Growing our volunteer community in Scotland

In 2019 we hired Dr Sara Thomas as our Scotland Programme Coordinator. As Sara’s expanded our reach across Scotland, the demand for volunteers and trainers has increased hugely. Though it’s odd to think about in-person meetings while working from home, the Train the Trainer course in Glasgow has set up a network that’s prepared us for both online and offline Wikimedia activities.

Sara decided to approach this new group of trainers as a specific volunteer cohort. New trainers were asked to agree to run a minimum number of training events per year, booking them either in response to a call from Wikimedia UK, or through their own contacts. This ensured they would have sufficient opportunities to volunteer throughout the year, and that we were tapping into our growing Scottish network. It was also hoped that volunteers would be able to support campaigns like #1lib1ref and Wiki Loves Monuments.

Trainees for November 2019 Train the Trainer course, held in Glasgow – by Sara Thomas (WMUK)

We recruited through the ScotWiki and Wikimedia UK mailing lists, our website, and by approaching existing volunteers whom we thought would appreciate the opportunity for development. We encountered a particular challenge around those we approached in academic circles as the course would take at least three days, potentially cutting into valuable teaching time. And as the content of the course focussed on pedagogy and approach to training rather than advanced Wikipedia editing, there was some scepticism as to whether this would be of the same value to teachers.

With this in mind, we felt that an individual approach would work best for the cohort. Sara carried out phone interviews with prospective trainees, assessing their suitability and the value of their attendance. It was agreed with one individual that this course would not be the right fit for them, but that we could develop their volunteering in other ways. As we’ve done for previous Train the Trainer courses, we also opened the training to international affiliates, inviting a delegate from both Sweden and the Netherlands.

Our cohort varied greatly in terms of their on-wiki experience. In order to level the playing field, Sara set up a mailing list and created weekly reading plans prior to the course, with suggested Wikipedia editing activities. Take up on the pre-course info was mixed, and in the future we’d likely look at presenting this as an online training module rather than a text-heavy set of emails – though these emails were appreciated by all as a resource for future reference. We have since used the materials for education partners with whom we’re working remotely during the COVID-19 period, and our new Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities funded intern who’s working on a project with Wikimedia UK and Archaeology Scotland.

The training quality itself was well received; in particular one participant rated it more highly than aspects of their professional teaching training. We’d also arranged a variety of social activities and it was noted that these were particularly valuable, helping bond the group and break up the intensive three days of training.

Following the training, the mailing list continues to be a key source of peer support and communication. For example, Sara has shared her new standard training slides (redesigned as a result of the training), and members have contributed interesting links and reflections on wiki-related activities. In addition to this, Sara has kept in regular contact with individual trainers.  Each trainer will have the opportunity to shadow or have support in a course before we’d expect them to lead on their own. She’ll then offer feedback, building skills and confidence in order that trainers feel comfortable leading courses on their own. We’re also encouraging new trainers to attend any editing events in their area. Sara has conducted follow up phone interviews with each trainee to assess their interests and any further training needs. In particular, there are two trainers who have shown interest in developing Wikidata skills, and they have been supported and encouraged to work on particular projects. 

At the time of writing, Sara reported that one trainer is working on the development of a light-touch Wiki in the classroom activity – a five week Student Selective Component in Science Communication for medical students at the University of Glasgow, which will include discussion of Wikipedia as a public outreach tool. Another trainer is working with a local history group and has provided leads for the set up of social editing groups in two Scottish cities. One trainer has already supported Sara in an upcoming event in Glasgow, and will build on that experience to develop an activity with an arts network local to her in the Borders; and three trainers have multiple events lined up, including one which is a multi-partner and multi-project event in the North of Scotland.

Our COVID-19 lockdown has obviously changed the state of play for many Wiki activities, with all in-person events cancelled. We’re in the process of looking at models of moving in-person training online, and some of our new trainers are involved in the first wave of this – Code The City 19: History + Data = Innovation will now take place online on 11th and 12th April, led by Ian Watt, which will feature Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata elements. 

The demand for support for wiki-engagement activities continues to grow (and we’ve seen it grow further over the last few weeks). With support from all our volunteer trainers across the country, we’ll do what we can to meet it.

If you’d like to support Wikimedia UK’s work, you can donate to us here.

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