Description of a technology-focused initiative to support the strategic utilization and growth of Wikimedia's volunteer capacity
The contributors to the Wikimedia projects are a self-selected group of approximately 100,000 individuals who volunteer their time, primarily to contribute text and rich media. The simplest and most obvious way to contribute is to discover an article which doesn't exist, or needs significant improvement, and utilize the provided mechanisms (editing, uploading images, etc.) to do so.
Hence, significant effort has been focused on making sure that these mechanisms are as easy to use as possible. In FY 2008-09 and FY 2009-10, usability work on the editing and uploading interface is a dominant and well-resourced area of work for the Wikimedia Foundation.
These usability improvements at best only touch upon the following five critical problem areas:
- Discovery of opportunities to volunteer: Beyond more or less accidental discovery of areas which need obvious help, volunteers should be invited to help in ways that make sense specifically to them, both on-wiki and off-wiki.
- Discovery of relevant help resources: While the usability projects will already focus on integrating high-priority help resources such as the "cheat sheet" and a legal primer for Wikimedia Commons more deeply into the editing process, other help resources aren't readily accessible.
- Announcing opportunities to volunteer: The Wikimedia Foundation, chapter organizations and individual volunteers need to be able to announce relevant volunteer opportunities and existing volunteer networks to potentially interested individuals.
- Supporting volunteer engagement beyond content: Whether a meeting needs to be scheduled or the subject of an article biography needs to be counseled, off-wiki activities can be critical to the success of our movement.
- Supporting the volunteer lifecycle: After volunteers have made the decision to help, we want to make sure that we retain them, that we can assess and support their work and their skillset, and that we can fill critical gaps when needed.
That doesn't mean that we are starting from zero in resolving these problems. In each of these categories, there are existing processes and examples to build upon:
- Discovery: The active Wikimedia community utilizes countless wiki pages to organize its work. The exact structure varies by language, but common elements include project workgroups (e.g. WikiProjects in the English Wikipedia), worklist categories (e.g. categories of "stub" articles, categories of articles with certain problems), specific engagement activities such as "collaborations of the week" and writing contests, etc. Active and experienced Wikimedians can navigate this page jungle to find areas in which they can help and relevant resources to do so; readers most typically are not aware of them.
- Announcement: WMF and chapters have employed several successful mechanisms to assemble groups of volunteers for specific tasks and workgroups: mailing list announcements, site-notice requests, blog posts, and so on. Most commonly, those requests are broadly rather than narrowly targeted, and applicants then have to be vetted individually.
- Beyond content: The Wikimedia community uses a variety of technologies, such as OTRS, IRC chat, open source conference management tools, meetup planning tools, etc. to support off-wiki volunteer participation.
- Lifecycle: The Wikimedia community has developed its own mechanisms to welcome, support and recognize volunteers. This includes "welcoming committees" on the various projects, help desks, user-to-user awards, face-to-face meetings, and so forth. There has been very little precedent for systematic volunteer lifecycle management, however, especially for relationships between WMF and individual volunteers.
We therefore propose that Wikimedia, as its single largest software development priority project for the fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 (in addition to any further continuation of the usability work), should develop a "Volunteer Collaboration Toolkit", a set of technologies that build upon existing successful volunteer collaboration practices both inside and outside the Wikimedia community to 1) maximize the number of people who are usefully volunteering their time, to 2) increase our ability to focus volunteer capacity on strategic priorities, and to 3) better recognize volunteers as individual human beings whose specific place in their involvement with Wikimedia we need to understand in order to support them.
We propose that over the course of a year, WMF will develop a set of open source technologies from scratch to address the problem areas above. This should include, but not be limited to:
- Asking for help. From the point of view of a visitor to Wikipedia, this would manifest as a general invitation to volunteer on all pages, as well as specific invitations based on known context (geographic origin of the reader, the page they are on, etc.). This is equivalent to the "ask" in our fundraising efforts.
- Developing a "welcome" page for prospective volunteers. When people choose to volunteer, whether for a specific activity or in unspecified ways, they should be presented with a "welcome" page that informs them how they can help, housing relevant "bookshelf" materials, allowing them to create a volunteer profile, and facilitating as much as possible the process of diving directly into the relevant work. This is equivalent to the "landing page" in our fundraising efforts.
