed to clarify what it means to be a Wikimedia Sverige volunteer, especially for volunteers who wish to engage on a deeper level. Wikimania was an exception, as it is a very concrete project with clear goals.

The second reason connects to this, as roles and responsibilities have been unclear. That means that it is hard to know what the responsibility is for a volunteer, and thus also how to deepen the involvement. We started a major work to clarify these roles and responsibilities during the fall, and visualized a roadmap describing clearly for volunteers that wish to involve more deeply how that can be achieved. This was however only the start of a more long term strategic work, involving both volunteer engagement and educational support, which will need to continue during 2021. This is further elaborated in the story “Developing strategies for the future during a year when the world took a pause”.

Finally, many of the volunteers from Wikimania were English-speaking international students, on exchange or studies abroad in Sweden. Wikimania was an essentially English-speaking environment, whereas Wikimedia Sverige’s members are generally Swedish speaking, and in some cases not confident in English. That meant that it was hard for many of the volunteers to engage in the chapter, and as a consequence, very few of them are still active volunteers today.