GLAMcamp DC, part 1: Planning

This is the first of a three-part series, on planning and facilitating GLAMcamp DC, a Wikipedia leadership workshop, in February 2012.
1: plan » 2: act » 3: reflect

My favorite measure of success: laughter. Original photo by Benoit Rochon, CC-BY-SA.

The challenge was irresistible.

Last October (2011), I was honored with an invitation to work with the dynamic community of Wikipedia volunteers and consultants working with cultural institutions (Wikipedians in Residence, and their supporting cast) as they convened for a focused work session at GLAMcamp DC. In my own work to help institutions connect with Wikipedia, I had been in close contact with this community, but had not had the opportunity to work with them directly. It was a timely and welcome opportunity to strengthen important working relationships and learn from accomplished Wikipedians.

  • The goal: to meet the rising demand among GLAMs (for the uninitiated: Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) for substantive engagement with Wikipedia.
  • The challenge: Having excelled at individual prospecting and engagement, established Wikipedians in Residence would need a new approach. Cloning themselves, sadly, was not an option.

In this post, I cover our planning process; future posts will cover the event in detail, and offer some broader reflections.

The GLAMcamp model, where small numbers of highly-engaged Wikipedians assemble regionally to work together, is under a year old; from all reports, the first events in New York City, London, and Amsterdam were highly successful. These events helped the growing ranks of Wikipedians in Residence, following and extending an outreach model pioneered by Liam Wyatt in 2010, to build a sense of community and perform worthy tasks.

But GLAMcamp DC’s organizers, veteran Wikipedians in Residence Lori Byrd Phillips and Sarah Stierch, had bigger goals: to focus intently on U.S.-based institutions; to stoke a shared commitment to meeting the rising demand; and to concentrate on developing resources (both technical and educational) for GLAMs, as an alternative and as a complement to the Wikipedian in Residence model.

When Lori and Sarah invited me to facilitate the event, I was at once invigorated and intimidated. Imposing specific goals and structure on a community that is used to working ad hoc is not always welcome or effective; but if done properly, I believed it could be effective, even transformative. In this post, I discuss the advance planning we did; check back for stories about the event itself, and for further reflections.

As we looked ahead to the event, here are the main things we had in mind:

Getting the right people in the room

From the outset, we had a tricky issue to grapple with. Wikipedia has a strong culture of inclusion. In practice, in previous events, this has meant an open sign-up process. The saying that “whoever comes is the right people,” a truism in the Open Space model used for many wiki events, is tried and true, and reflects important Wikimedia values; all previous GLAMcamps had been built on this principle.

The DC organizing team agreed that the spirit of inclusion is important, and has brought good things to Wikipedia: diverse ideas, a sense of belonging, a sense of freedom. But we also had important goals which were difficult to reconcile with the Open Space model. We wanted a manageable number of people, small enough to quickly gel as a team; we wanted a group that was committed to a narrow set of goals, and to avoiding distractions (even the worthwhile ones). We also wanted to reimburse expenses through a Wikimedia Foundation grant, and knew we would need to show a good return on its investment; although all Wikipedians enjoy open-ended discussions, funding travel and accommodations to have them isn’t necessarily the best use of donor funds. It was important to us and to the funder that we commit to a set of outcomes, and that we plan in a way that gave us confidence we would achieve them.

We decided on a maximum of 25 participants, and required privately-submitted applications. We put a section for “interested participants” to (optionally) add themselves on the wiki.

Through a combination of planning and good fortune, we ended up with an extraordinary group. We did not have to turn away a single serious applicant: the numbers matched up well, and every application reflected unique and remarkable talents and interests. As we finalized the list of participants, we were completely convinced they were indeed the right people, up to the task in every respect—and, moreover, likely to stretch our initial ideas of what was possible in creative and useful ways.

Setting clear expectations ahead of time

Just getting good applications wasn’t going to be enough to establish clear and useful expectations all around. The last thing we wanted was to get together a great group, only to discover that their beautifully diverse ideas about the best path forward got in the way of group cohesion, or of getting down to work. So in addition to attracting the right candidates, we designed the application process to communicate our vision, and to invite participants to start thinking about what we would accomplish together.

We crafted our application questions around the event’s goals, and highlighted that connection in the way they were phrased. When we had followup communications, both to the group and one-to-one, we made an effort to emphasize and remind people of our goals. When people had special requests (if they fell within our budget), we granted them, explaining that we wanted to be sure they were at their best for the event.

Establishing buy-in

Even with all that advance communication, when everybody arrived in DC, we would still have to bring everything together. Everybody had the same general understanding of the problems we were trying to address, but how would we go about solving them? We had some ideas of our own, but we had gone to a lot of trouble to assemble a group of smart, talented, and passionate people. We were hungry for their input on the best path forward.

For this component, I turned to Eugene Eric Kim of Groupaya, who helped me think through and plan the event facilitation. Eugene reminded me: not only did we want everyone’s input, we needed everyone to be invested in the process, to believe the goals and the tasks were the right ones. If we truly wanted to get there, they had to be the group’s goals and tasks, not ours. We had to hand over the reins, and as early as possible.


Eugene suggested three models for an introductory session, not unrelated to Open Space, but more appropriate to our goals:

  • World Café: Small groups converse, in several rounds, mixing up groups between rounds, and taking notes to report back.
  • Fish Bowl Dialogue: A few people start a conversation in the middle of the room. The rest listen. An empty seat invites anyone to join the discussion at any time; but when one person joins, another must leave.
  • Merging introductions: This is the method I chose. People pair up for a few minutes, then the pairs combine, and then the groups of four combine. During the process, participants move from introducing themselves to exploring concrete ideas. Then, each group of eight reports back to the whole group.

Staying present as leaders

A final, and crucial, design goal was that the team of organizers should be able to stay present, focused, and perceptive throughout the event. We had addressed some of this through our planning, as described above: by taking care of as many logistics as possible ahead of time, and by communicating as clearly as possible about our goals and methods. But during the event, we would need to know who was responsible for what, and be aware of each other’s strengths and limitations. As you will see in the next post in this series, we hit a couple bumps in the road, and learned some valuable lessons.

Up next

Stay tuned! In my next post, I’ll dive into the actual facilitation of the event, and the lessons we drew from it.

All that, just to get to this. The opening circle. The introductions. The terrible puns. Original photo by Benoit Rochon, CC-BY-SA.

About Pete Forsyth

Pete Forsyth is the principal of Wiki Strategies, and a Wikipedia expert. Full bio here:
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