The face of Wikipedia’s volunteer community is often an editor—someone who maintains, edits, and writes facts in the vast online encyclopedia. But editors aren’t the only contributors to Wikipedia, WikiCommons, and the other Wikimedia projects: there are many other volunteers who contribute by organizing events and inspiring others to join our volunteer community. Their work, though not as overtly visible, is also incredibly important and vital to the growth of our movement.
Wikimedia organizers help recruit, train, support, and organize the community, and invite new contributors and allies, like librarians, educators, and activists, to fill gaps and create content in the projects. They also facilitate thousands of projects and events each year to introduce new contributors to Wikimedia, shaping the movement that supports Wikipedia and its sister projects in innumerable ways.
As the Wikimedia Foundation focuses on our movement’s strategic direction, we anticipate needing to know more about how to support and grow this community of organizers. When the strategic direction describes needing to invite allies, partners, and a more diverse set of communities into the movement, it also implies the Wikimedia movement needs more organizers to facilitate this work and organize new contributors.
During the first half of this calendar year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Engagement and Product departments conducted a research project, called Movement Organizers. We worked with the consultancy Concept Hatchery to produce design research materials like personas and research findings which will help both departments better design programs, technology and support structures for the growing community of organizers. We have now published the research, and you can find it from our portal on Meta-Wiki, in both Spanish and English.
Understanding movement organizers
The Movement Organizers research project tries to understand a globally diverse community that supports the Wikimedia movement. It was important to us that the research represent a broad range of different communities from different parts of the world, while also reflecting the unique challenges that some of our communities face. Therefore we interviewed 55 organizers, half of which were remote with members of our communities around the world, and half from deep local studies in Argentina and Ghana.
Despite organizers in Argentina, Ghana, and the rest of the world experiencing very different contextual and social conditions, many things remained consistent including the journeys organizers experience joining the community, the roles organizers play, the teams that organizers build around themselves, the tools they use, and challenges they face. This allowed us to both create design research materials that are both generically useful, but also pose questions and highlight conditions that support opportunities for organizers in different contexts. Interviews in Ghana and Argentina also highlighted how complex social and cultural conditions create very locally specific variations on these broad trends.
After developing these shared definitions, frameworks and a number of more nuanced recommendations, we highlighted three broad principles for supporting organizers:
- Energize the existing Wikimedia community to organize by designing catalyzing experiences that encourage people towards committed organizing.
- Invest in building alignment with people outside the movement to increase the participation of invited Organizers.
- Retain Organizers by increasing motivation and decreasing challenges.
We think that by designing with these core principles in mind, the movement can grow our community of organizers and strengthen the capacity of the movement to organize and support communities. As Concept Hatchery’s Ana Chang observed after doing the research: “the organizers we met have built so much community with so little resources. With a little intentional support, we can stabilize and empower them to truly develop strong local communities for Wikimedia.”
Building on a foundation of design research
The Movement Organizers research follows on what the Wikimedia Foundation learned from two previous design research projects: New Editor Experiences, focused on new editors to Wikimedia projects, and New Readers, focused on readers in markets not well supported by the Wikimedia movement. Both of these projects have informed the work of teams within the Wikimedia Foundation toward better supporting and informing new Wikipedia readers and new Wikipedia editors.
“When we talk with and learn from people in their context, in such a focused way, our work is more easily organized around the needs and motivations of those people and communities,” says Abbey Ripstra, a Lead Design Researcher at the Wikimedia Foundation. “This kind of research informs our teams and departments about what people need in order to access and contribute to free knowledge, and what we might do to better fulfill, or support those needs being fulfilled.”
Though the development of the New Readers, New Editors, and Movement Organizers research was largely unrelated, Ripstra sees an overarching pattern behind them. “We started with our biggest unknown audience (new readers), and it was a natural step to focus next on new editors. Now, we’re moving on to learning more about movement organizers, which is a smaller community that makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of the larger community.”
What can you do with the research?
The Wikimedia movement’s 2030 strategy process will soon be publishing recommendations that focus our collective effort on trying to reach our movement direction. This direction is ambitious: focused on becoming a central infrastructure for free and open knowledge. To make this audacious move, we, as a movement, need to design greater pathways and support structures for the organizers we have, and invite new organizers to strengthen our movement.
Because the research is foundational research, we expect different organizations and communities to be able to leverage or respond to it differently. For example, The Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Engagement department is pairing parts of the research with the finding from previous Community Capacity Development research, to build training and help organizers to better understand their own work in light of the larger movement. We are excited that the research also provides a common framework for Product and Community Engagement to design tools to support organizers. Additionally, we hope that groups throughout the movement will use this research to design their own support programs.
The research also prompts a number of questions about growing the movement to meet the strategic direction: by focusing on the organizers who have already joined our movement, we weren’t able to do deep research into the organizers who have not been invited to the movement, or have yet to have an opportunity to join the WIkimedia community.
If you are interested in learning more about the research, have questions, or would like help integrating the research into your own planning or design processes, please let us know on the Wikimedia Discuss Space or on Meta!
Alex Stinson, Senior Strategist, Community Programs, Community Engagement
Lauren Miranda, Project Manager, Community Engagement
 Design research is a practice based on observing, listening to, and learning from people in the contexts in which they live and work. Solutions to problems and addressing opportunities are more successful if they are designed around the goals and needs, challenges and accomplishments of the people being designed for.