What’s an E-Volunteer?

“You have a volunteer program…but do you have an E-Volunteer program?”  When Liam Wyatt, the Wikimedia Foundation Cultural Partnerships Fellow, asks this question of museum professionals you can almost hear the “Aha” moment. I was inspired by the concept, and I know others have been, too. But, what exactly is an E-Volunteer?

That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. I’m interested in what E-Volunteering means for the non-profit sector and for my museum specifically. Beyond that, I’m interested in how the Wikipedia community can be utilized as E-Volunteers for museums.

E-Volunteering is just one of many terms used to describe many non-profits’ attempts to tap into online volunteering. Discussions often get into crowdsourcing and the gamification of tasks — both of which warrant their own post.  It’s a lot to unpack, so let’s start with some definitions:

  • Virtual Volunteering: Similar to telecommuting, a single virtual volunteer completes a task off-site and is still managed by the non-profit, but as an unpaid volunteer.
  • Microvolunteering: Ben Rigby, CTO of Sparked.com, defines microvolunteering as convenient, bite-sized, crowdsourced tasks that are managed within the community.
  • Digital Volunteering: Mike Woodward of York Museums Trust recently blogged about melding these two concepts into what he calls “digital volunteering.” This brings together the expertise of virtual volunteers with collaborative, crowdsourced microvolunteering.

I believe that Wikipedia is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit for museums hoping to efficiently capitalize on online volunteering. Editors within Wikipedia take on a variety of roles in order to improve the encyclopedia. Some enjoy basic tasks such as categorizing or copyediting articles. Others prefer to expand articles, either by taking and uploading photographs, or by researching and contributing content about a specific topic. Based on the above definitions, Wikipedia looks a lot like digital volunteering: a combination of crowdsourcing (microvolunteering) and for connecting with subject experts (virtual volunteering).

Wikipedians have essentially been serving as E-Volunteers for some time. Now, the GLAM-Wiki community is attempting to define the types of E-Volunteers that collaborate with museums — Wikimedia UK in particular. Here is how I see the breakdown for Wikipedia E-Volunteers:

  • Topic-specific E-Volunteers:  Wikipedia is made up of WikiProjects that focus on the improvement of articles on a specific topic. This is where you can connect with the experts that are interested in utilizing your museum’s resources.
  • Local E-Volunteers: E-Volunteering can take place on-site as well. Providing incentives for local Wikipedians to visit your museum, such as a Backstage Pass tour, can lead to long-term engagement and continued article improvement.
  • General E-Volunteers:  Many Wikipedians will be happy to work completely online, assisting with basic categorization tasks or using digitized museum resources to update articles.

As Liam likes to conclude, “Wikipedia already is your E-Volunteer program, you’re just not affiliated with it yet,” which gets us all thinking, “What can E-Volunteers do for my museum? And how can I connect with them?”

Photo by Fæ (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

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