Wikimedia Fellowships/Project Ideas/research institute outreach

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List of Project Ideas Wikimedia Fellowship Project Idea

The Wikimedia Foundation should invite educational staff at research institutes to manage Wikipedia articles which are in the domain of their educational responsibilities. Currently there is no particular outreach to this demographic. When educators come to Wikipedia they find problems which are unique to paid staff representing an institution.

There are research institutions which employ staff to do educational outreach. These educators are supposed to make sure that the interested public has access to information on technical issues, and their traditional teaching model is to publish paper brochures and to distribute them at community meetings. In modern times they also make websites, have social media accounts, and sometimes have an online newsletter or blog. The traditional model has always been ineffective but it used to be the best system imaginable before internet; the internet tools I just mentioned have not been sufficiently successful either, and after about a bit more than a decade of trying to make them work many educators want something that actually will work. Most educators are hired with industry experience so are generationally non-native internet users who despite directing online efforts are themselves in the process of evaluating how to incorporate the internet into their education strategy. Just now these educators are warming up to the concept of using Wikipedia as part of their new programs. The historical big objections against Wikipedia such as "It will never work", "No reliable information on it", etc. are quaint now and will progress to becoming bizarre in just a few years. It is time right now to prepare for that future perception and get ready for the day when everyone, all organizations, schools, and governments, want all general knowledge information summarized in encyclopedic form on Wikipedia. Since the net-generation public uses search engines when they want general information, and since search engines usually direct to the Wikipedia article first, creating an outreach program to target community educators would bring expert oversight into Wikipedia and would rally volunteers in various fields.

Some examples of fields which have huge numbers of educators who are trying to get online are healthcare, basic science, cultural promotion, urban planning, and government policy. My own background is in health and science research and I want to make the model for this outreach program in my beautiful biotech-filled, international-development-loving city of Seattle. I propose to develop a framework to give a research institution the information they need to understand what it would mean if they made a long-term commitment to dedicating staff hours toward developing a field of Wikimedia content, and to test this framework on any of the local research institutes with which I already work. Furthermore I propose to create support pages to address the unique concerns which mega-entities would have to resolve before partnering with the WMF. Some examples of articles which I have in mind to see improved are health articles like "HIV", "vaccine", and "clinical research" or other things not obviously tied to the personal interest of a specific institution.

The precedents for this have been the GLAM project, which targets poor overworked librarians and curators and their fans, and the Public Policy Initiative, which targeted poor overworked students. The campus ambassador program is also like this, because it tries to ally university professors with Wikipedia, but the reality is that they too are overworked and underpaid and the students also have their limits and maybe the students just do not want Wikipedia like they want time to do other things. In contrast to those projects the educators at the research institutes want Wikipedia like they want their jobs. Whereas for those other projects there is not much hope that there would be long-term dedicated staff time for Wikipedia, in this case it is more likely than not. A research institute outreach effort would support a well-funded demographic which needs Wikipedia more than Wikipedia needs them, and Wikipedia needs them a lot.

Worries about conflict of interest should be taken seriously but the risk is predictable, manageable, and justified considering the payoff. Also, conflict of interest will not be a major problem because truly outreach is the objective of many think tanks; they have little other product to market.


Targeted - addresses strategic theme(s) or goals
Ask - How does the project fit with WMF goals and current fellowship program theme(s)?

The WMF needs subject matter experts to be available to provide volunteers expert advice when they need it. Let us review the goals:

  • "attract and deepen engagement with more new contributors"
    Wikimedia projects do not just need new contributors; they need new awesome contributors. One way of vetting the awesomeness of potential contributors is to target people who are already hired to be educators by research institutions and who would actually be paid to make non-controversial edits as Wikipedia contributors. I would value such people as highly desirable to Wikimedia projects.
  • "improve retention of our existing editors"
    People come to Wikipedia for the content, but they stay for the community. The retention problem that Wikipedia has is a community problem. This initiative definitely is not going to solve this problem, but it is part of the solution. Getting more subject matter experts on Wikipedia will put everyone around them in a better mood.
  • "strengthen our community by diversifying its base and increasing the overall number of excellent participants around the world"
    When anyone talks about doing things around the world that means one thing - money. It is reality that a little money goes much further than a lot of volunteer effort when doing cross-cultural work across a language and economic class barrier. There is no way to penetrate minority languages and poor countries without funding. This initiative targets those institutions which already want to maximize exposure by human count regardless of geographical location, the economic status of those people, and language barriers. They will pay to have their work translated on Wikipedia, and they will continue to pay to push their information around the world if Wikipedia continues to attract demand for it as it has historically done.
Actionable - has concrete deliverables and outcomes
Ask - What will the project drivers do, how will they do it, and what will change as a result?

