FCFA/CDKN First ever Wikipedia on climate change in Africa
Mzime Regina Ndebele-Murisa and Chipo Plaxedes Mubaya
We had the privilege of being among the thirty (30) participants in the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)’s first ever African Wikipedia edit-a-thon which was held in Cape Town during the first week of August, 2019. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together early to mid-career researchers, as well as veteran Wikipedia editors, to update and add content related to climate change in Africa. The idea was to equip participants with new skills in how to edit and contribute effectively to Wikipedia, with the hope that this will help to increase the global exposure and impact of their research.
Our experience of the edit-a-thon was eye-opening, especially given that we initially went in as skeptics. The reason for our skepticism is that despite it being the world’s most popular encyclopedia and among the most searched websites, Wikipedia is largely not considered as a reliable source of scholarly information by some members of the research community. As a result, most academics, like us before the edit-a-thon, regard the editing of the Wikipedia a waste of valuable time, which could instead be used more productively for producing outcomes that add value to academic profiles. However, during the workshop, it was fascinating to learn that Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia, and the most wide-ranging compilation as well as accessible knowledge to exist in the history of humanity. At the same time, it was also disturbing to learn about the poor statistics when it comes to the use of this platform by Africans and on topics which cover the continent such as climate change in Africa. At that time only 1,000 out of the approximately 70,000 Wikipedia contributors were from Africa. For this reason, despite our initial skepticism, we agreed that it is indeed critical that African academics and researchers dedicate some of their time to making an input on the Wikipedia pages on Africa!! Indeed, our contribution since this time to date, together withat of fellow participants is worth mention!
Since the workshop, participants have made impressive contributions and considerable progress from most of them having no contributions at all before the workshop was held to the following current statistics (see Table 1). These statistics are constantly changing as contributions are continually being made. However, this is not to say that the process of contributing on Wikipedia is without its complications, particularly for researchers who are used to writing for specialized audiences and in scholarly language. Our first reaction to the fact that ‘literally anyone can edit an article’ was of shock as it appeared like a self-defeating purpose. However, we were pleasantly surprised at the rigorous processes that go into ensuring the quality and correctness of content that is uploaded on Wikipedia (see this article on the reliability of Wikipedia) which often leads to the content being iteratively improved. Essentially, we reiterate that the process is not in itself as mundane and time wasting as we thought, but rather, an intellectual exercise that requires skill!