Wikipedia Workshop (Day Job 2)

[this is part of my new weekly series of posts focusing on the things I am getting up to at work – basically a new format for my old weeknotes.]

In a couple of weeks time my organisation will be running a WikiAcademy for the first time. A small group of staff (a mix of scientists & communicators) will spend a day getting instructions in the ‘dark arts’ of Wikipedia and some hands-on practical experience led by a crack team of volunteers from WikiMedia UK. This is very much a pilot scheme and if it goes well I’m hoping to run another one in Cambridge (and have already had enquiries about that.)

I have been lucky on a few fronts with this initiative. The fact that Cancer Research UK have already done something similar opened the door for us to creep through (and also the work the NIH in the US have done as well is a great reference as well.) My boss being enthusiastic about the idea from day one – seeing the potential for ‘public engagement’ – was also a massive help. Plus the fact two members of the Wikimedia board are local as well as a couple of Wikimedia events being in Bristol recently has meant I’ve had the opportunity to talk things through in an informal way as the idea formed.

That isn’t to say the idea isn’t still without doubters. Wikipedia remains a controversial topic in the academic & research realm and is often quickly dismissed as unreliable & untrustworthy. Even by some ‘science communicators’.

I think these people pretty much miss the point entirely though. If there are areas of Wikipedia that are ‘unreliable & untrustworthy’ (and I’m not naive enough to think there are not) then surely the sensible thing to do is contribute and improve these pages. The reality is Wikipedia *is* the first point of call for the vast majority of people when they are researching almost *anything* (well second point of call after Google I guess) and this is the reality that everyone has to work within.

Depending on how you count we have a few thousand employees – with a vast percentage of them having advanced degrees in one area of science or another. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only person in the organisation without a PhD or MD after my name! If contributing to Wikipedia became culturally acceptable in the organisation and the skills & understanding of working with it properly was disseminated widely then I think the impact could be huge! This is a long way off but I think it is a worthy goal to aim for.

Unlike the museums and archives that WikiMedia UK have been working alot with we don’t have alot of images or artifacts to bring to the table. That said I do think it would be interesting to see if there is anything that we could contribute to the Wikisource project. Apparently we have placed a large collection of historic documents in the National Archives and with our centenary only a couple of years away I think it is worth investigating whether this information can be opened up. That however is probably a question for the (much) higher ups – but one I think I’ll pose.

Anyway fingers crossed this first attempt goes well and it is the start of something bigger. With WikiMedia UK also doing similar activities with the Institute of Physics as well as Wellcome I get the feeling that this is something with a growing momentum and at some point I think it would be interesting to share some of the lessons we all learn from the process.

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