11 things I am reading for and about Wikimedia

It’s somehow the same story every year: the amount of reading climbs up with every month. And so I find myself reading 11 things in parallel, connected to the madness, and excitement, of running for an elected, voluntary position in an NGO (Wikimedia Germany) again after many years of exercising restraint. Most of my personal choices this year turned out to be slightly goofy, so we’ll see how this one turns out – the General Assembly of Wikimedia Germany is on November 29, so I will know very soon. Setting aside caution and reserve, here is my commented reading list:

This is how I feel: small and curious

  1. Wikimedia Germany’s mailing list. I have been strongly encouraged to post to the mailing list, but I am cheerfully ignoring that recommendation. This is not a mailing list, it’s a slaughterhouse. I am reading every message, never sure whether I will get a headache from shaking my head or laughing madly. The list is public, so if you want to, dive into a pretty stunning spectacle.
  2. Konflikte Zwischen Vorstand und Geschäftsführer in Nonprofit-Organisationen: Eine Analyse der Spannungsfelder und deren Ursachen. A great book by Sara Bürgisser, already because it makes clear that the kind of conflicts Wikimedia Germany is struggling with right now are actually quite common.
  3. Chapters Dialogue Insights & Summary. While Wikipedia is co-produced by an immense decentralised network, much of the control sits with the Wikimedia Foundation. A lot of people are unhappy with that, and though I am familiar with the Chapters Dialogue, reading through it once more helps.
  4. Burnout in Free Software Communities. A great blog post by Siobhan McKeown that resonates strongly with my own experience. “Free software, by its nature, attracts self-driven people who like to be involved in diverse and challenging projects.” Yes indeed.
  5. Twenty-two power laws of the emerging social economy. An oldie but goodie by Dion Hinchcliffe who explores a good number of theories, which, he argues, are shaping the business world as the “post-industrial knowledge economy becomes more social.”
  6. Lots of meta discussions. Meta is the space where everything is discussed, well almost, and so there are discussions around the annual plan of Wikimedia Germany for 2015. Both the discussions and the the annual plan itself are interesting reads, with a lot more nuance than the mailing list.
  7. Motions for the General Assembly. About the only link that is password-protected. Most motions seem fair enough, but there are some that just continue the trench warfare madness between those who believe the ousting of the executive director was completely absurd, and those who believe it was the only way ahead.
  8. Wikipedia and Encyclopaedism: A genre analysis of epistemological values (pdf). Master thesis of Steve Jankowski (no, not the trumpeter of Blood, Sweat, and Tears), in which he considers how Wikipedia justifies, structures, and legitimizes its production of knowledge.
  9. An Epistemological Critique of Wikipedia. Summary by Steve’s supervisor, Pierre Lévy, who asks “How can we integrate the different point of views on a given subject in a perspectivist way instead of imposing a “neutrality” or “objectivity” that reflects inevitably the dominating consensus?”
  10. Proposal to replace Neutral Point of View (NPOV) with Every Point of View (EPOV). The entire research newsletter is always worth a read, a fantastic rabbit hole every single time, but this succinct summary of an interesting research paper stood out to me.
  11. Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia. Written by Dariusz Jemielniak, academic and Wikipedian, who seeks to illuminate how Wikipedia functions and, in doing so, claims and aims to deliver the first ethnography of Wikipedia.

The list could of course be much longer, but I try to never read more things in parallel than the month of the year commands.


The photo by Captain Piper on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) captures beautifully how I feel about this endeavour.

Not everything should be black or white

Some things are enormously more difficult than they seem at the beginning. Choosing colours for your living room, for example. For weeks now, we have been trying out dozens of colours – on plywood boards, on the wall, on our hands. We think we have finally settled on colours for two rooms: pea green for our Berliner Zimmer and Carmine for our hallway. Uff.

Other things are enormously more simply than they seem at the beginning. Understanding conflicts in NGOs, for example. For weeks now, I have closely followed extensive exchanges between two bitterly fighting fractions inside Wikimedia Germany. I find it fascinating that the two sides continue debating as if they, and only they, must be completely right, and the other side must be completely wrong. Uff.

