Wikimedia Fellowships/Project Ideas/Expert retention - a qualitative study of those, who left

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We all know that expert retention is one of the most dire problems on Wiki. While we know quite a little about people who edit Wikipedia, and while we also know that there is a strong bias against Wikipedia in some academic circles, we don't really understand much about the reasons for experts (especially from Academia), who started their journey with Wikipedia, but later decided to leave. Delving into their reasons may help in creating policies and approaches aimed at increasing expert retention, which is particularly important at the stage Wikipedia currently is (most of the simple matters are really well covered).


Understanding why scholars leave Wikipedia is, arguably, one of the most important things for Wikipedia future development. At some stage, the need for expert knowledge will start to increase (when most basic topics are covered). Yet, we are doing a pretty poor job in attracting and keeping people from Academia.

The current strategic theme of WMF recognizes the problem of retention. In the proposed project I'd like to target about 15 scholars who were experienced editors on one of Wikipedia projects, but decided to leave. I intend to talk to them, conduct qualitative, open-ended interviews, and try to understand their view on Wikipedia's flaws. I would also like to conduct interviews with the key people at WMF responsible for academic outreach.

By using qualitative methods (clearly less common in studying Wikipedia behavior), I should be able to go a bit deeper, and be able to fish for ideas and views of the interviewed, otherwise impossible to reach. Also, a qualitative study is the only reasonable choice in a situation, where we basically cannot target that many scholars who left Wikipedia and persuade them to participate in the study.

Even though expert retention is just a small part of the more general retention problem, insight into this particular one may have impact on the whole.

The project should be actionable in the sense that all the interviewed will be people with Wikipedia experience, and therefore their suggestions (as well as gripes) should address real flaws of Wikipedia. Also, such a study may open ground for a debate on very practical issues, such as credentials verification (post-Essjay debates ended without conclusive results, also because of the lack of feedback from academic circles).

The project has a potential to build volunteer-driven continuity over time, as (depending on the results of the study), a group of volunteers may take the responsibility to address issues signaled by the dissatisfied formed scholarly editors[unclear]. Even though in qualitative projects results should not be pre-guessed and preconceptualized, one could easily imagine an initiative aimed at supporting and coaching scholars in the ways of Wiki. I would be more than happy to start the initiative myself.

The study is scalable across projects to a huge extent, since the culture of academia is pretty much international. Also, since I'm active on Wikipedias in two different languages, I would rely on data from both of them.

Measurability of the study is the most tricky part. Since the project does not rely on quantifiable data, it will be measured by the collected outcome analysis (and its usefulness), which can't be promised ahead. However, other projects of this sort have proven successful in the past. We will know if the outcome is successful, when we realize some reasons for experts leaving and discuss the possibilities to address them.

Submitted by[edit]

I've been a Wikipedian since 2007. I'm an admin and a bureaucrat on pl-wiki, and I'm also active on en-wiki. 2011-2012 I served on the ombudsman commission for Wikimedia projects. Since 2012 I am a steward. Outside of Wikipedia, I'm an associate professor of management, currently with a one-year fellowship at an Ivy League university, writing up a netnographic book about Wikipedia. I have successfully completed two large ethnographic projects in the past (one is forthcoming in a book at Edward Elgar this year). While my proposed study is low-cost (with the exception to an optional 1-2 week stay at WMF, discussing and interviewing people there, and also collecting data on whom to talk to from the scholars, who left Wikipedia), the status of a "Wikipedia fellow" would add credibility to the study and possibly help in getting more responses. Pundit 22:44, 25 January 2012 (UTC)


This section is for endorsements by Wikimedia community volunteers. Please note that this is not a debate, vote, or poll, but is rather a space for volunteers to describe in detail why they think a project idea is of value. If you have concerns or questions rather than an endorsement to make, please use the idea Talk page. Endorsements by volunteers willing to work in collaboration with a fellowship recipient on a project are highly encouraged.

  • Useful and seems realistic. Johnbod (talk) 16:47, 29 February 2012 (UTC)
  • Agree with Johnbod. OTAVIO1981 (talk) 12:22, 1 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Expert retention is an issue worthy of research. The qualitative study suggested by this proposal seems like a sensible, realistic method of such research. AGK [•] 23:35, 3 March 2012 (UTC)