Edit-a-thon helps tackle Wikipedia’s Africa gap

Edit-a-thon helps tackle Wikipedia’s Africa gap

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Date: 14th August 2019
Author: Lisa McNamara
Type: News
Countries: Africa, South Africa
Tags: agriculture, biodiversity, adaptation, climate science, edit-a-thon, future climate change, wikipedia

Lisa McNamara of CDKN reports on a pioneering event for African researchers to enhance the quality of climate change information on the world’s largest online encyclopedia.

Last week, a diverse group of 30 African researchers gathered in Cape Town to attend the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon held on climate change in Africa, co-hosted by CDKN, the Future Climate for Africa programme and Wikimedia South Africa. CDKN and the Coordination, Capacity Development and Knowledge Exchange Unit of FCFA are managed by South Africa-based NGO SouthSouthNorth. The researchers travelled from East, West, and Southern Africa and represented 10 countries: Ghana, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The purpose of the edit-a-thon was to address an enormous gap on Wikipedia of African content and contributors. An edit-a-thon is an organised event bringing a group of people together to edit and improve a specific topic on Wikipedia.

2018 marked a turning point – where more people are online than offline. And as the world’s fifth most popular website with 20 billion page views per month, one cannot ignore the importance of Wikipedia in sharing Africa’s knowledge, experiences and perspectives on climate change with the global community. There is also an incentive for researchers to add their work to the platform –Thompson and Hanley (2018) have found that scientific articles referenced in Wikipedia receive more citations.

The Africa gap

Africa has the fewest Wikipedia contributors per capita of any other region. A 2014 survey found that Africa contributes only about 1.3% of the world’s edits on a monthly basis. Page edits from Hong Kong almost equal edits from the entire continent of Africa (15 000 edits in Hong Kong vs 19 000 edits in Africa per month).

This challenge in terms of coverage and contributors has been identified as the ‘Africa gap’.

And this gap also relates to information on climate change. Contributions on Africa and by Africans on the climate change topic are limited. For example, the word ‘Africa’ does not appear on the climate change page and all notes and references link to American and European research. Prior to the edit-a-thon, the climate change in Africa page only covered the health impacts of climate change on the continent with no information on how climate change might affect the different regions of Africa.

Reflecting the diversity of human knowledge

At the event the President of Wikipedia’s South Africa chapter, Douglas Scott, highlighted that Wikipedia’s aim is “to give free access to the sum of all human knowledge to everyone, everywhere.” But to achieve this, Wikipedia is reliant on diverse contributors reflecting the richness and complexity of the world’s knowledge.

At the edit-a-thon, participants included climate scientists, sustainable growth economists, forest and environmental scientists, agriculture, biodiversity and integrated water management specialists, and policy and governance experts.

There were scholars who had studied the effects of climate change on migration flows and population dynamics in Africa as well as climate change impacts on biodiversity and the implications for people’s livelihoods. Some researchers brought with them the latest research on the climate science of Africa from FCFA, and others brought recent research on how climate change is affecting communities in Africa’s semi-arid lands.

With this group there was significant potential to enhance the depth and breadth of climate change information on Wikipedia.

What was achieved?

Over the three days the researchers tackled some major gaps on Wikipedia where Africa-related content was lacking, working in groups to use the opportunity to leverage their collective knowledge and understanding to edit larger topics on existing Wikipedia pages such as Climate change in Africa, climate change adaptation, climate change and agriculture and drylands. [Read Katharine Vincent's reflections on how the editing process worked for the climate change adaptation page here, as well as why she thinks Wikipedia is an important tool for research impact.]

Image: Climate scientists work on the Wikipedia Climate Change in Africa page, courtesy CDKN and FCFA

Veteran Wikipedia editors from Wikimedia South Africa were also on hand to guide participants through how to contribute.

Participants focussed on enhancing the representation of African research on Wikipedia pages, including adding more citations from African researchers, as well as links to important projects and programmes in the region.

By the third day the new editors had made significant progress. Andy Nyamekye from Ghana now based at Wageningen University noted that for the climate change and agriculture page “in the case of Africa there was virtually nothing. I added content related to West Africa. In our group one thing we kept in mind was making sure the language was accessible. We learned that we need to communicate to a Wikipedia audience in a different way to an academic audience.”

Kornelia Iipinge from the University of Namibia focussed on adding African-related climate programmes to the “external links” section on the climate change adaptation page to capture the multitude of initiatives on the continent related to adaptation work.

For the climate change in Africa page, Yaw Atiglo from the University of Ghana “gave the page some structure and shape and included sub regional sections on climate change information for West and East Africa where there was previously nothing. We cited African authors too, provided more links to other sources and created links to other Wikipedia pages.”

Grace Koech from the World Agroforestry (ICRAF) centre in Kenya worked on the climate change and ecosystems page. “I noticed there was no section on how the degradation of species is affecting livelihoods, so I added some information on this”.

For the drylands page Senegalese researchers working on Pathways to Resilience in Semi Arid Economies (PRISE) from the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) added their latest findings to both English and French Wikipedia on the effect of climate change on agriculture value chains relating to beef and milk in semi-arid lands. The group also added a significant amount of information to a section on semi-arid lands.

What next?

Participants agreed this was just the start of their Wikipedia editing journey. The event closed with everyone looking at future possibilities for editing and creating pages - captured as leaves on a tree. The event also helped spark some potential collaboration. For example, one participant discovered another colleague from the University of Botswana who works in her area, "after the event we will look at working together to improve Wikipedia content on biodiversity and livelihoods. I also plan to go home and tell other researchers about Wikipedia and show them how to edit articles.”

Image: Tree depicting future plans for editing and creating Wikipedia articles, courtesy CDKN and FCFA

The edit-a-thon was made possible through funding by a range of donors: The Royal Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Canada's International Development Research Centre, the UK Department for International Development, and the Natural Environment Resource Council.

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