Some simple metrics would be the number of enrolled subject matter experts supported by the program, their edit counts, their response times to community inquiry, or any number of participation measures. Something clever about this is that all community educators are required to provide their own metrics to their own organization to justify their work, so while Wikimedia will be checking to see if these people are benefiting Wikimedia, these people will have their own metric system to prove to their funders that Wikimedia is benefiting their organization. Getting benefit from Wikimedia projects is probably a low bar to prove - almost always a Wikipedia article is the first served response on a search engine query and the Wikipedia platform is more trusted than any other single source of information by a certain large demographic. Since research institutes have common international goals and a collaboration network in place almost anyone who is recruited will be poised, ready, and motivated to recruit and train their colleagues to do as they do, and the corporate culture is to treat such conversion as each educator's own metric for success.

Impactful - can have impact on a large group of people, articles, projects
Ask - Does it serve the many or the few?

I cannot imagine that the Wikimedia Foundation does not already have a project like this in the works because the collaboration with the individuals at the intersection of nonprofit, commercial, and government educational outreach is the fastest route to producing that high-quality content which can only come from insiders in the field. Of course this project serves the many. It is practically a takeover of government outreach functions and departments.

Sustainable - builds volunteer-driven continuity over time
Ask - After the fellowship is over, how could the initiative continue?

This question has an odd answer - after the fellowship is over the WMF could well abandon development of the outreach initiative because it perpetually has endpoints whereafter it would still be a viable tool of great use. Since the goal of the initiative is to get other organizations hungry and needful for Wikipedia platforms, it is not important that the WMF sustain the initiative to support the research institutes, but rather that the research institutes sustain their effort to improve and maintain Wikimedia content. This will happen because no one enjoys the benefits of a working web platform and then abandons it. Whether the research institutes like it or not, their target audience is already getting educational materials from Wikipedia projects, and since their goal is to educate the most people with the least budget, then once after testing the platform and seeing that it worked even before they intervened with it, the institutional retention rate will be high.

The response initiatives from the institutions to the igniting project I am proposing would continue indefinitely because the leadership base it would create in paid staff would be ordered by their employers to monitor and develop the articles in their fields indefinitely. This paid leadership base already is in the habit of recruiting volunteers to help them do their work, so it would be a natural transition to move from recruiting all "away from keyboard" volunteers to some mix of that and online volunteers, e.g. Wikipedians.

Scalable - has the potential to transfer knowledge or approaches to multiple languages or projects
Ask - How can the project model solutions to generate movement-wide value?

Not only is this scalable, but it comes with funding for translations. Here is an example -

In this project about 100 fundamental articles on healthcare are identified. These articles are to be made great in English, then translated into simple English Wikipedia, then translated into every other language in the world.

Any large institution which wants to educate the world would use this kind of data dissemination model because it taps into already existing processes and resources. Institutions already have education budgets, and they spend a lot of money on educational tools which no one wants. They know that people use Wikipedia, but the WMF - so far as I know - has never made a coordinated effort to reach out to the institutions which need the platform so much.

Measurable - can demonstrate impact
Ask - How will we know if the outcome is successful?

This project will result in an expansion of experts within the user base, the codification of Wikipedia policy into organizational policies, an increase in many users' long-term commitment to creating and maintaining good and featured articles, encourage more people to work together through WikiProjects, and create a corporate imperative to deliver the sum of all human knowledge to every single person on the planet.

Do not dismiss this project because of conflict of interest concerns. I have read the discussions and I know the fear associated with this. I want to understand the cost/benefit analysis of the concern. I could be wrong for lack of insight or information about conflict of interest problems in the past, but I am greatly distracted by the untapped resources I see in my field and I think it would be easier to address conflict of interest concerns than it would be to acquire these necessary resources by any other means. Wikipedia is a major internet presence and all the other major websites have made an effort to woo the money-holding entities. We can work this initiative into an ethical, community-directed way to allow the institutes to serve their expertise, the public to benefit from that and communicate their interests, and Wikipedia to host the party. Everything I have described is going to happen anyway; I am proposing this initiative to make it happen faster and in a thoughtful way.

Submitted by[edit]

Blue Rasberry (talk) 07:22, 14 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.

Research institutions are provided public funds with a charter of providing unbias information to the public. Seems like a clear choice to encourage this on Wikipedia. King4057 06:49, 13 February 2012 (UTC)