Wikimedians from CEE region gather in Belgrade to broaden capacity and discuss future

Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2019 logo (Credit: Mina Simić, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

This year’s Wikimedia CEE Meeting saw a return to the place where it all began seven years ago. Belgrade has become the first city to host the Wikimedia CEE Meeting for a second time. A crowd of about 90 people from more than 30 communities and affiliates gathered from 10-13 October at Hotel M to share their ideas and learning. Capacity building was identified as focus area after it had been previously assigned highest priority by the majority of communities in a survey earlier this year.

Wikimedia CEE Meeting through years

After several back and forths, the first Wikimedia CEE Meeting finally took place in October 2012, marking the beginning of an annually recurring event for communities from the loosely defined CEE partnership. A modest conference with relatively poor representation of communities and thematic reach, it has eventually grown in size and impact to become a major event within the movement. Over the years, the gap in community representation has been reduced, the programme has gradually expanded to reflect community needs and priorities, and there has been a substantial number of newcomers every year.

Despite the eminent growth and increased community orientation, the event is still struggling with low community responsiveness and irregular participation by some communities. In that light, the organisers of this year’s conference faced the necessity to allow extension of deadlines because of the low initial interest and last-minute changes to the schedule and, at the end, there were still no representatives from the Bulgarian and Croatian communities.

What was new at this year’s event?

An action camera for live streaming (Credit: Miomir Magdevski, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

The creative work done by the organising and programme teams resulted in a couple of novelties being introduced. Firstly, this was the first Wikimedia CEE Meeting whose focus area was promoted under a specific slogan. Having capacity building already known, “Broaden Your Capacity!” was selected out of the pool as a pun that best illustrates the focus area. Secondly, sessions appropriate for newbies were identified and marked in the schedule. This practice was implemented at Wikimania 2019 in Stockholm two months earlier and was deemed a particularly useful guidance. Thirdly, all sessions that took place in two of the three halls were livestreamed so that people unable to attend the conference could follow the talks. Apart from these technical novelties, the event has also seen innovation in its thematic scope and, among other things, surfaced the culture of experimentation as an idea.

A brief recap of the conference

The conference kicked off with a Learning Day on 10 October and followed by the main part from 11-13 October. The programme consisted of sessions covering a number of talks on various themes formatted as lectures, workshops, panels, lightning talks, roundtables and brainstorming discussions, and distributed across three halls – the Atrium, Forum and Belgrade – allowing three different talks to be held at a time. There were also two brainstorming discussions on the future of Wikimedia CEE and the Wikimedia CEE Meeting. On-site documentation for all talks was carried out by volunteers on etherpads. The meeting was enriched with thematic posters displayed in the venue that were handed over to organisers after they had been exhibited during Wikimania 2019. After the end of the daily schedule, people at the conference could organise meetups in the conference halls.

A group discussion on strategic recommendations (Credit: Miomir Magdevski, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

By and large, speakers and facilitators were experienced members from the CEE communities, who mainly shared their good practices while providing attendees with how-to-do guidelines. A substantial number of speakers, however, came outside the region, including people from other Wikimedia affiliates and the Wikimedia Foundation, to present and gain input about ongoing global activities such as the development of a Universal Code of Conduct, the form and substance of the strategic recommendations, and the introduction of Wikimedia Space. The brainstorming discussions on the future were also fruitful,  ending up with the idea of establishing a CEE council as a body for securing regional community health and mediating towards increased decentralisation in the relations with the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as the selection of Ohrid as host city for Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2020.

Yet the conference abounded with variety of topics and session formats, the part with the social events did not disappoint either. There was a guided bus tour throughout the city’s centre in the evening of the penultimate day with a mid-stop at Church of Saint Sava and final stop at the Old Palace followed by a stroll to Terazije Square, Knez MIhailova Street, Republic Square and Skadarlija. After the tour, the group had a dinner in a restaurant on Skadarlija with traditional Serbian food and live music.

A group photo of participants at Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2019 (Credit: Miomir Magdevski, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

What comes next for CEE partnership?

The period after the meeting usually involves articulation of the main insights with the local communities. Of the ideas raised during the conference, community discussions on the proposed introduction of CEE council and bringing the mutual collaboration beyond Wikimedia CEE Spring are expected to take place in the next couple of months. With regards to Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2020, an organising team was assembled and the dates for the conference were set to 18-20 September. The rest of the preparatory work will expectedly intensify from the beginning of the next year.


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