Photo by María Cruz and Jason Krüger, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Photo by María Cruz and Jason Krüger, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Sometimes the simplest of actions can create unexpected change in the world. That is what happened when Vassia Atanassova, decided to write 100 Wikipedia articles in 100 days as a challenge to herself. She called it#100wikidays, shared her challenge on Facebook, and quickly inspired dozens of other Wikipedia editors to take on the same challenge.

In another corner of the world and many years earlier, Liam Wyatt started sending emails to museums to propose a new form of partnership: a “Wikipedian in residence.” The British Museum said yes, which led to the first GLAM-Wiki program of this sort. Five years later, in 2015, he found himself giving a presentation at the Soumaya museum in Mexico City to inspire the local community to start a residency of their own.

There are now 110 Wikipedians in residence all over the world, and 7,500 articles have been created through the #100WikiDays challenge. Vassia and Liam are only two of the many Wikimedians who have boldly stepped up to help other Wikimedians succeed in our shared educational mission. This support pattern is consistent across the movement, and we, the Wikimedia Foundation, would now like to know how to best support it to help Wikimedia communities thrive.

What do you mean leadership?

In the Wikimedia world, almost every contributor has to “be bold” and step up to the challenges of guiding the projects and activities to success. In turn, experienced individuals become models for others and help mentor newcomers to participate in our projects and to continue to grow our community. This form of mentoring, or leadership, or collaborative guiding of the communities is an absolutely crucial part of meeting our vision: to freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

As we pursue this world-changing mission, leadership is not about something beyond us, it is not about a single person leading, but a great many people: it is a shared practice that lies in the core of our culture. Wikimedia is a movement made of many volunteers leading through everyday acts to liberate knowledge, and help others to do the same.

What can we do to build leadership?

The Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Engagement department, along with movement affiliates, support and collaborate with these leaders, mentors and guides. However, there are many people throughout the movement who don’t get direct support for their leadership development activities. For every one of those community guides that movement organizations identify, there are dozens more within our movement who could lead, if given access to the right skills or encouragement. As a community, we should seek greater engagement of community leaders, and to do so we need a shared vision.

That is why we are launching the Leadership Development Dialogue. We need your help in refining not only what the Wikimedia Foundation provides in terms of direct training activities for community leaders, but also to refine how we describe those leaders.

Over the last year, we have engaged focus groups to explore the shared understandings of what kinds of “leadership” traits we need of new leaders within our communities—and we found that we want very similar things: empathetic community organizers, who know how to inspire our communities, making our communities more sustainable without alienating others. However the word “leader” does not translate well between languages and cultures, as it can mean anything from inspiring and engaging new participants to dictatorial control over projects or activities. We certainly don’t want that confusion!

We need your help!

From now through October 16, 2016, we invite you to comment on two items. First, we’d like your thoughts on how we can design for appropriate inclusivity, achieve the goals of the peer mentoring and leadership development, and develop additional support infrastructure to reinforce important skills in the Wikimedia communities; and second, how we should describe leaders in our movement, down to the word(s) we use to identify them and the skills that make them who they are.

We invite you to join our conversation and help us refine what it means to develop leadership for program and community development.

Alex Stinson, GLAM-Wiki Strategist
Jaime Anstee, Senior Strategist, Manager
María Cruz, Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Wikimedia Foundation