A week ago I had the pleasure of attending the US GLAM-Wiki consortium advisory board meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting was sponsored by the National Archives and Wikimedia DC, and it was held in the National Archives building (it is pretty neat to work in a conference room a hundred feet away from the constitution!)
The advisory board has met before, but I have not been able to attend the meeting in the past. This meeting was focused around the future and strategy of the consortium, which aims to coordinate and support partnerships in the U.S. between cultural organizations — archives, libraries, museums and more — and Wikimedia projects. (These partnerships might include hosting Wikipedians in Residence, hosting editing events, contributing knowledge and content like image collections, and more). The consortium is officially formed as a Wikimedia user group, but is in practice it operates as a loose affiliation of thought leaders in these issues. The advisory board is made up of people from institutions and Wikimedians who are experienced in doing this work.
During the weekend we got quite a bit of work done, which will be publicly documented just as soon as I/we finish the formal minutes (we also all got assigned tasks) but I wanted to reflect on one aspect — the collaborative work in the meeting itself.
I showed up with no particular expectations one way or another, except that we would have some great ideas, but I walked away deeply impressed by the group’s collective focus and productivity. In the course of two 10a-5p days, the group — who had not met for a year — wrote a vision and mission statement for the group, developed strategic 5-year goals and subgoals, developed 1 year goals and practical action items, assigned these items to participants, got a good start on writing a job description for a potential position at Wikimedia DC that could interact with the consortium, and also discussed topics as diverse as: strategy and future-looking ideas for GLAM projects; the wide variety of educational materials out there; the scope of projects and partnerships; and lessons learned from large-scale editathons. Plus, we brainstormed a few fun projects, including an “edit-a-thon in a box” (you heard it here first!) and threw in a couple of quick tours of the Archives.
What made us so productive? I think a few factors:
- Every participant (there were ten of us) was experienced at attending both strategic and working meetings, and was familiar with both high-level strategic brainstorming and getting down into developing and assigning tasks. I will say it was difficult for the group to stay at a strategic level — we loved talking about specific issues from our experience — but everyone was clear about the difference.
- All participants were domain experts, though with differences in our backgrounds and experience — but although we discussed new projects that not everyone was familiar with, we didn’t have to catch anyone up on the general ideas or terminology.
- Almost every participant was *also* an experienced Wikimedian, and wasn’t shy about participating in fast group wordsmithing and writing.
- Everyone did their best to focus on discussions at hand, and if someone was tired and needed to check out for a little while, that was OK; discussion proceeded without forcing or asking participation from everyone on all points.
- The counterpoint to this was that everyone tried to pay attention as much as possible, was respectful of everyone else’s views, and gave each other floor time; everyone was careful about not dominating the conversation and not interrupting or distracting.
- We had several people who were experienced agenda builders and group facilitators, and without any special formal tasking they stepped up to run parts of the meeting that needed facilitated discussion (and then handed the next part off to others).
- There were very few instances where we had to criticize or discuss how the meeting was being run — occasionally side discussions would get out of hand and someone would pull the room back together, but there were almost no process discussions in the full room, beyond some quick agenda-building exercises, short reflections on how we could have prepared better and discussion of what we would do going forward.
- And lastly we used a very cool piece of collaborative technology, Hackpad, which is like a more-effective and featured etherpad or google doc — built in automatic table of contents, fast and lightweight updating and versioning, text formatting, participant identification. Between the ten of us, over two days, we built an over 50-page (not a typo!) document of notes.
It was one of the more satisfying working experiences I’ve had in a while. Thanks, fellow participants!