Friday, 1 July 2011

Establishing the Wikimedia GLAM e-volunteer network

The background

In the UK we have seen exponential growth in the number of relationships with museums and other institutions. Starting with the British Museum engaging Liam Wyatt as the first ever "Wikimedian in Residence" we have evolved the concept of a "GLAM Ambassador" and institutions are starting to discover the benefits of being able to engage with a Wikipedian/Wikimedian "e-volunteer" network.

Institutions such as museums and archives have been able to easily understand the concept of Wikimedian in Residence as this provides a single person as a point of contact delivering a project with defined outcomes and a budget. In a matter of months the concept has been highly popular with several major institutions in the USA and similar positions (such as “Wikimedia Outreach Ambassador”) have been created and are being proposed in the UK.

The same institutions have had mixed success in engaging with e-volunteers and as a resource they are hard to characterize and consequently it may be tricky to identify the most effective ways to communicate with them.

A quick taxonomy of e-volunteer

Volunteer with a laptopEngaged with collections or archives and a repeat visitor who is prepared to help.Visitor events and notices
Community seekerEnjoys meeting others to talk about the collections and collaborate on improving their presence on the internet.Visitor events, editathons, word of mouth, notices on institution websites or Wikipedia or email discussion groups and forums, press interest
High contribution WikimedianPassionate about contributing to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects for a wide range of content or technology improvement.Wikimedia discussion groups, (Wikimedia Chapter) wiki-meets and conferences
Freebie hunterEnjoys coming to an event as a reason to see the collections and find out more but may only make limited longer term contributions.Visitor or new contributor outreach events and notices, press interest
Flyby contributorMay regularly provide quick fixes for vandalism or content errors and may be a high contribution Wikimedian but less likely to be interested in events or editing prose.Wikimedia discussion groups, press interest
LurkerKeeps an eye on the topic and may comment but is hesitant to contribute and unlikely to attend events.Wikimedia discussion groups, press interest
ReaderThe general public who are interested in the article, even if only for a brief time.Press releases, being on the first page of a Google search

UK approach

Engaging the public
In 2010, the British Museum behind-the-scenes and workshop events demonstrated that if you arrange interesting sounding events at well known institutions then people will turn up. Of around 30 people that came to these events, approximately one third could be classed in the first 3 most useful types of contributor in the above table. In the longer term, based on later editathons and other types of event, as a rule of thumb one can plan for 20% to 30% of those that take part in a widely advertized public event to continue contributing and helping as an e-volunteer in the long term.

A key observation is that these events are "as cheap as chips" as there are few costs for a host institution beside ensuring there is free wifi and providing a suitable space to volunteers to plug in their own laptops and talk.

Forming a community hub
Once we know who the long term contributors are, then they can be considered the core of this particular e-volunteer community and many have put their names up as members of Wikipedia collaborations pages to ensure they don't miss out on future activities or requests for help from curators.

Self organizing
In June 2011 the UK GLAM task force was started to enable more experienced volunteers to help support activities and communications. Last month saw the first GLAM networking event (GLAMcamp London) which was an opportunity for current and future Wikimedia GLAM Ambassadors to share stories of successes and workshop ideas for how UK partnerships with cultural organizations can be established and successfully maintained. In parallel, we are busy organizing relationships in Scotland so that we can sustain a community of e-volunteers with a distinct Scottish identity. The intention is for the Wikimedia UK Chapter to be able to offer a little help when needed with supporting infrastructure (particularly communications) and managing some of the formal aspects of organizational relationships but for GLAM projects to be led and implemented by Wikimedia e-volunteers without the need for any direct project management or central authority.


We are only in our first year, so are feeling our way around the e-volunteer concept and in particular balancing what can be expected of volunteers versus what ought to be put in place by host institutions or Wikimedia UK (such as official press releases or the logistics for larger events). There are a number of case studies "banked" and these are a solid basis for understanding types of events that have worked and whether these have the outcomes around improved article quality, new images or increase in new contributors that we might expect. Sharing experience and finding consistent ways of handing relationships between GLAM institutions and our diverse community of volunteers are areas needing more work, but we are rapidly improving and professionalizing.

By April 2012 (the time for the next Wikimedia UK annual general meeting) I hope to report a diverse number of productive and enjoyable relationships with institutions and more importantly a flourishing network of self organizing e-volunteer communities (hubs) across all countries in the UK. The impact for currently resource starved but much loved museums, galleries, archives and libraries will be significant and in some cases, essential.