Black and white never helps. Here are some of our colour samples (yeah yeah we know).

Just a few of our colour samples

A potpourri of participation models – Updated

For years now I have been collecting information on and tracing the origins of different models, schemata and theories of participation. Enticed by a project in 2011, I put together a selection of models with their original imagery and, in excerpt, original introductions and explanations. Another project in 2012 provided motivation and momentum to review and extend the selection, and update the pdf-file (Version November 2012, 13 MB). These are the (currently: 36) models covered:

Simulation on the future of Europe

At a training course on European Citizenship, my colleague Elena Kasko and I developed a simulation around the truly disgusting and disturbing way in which Europe treats refugees at its borders, in particular at the Schengen borders. One of my personal heroes, Gabriele del Grande, the unflinching Italian human rights journalist, has documented on http://www.fortresseurope.blogspot.com/ that at least 18.567 people have died since 1988 in their attempt to reach the Fortress Europe.

A very real question: when will Europe begin to respect human rights at its borders?

This was our scenario:

Europe in 2015: Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are bankrupt. The major banks of Germany, France and the UK have been nationalised and operate under government control. Luxembourg and Austria have given up on their offshore banking strategies, and the City of London has been placed under common legislation. Economic perspectives are depressing. Russia, China and Brazil have offered to lend money to the Europeans.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Europe have lost their last bit of trust in European institutions. The majority is convinced that neither the European Union nor the Council of Europe will survive this fundamental crisis.

In this atmosphere of hopelessness, the Parliament of the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have decided to meet, for the first time, in joint session to discuss and shape the future of Europe.

Each political party has tabled 2 proposals (called motions) about the future of Europe for this joint session. These motions are discussed in joint committees, with members from both Parliaments attending.

One of the most controversial motions comes from the Pirate Party: They suggest to extend the Schengen area to include all member states of the Council of Europe and to change the external border policies to comply with human right principles.

Here are the materials we developed – feel free to download, adapt and use to your liking:

  • the scenario: docx | pdf
  • the motion: docx | pdf
  • the roles: docx | pdf
  • a newspaper we used to spice things up: indesign | pdf
  • an intro movie we made – careful, the movie clocks in with 210 MB: avi

There were a few things we’d do differently next time around, most importantly probably (1) leave more time (we ran the entire simulation in one morning, including the debriefing, while it could easily consume a day) and (2) prepare fact-sheets as briefing material for the experts in the simulation, to allow them to argue evidence-based rather than invention-based.

What’s happening in e-learning?

In the context of the Council of Europe’s seminar “Using E-Learning in Intercultural Non-formal Education” I gave a presentation today [Nov 30, 2011] to (1) briefly introduce approaches to quality standards, benchmarks and criteria in e-learning and to (2) exemplify how e-learning changes learners, learning and learning environments and how this impacts non-formal education. Without a voice-over some aspects of the presentation will likely be hard to follow, but there are many links to sources for further reading in there so it might be useful anyway. Click on the image or this link to download the pdf of the presentation (12 MB).

E-Learning in Intercultural Non-formal Education

Methods: refreshing obsession or undeserved fetish?

This article was commissioned by and written for the Estonian Youth Work Magazine «MIHUS».


More than a thousand methods are listed in Europe’s largest toolbox for training and youth work at www.salto-youth.net/tools/toolbox/. More than a thousand tools, with new ones being added constantly. More than a thousand!

They stand for a growing dilemma and an increasingly frustrating conflict in our work as youth trainers and youth workers – the demand that methods must always be effective, evidence-based, creative, participatory, empowering, stimulating, exciting, new, crazy, surprising, powerful…

Is there a method in the madness?
Is there a method in the madness?
Photo by Tim Chaborski

Is there a method in the madness?

The more methods you know the better you are. Methods have become a marketing tool, a part of our identities as youth trainers and youth workers. Some of these methods may even become our trademark – when you think of Madzinga, with how many trainers do you associate it? And yet, at the same time, it almost seems as if only a new method is a good method.

We are afraid of repeating ourselves. We don’t want to bore ourselves with what we do. But more importantly: frequent seminar-goers might recognise a method and consider us boring as well… Oh no!