- Creating mechanisms to broadcast volunteer opportunities. We need "spam-proof" mechanisms for individuals to alert people with specific interest patterns to a relevant volunteer opportunity. These alerts could be distributed by e-mail to registered volunteers, as well as shown on the "welcome" page and in other relevant places.
- Providing task and project management tools. Beyond simply saying "article X needs to be edited to add citations", there is a shared need for the ability to group, assign, and prioritize tasks, and clearly identify when they have been completed.
- Supporting on-wiki mentoring. Mentoring programs have been tried successfully in some projects, but without dedicated technology support, both the sign-up procedure and the actual mentoring can be cumbersome. We should create tools both to support the "hook-up" process, to support real-time interaction e.g. via chat, and to assess and evaluate the relationships.
- Supporting off-wiki processes. Conference and meeting scheduling tools (including one-on-one "Meet a Wikipedian near you" type meetings), problem reporting and ticketing mechanisms, and similar support technologies which assist in planning and executing off-wiki activities have been on the organizational back-burner, and no systematic evaluation of the relevant technologies and support systems has ever taken place. While not all these needs can be addressed in the scope of this project, at least critical strategic priorities should receive technological support.
- Managing volunteer relationships. A personal relationship is, by definition, private. WMF is beginning to experiment with the use of an internal database to manage relationships with individual volunteers. As we develop the volunteer toolkit, we should ensure that interfaces exist between the public mechanisms for volunteers to sign up for relevant opportunities, and the relationship management tools that WMF and chapters can use to support individual relationships. We should also ensure that the internal volunteer management tools can support the entire volunteer lifecycle of individuals WMF or chapters are dealing with directly.
This is a large-scale undertaking that will require substantial funding. We propose an initial project duration of 15 months, including a three-month ramp-up period. The project ramp-up period would begin on April 1, 2010. (As such, the project would barely hit the books in FY 2009-10, allowing us to shift it, or a subset, into the FY2010-11 base budget if no restricted funding can be found.)
The following staff positions will be needed for this project:
- Project Manager
- Software Developer (Tech Lead)
- Software Developer
- Software Developer
- Designer/UX expert
In addition, we will need contract services support for:
- Research and documentation of existing community practices and technologies (this could potentially also be a full-time staff position);
- User testing of newly developed tools;
- Development of specific isolated technologies that can be handed to remote technology contractors.
A very rough draft budget based on this proposed staffing and derived from the assumptions behind the budget for the usability initiative can be found below:
|Project Preparation (3 months)
|Project Execution (12 months)
|Equipment, Communications, Supplies
Potential cost splitting and cost reductions
Due to the broad nature of the improvements targeted in this project, specific goals can be potentially funded separately. It would be ideal to only deal with a very small number of funders for administrative reasons. A separately funded project could have a well-defined focus on any of the areas enumerated above, e.g., off-wiki processes with specific targeted improvements to handling biographies of living people; the "welcome" portal/page; on-wiki mentoring and chat tools.
However, some of these activities nevertheless depend on the remaining activities being successfully funded (e.g. there is no point in improving on-wiki problem reporting tools if there are no volunteers to deal with the problems), so we would prefer to pursue at least a $600-$700K scale subset of this project before pursuing the funding of smaller pieces.
Given the nature of the project itself, naturally, it would be ideal to design it as a model of public volunteer participation to the greatest extent possible. For this reason, it may be desirable to even convert one technology position above into a volunteer coordination / outreach position.
Other relevant proposals
- Proposal:A "be bold" campaign
- Proposal:Geonotice improvements is a relatively small technological sub-component that's essential for face-to-face meetups and other geographically coordinated activities.
- Proposal:Include standard and frequently-used templates in the editing toolbar
- Proposal:Publicize reference desk services and article readership statistics
- Proposal:Tutorials for finding peer-reviewed secondary literature
- Proposal:Add game-like features - structure tutorials and guidance functions as a game (like thesixtyone.com does)
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal Talk:Volunteer Toolkit.
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