Critical issues presentations/Starting from scratch

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Submission no. 176
Title of the submission

Starting from scratch

Author of the submission
  • Isla Haddow
Country of origin

South Africa



  • Outreach
  • Developing communities
  • New models
  • New paradigms
  • Geographies of Knowledge

Rethinking outreach. Using different models to mobilise individuals, activate new communities and draw in knowledge and content from under-covered regions, countries and thematic areas.

Wikipedia’s overarching aim is to make the “sum of all human knowledge” available to everybody in the world. 15 years into the Wikipedia mission, so much has been achieved … but Wikipedia is still nowhere near being the sum of all human knowledge. It has done much to capture a hefty sum of western knowledge, but the rest of the world’s knowledge is not really present. The articles that do exist about marginalised, isolated or lesser-covered knowledges are more often than not written by people from the West, through their lens, and not by the true “guardians” of alternative knowledge, histories and contemporary realities.

Research by Mark Graham at the Oxford Internet Institute found that “only 16% of content about Sub-Saharan Africa is from the region, but even this number is inflated by relatively high numbers for South Africa, Uganda, Mauritius, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.” [1]

Why is this the case? Why, 15 years later, are there not significant numbers of editors editing from Africa, Asia, or South and Central America. Why is the general makeup of Wikipedia editors still heavily biased towards Europe and North America? Several interventions have been done to energise these less-covered regions into contribution, but with very limited uptake. Why?

In our collective experience, there is no clear one answer. The environment is complicated by tech and electricity challenges, stifling governments and lack of local support. But in the main, it comes down to this: they just don’t see themselves reflected on Wikipedia. There is no ownership of Wikipedia by individuals and communities as there is in the “West”. They “get” it, it’s just not for them. They are not invested, and so they don’t try to contribute.

How do we change this? The present West-centric Wikipedia outreach programmes and interventions are not working (they are not even working with marginalised communities based in the “West”). A few have worked for a while, or in isolated places, but not nearly on the same scale. We need to radically rethink the models for contribution and the rules of engagement. Through several projects and strategic regional community interventions there have been some successes with activating volunteer communities across Africa. There are other unexpected models in other parts of the world that have been used, which have resulted in Wikipedia being viewed as a local resource and tool to host local knowledge.

In my 18-minute presentation I want to highlight the unexpected ways that have worked … look at what could be done differently, present successful case studies and invite communities and individuals to try things a bit differently - wherever in the world they are.

[1] Graham, Mark 2015. Digging deeper into the localness of participation in Sub-Saharan African Wikipedia content [1]




Interested attendees and comments

Interested attendees:

  1. --Gereon K. (talk) 06:49, 15 June 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  2. Sebastian Berlin (WMSE) (talk) 09:00, 17 June 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  3. --Liridon (talk) 12:13, 25 June 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  4. --Armineaghayan (talk) 19:30, 7 July 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]