2019/Grants/COVID-19 translation

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COVID-19 translation


Lane Rasberry

Wikimedia username:


E-mail address:



Geographical impact:

South Asia

Type of project:

Research + Output

What is your idea?

apply existing Wikipedia workflows to translate COVID-19 content from English into underserved languages

Why is it important?

The Wikipedia community historically has operated at the pace of available volunteer labor. What is different now is that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic everyone needs immediate access to certain high priority health messages. Some languages have communities which are translating this content, but other languages do not have capacity. If we translate this content then Internet users will find and access it immediately.

Is your project already in progress?

This project is not in process for the languages which it targets. There are precedents and models in place for comparable projects in other languages and for topics other than COVID-19.

The model of translating COVID-19 content and distributing it into Wikipedia is in progress. Many languages are underserved and not getting translations, though, simply because their Wikipedia communities are not developed enough to mobilize quickly or process medical information.

How is it relevant to credibility and Wikipedia? (max 500 words)

Misinformation about COVID-19 is in global circulation. Many cultures and languages have their own local stories. An example of good information to share is the COVID-19 message of the World Health Organization, and an example of misinformation in this space is any health information directly contrary to the WHO.

Sources of misinformation about COVID-19 include top ranking political leaders in various countries, influential promoters of contraindicated alternative medicine, and miscellaneous people everywhere publishing non-medical fantasy health strategies in the chaos.

Wikipedia is a transparent source of objective truth where people can find summaries and citations of reliable sources and also have an opportunity to speak out and be heard in a public forum, even if they want to document their opposition in Wikipedia article talk pages.

What is the ultimate impact of this project?

  1. quick delivery of COVID-19 content to language communities which will not get this information quickly otherwise
  2. developing the wiki model for disaster response

Could it scale?

The part of this project which scales is the translation of well developed Wikipedia content from one language to another.

One of the few bottlenecks in Wikipedia which sponsorship can resolve is content language translation. Money can disrupt Wikipedia community organization and activities, but sponsorship to bring content from one language to another actually del

Why are you the people to do it?

At the University of Virginia we already have a Wikipedia program which has been ongoing since 2018. We can do this program in the model of university participation in Wikipedia, which is already established as a type of collaboration which the Wikimedia community wants and which already has a proven record of achieving results. At a university students can take roles in projects by contributing and also discussing the ethics and intent of it.

Our university already does projects in medicine in Wikipedia.

I as project organizer, Lane Rasberry, am a coordinator for the Wikimedians in Residence Exchange Network where I report my activities to other staff Wikimedians at organizations to share them in the development of best practices. In this organization people in similar roles all contribute their projects to establish a larger precedent.

What is the impact of your idea on diversity and inclusiveness of the Wikimedia movement?

This project promotes diversity and inclusiveness by publishing and delivering information about COVID-19 which certain language communities need in the present crisis.

A broader challenge which this project raises is that the Wikimedia community does not already have in place a disaster management plan for deciding what information is necessary to deploy and directing resources to meet some minimal information sharing with every language community which requires it. Having an American university fill is an alternative to the ideal solution, which would be somehow supporting the local community of direct users in developing this content for themselves.

What are the challenges associated with this project and how you will overcome them?

Ideally a language project should have its own language community lead and manage it. For this project a university in the United States proposes to organized the translation of medical information for a foreign language community.

The major challenge is that we in the United States do not represent the communities who are the primary beneficiaries of the translation. While we would collaborate with people in India who speak these local languages, this project design has a divide where people in the United States do one part and people in South Asia do another part.

The reason why this shortcoming is tolerable is because every language community needs content quickly and the infrastructure for developing and publishing this content is not already in existence. This project will translate the content now, document what this university did, and raise awareness that the world collectively needs better infrastructure for translating and deploying information in crisis situations.

How much money are you requesting?


How will you spend the money?

  • 40% University of Virginia staff
    • someone who speaks language
    • someone to oversee documentation of methodology
  • 30% native speakers as translation consultants
  • 20% student researcher
    • writing and documentation
    • performing wiki edits
  • 10% university administration

How long will your project take?

4 months

0 month - start
1 month - translation and publication of the first draft of content
3 month - publication of structured dataset of translated technical terms in Wikidata, which enables tracking progress of content development and also is a check on quality control
6 month - academic paper - what we did, how we checked it, report of metrics, how anyone can replicate it

Have you worked on projects for previous grants before?