Grants:Project/Rapid/Mcbrarian/Wikipedia and Consumer Health

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Mcbrarian/Wikipedia, the digital divide, and consumer health information
Wikipedia’s influence is not yet fully understood. It has been assumed that “the public relies on free online medical information for making health decisions” (Shafee et al., 2017, p. 1122) but it has not yet been documented whether there are outcomes, such as decision making, related to the health information behaviour of individuals who access Wikipedia’s health and medical content. An investigation into the consumer health information behavior of individuals who use Wikipedia’s health and medical content could produce evidence that would provide information behaviour researchers health professionals, and Wikipedia advocates, particularly Wiki Project Medicine, with a richer understanding of health information seeking, sharing, use, or encounters on Wikipedia and the outcomes of this behaviour, if any.
targetEnglish Wikipedia
start dateJune 30
end dateDecember 30
budget (local currency)$1,654.00 CAD
budget (USD)$1,343.79 USD
grant typeIndividual
contact(s)• dsmith(_AT_)

Project Goal[edit]

Briefly explain what are you trying to accomplish with this project, or what do you expect will change as a result of this grant. Example goals include, "recruit new editors", "add high quality content", or "train existing editors on a specific skill".

The quality of Wikipedia’s health content has received the vast majority of the academic attention paid to Wikipedia in the context of its usage as a health information resource. The reports of Wikipedia’s quality in the academic literature generally focus on Wikipedia’s suitability for patients or the general health consumer, students in health sciences, or professionals in the field of health and wellness.
The goal of this research project is to investigate what happens after a user, specifically the general health consumer, encounters health or medical information on Wikipedia.

Project Plan[edit]


Tell us how you'll carry out your project. What will you and other organizers spend your time doing? I will take a criticalist approach to this study. A criticalist research philosophy is framed by the acknowledgement of unequal power structures in society, among other factors such as human consciousness, biases and values (Waller et al., 2016, p. 29). Criticalist researchers conduct their investigations from the perspective of an advocate with the goal that their findings might influence social change (Waller et al., 2016, p. 21). The goal of this study is to produce insight into the role of Wikipedia in consumer health information behaviour and how it might intersect with the digital divide phenomenon. The outcomes of this research could influence the strength of the Wikipedia editing community’s efforts to attract more health and medical experts to contribute to its pages, thus raising the quality, readability, and completeness of the world’s most frequently accessed web site for health information.

Through this criticalist lens, I will apply Bodie and Dutta’s theory, framed by their Updated Integrative Model of eHealth Use (Bodie & Dutta, 2008), that:

…structural inequities reinforce themselves and continue to contribute to healthcare disparities through the differential distribution of technologies that simultaneously enhance and impede literacy, motivation, and ability of different groups (and individuals) in the population.

Bodie and Dutta explicitly consider the influence of an individual’s situation, personality, demographic and internet use history as determinants of their position in the digital divide and subsequently as factors that can influence CHIB. While this model is not grounded in the library and information science discipline, it identifies the relationship between health outcomes, personal characteristics, ability, motivation, and health literacy in the context of understanding the role of Wikipedia’s health and medical content in CHIB. The researcher will apply this theory to the role of Wikipedia to explore whether these structural inequities, operationalized as micro-level variables (e.g. income, education, access to internet at home, situation) influence patterns of use of Wikipedia’s health and medical pages.

In order to explore actual use of Wikipedia’s health and medical content, the “Longo Health Information Model: Information seeking, passive receipt, and use” will be used to frame the research. Longo’s model includes a comprehensive list of possible personal variables (e.g. education, health literacy, education, language) and contextual variables (e.g. health status, situation, reason for searching) that influence consumer health information behavior. Further, it provides space for both active use of Wikipedia’s health and medical content (active information seeking) as well as more passive encounters with Wikipedia (passive receipt of information). Finally, Longo’s model (Figure 1) offers the researcher an opportunity to consider four possible outcomes of the CHIB: empowerment, satisfaction, changes to activities of daily living, and health outcomes.

I will recruit participants who will, if they consent, complete a survey and participate in a 30 minute semi-structured interview. Both the survey and the interview will be completed online, unless the participant requests to meet in-person and local public health protocols permit this accommodation.

This project has been given provision approval by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HIREB) under project ID 13392.

How will you let others in your community know about your project (please provide links to where relevant communities have been notified of your proposal, and to any other relevant community discussions)? Why are you targeting a specific audience? I will publish the findings of this study in a peer-reviewed open access journal.

What will you have done at the end of your project? How will you follow-up with people that are involved with your project?

By the time this project ends, I hope to have insights into the following questions that can be published and shared with the Wikipedia and academic community:

  1. Who is accessing Wikipedia’s health and medical pages? How can this population be described? Of those who access it, how is Wikipedia’s medical and health content encountered (e.g., passively or actively)?
  2. Are there benefits or concerns to having access to Wikipedia’s health content and if yes, what are they?
  3. Is there a relationship between how Wikipedia is accessed and the social, physical, personal, or cognitive factors that can place an individual on either end of the digital divide?
  4. Is there a relationship between individuals’ perceived benefits and concerns about Wikipedia’s health content and the social, physical, personal, or cognitive factors that can place an individual on either end of the digital divide?

Are you running any in-person events or activities? If so, you will need to complete the steps outlined on the Risk Assessment protocol related to COVID-19. When you have completed these steps, please provide a link to your completed copy of the risk assessment tool below:



How will you know if the project is successful and you've met your goals? Please include the following targets and feel free to add more specific to your project:

  1. Number of total participants: 25
  2. Number of articles created or improved: n/a
  3. Number of photos uploaded to Wikimedia Commons: n/a
  4. Number of photos used on Wikimedia projects (if applicable): n/a


What resources do you have? Include information on who is the organizing the project, what they will do, and if you will receive support from anywhere else (in-kind donations or additional funding).

I have support from the Director of McMaster University Health Sciences Library who has granted me a 1-year research leave to conduct this study and report on my findings. I do not receive funding for this research from my employer, however my employer continues to pay my salary while I am on research leave.

What resources do you need? For your funding request, list bullet points for each expense:

  1. NVivo software to code the interviews
  2. Funds to provide participants with a $25 CAD gift card to Tim Hortons or Starbucks as a gesture of thanks for their time and participation. Participants who complete the survey but withdraw their consent to participate in the interview will receive a $10 CAD gift card.