Submissions:2015/Thinking (and contributing) outside the editing box: Alternative ways to engage subject-matter experts

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Thinking (and contributing) outside the editing box: Alternative ways to engage subject-matter experts
Outreach, Community
Type of submission
Andrew Lih, Ryan McGrady, Ian Ramjohn, Sage Ross
E-mail addresses,,,
Fuzheado, Ryan (Wiki Ed) (Rhododendrites), Ian (Wiki Ed) (Guettarda), Sage (Wiki Ed) (Ragesoss)
American University, Wiki Education Foundation

SUMMARY - How can we engage academics and other knowledge professionals in alternative ways to contribute expertise without requiring them to edit Wikipedia directly?

BACKGROUND - Wikipedia has a complicated relationship with subject-matter experts. As "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit", and one which operates by policies of "verifiability" and "no original research", its model precludes appeals to editors' personal epistemic authority. When people who have dedicated significant parts of their lives to the study of a particular topic try to contribute what they know to a Wikipedia article, it's easy to understand their confusion and/or frustration when their work is undone or criticized by pseudonymous or anonymous others -- editors who, we may assume, are not likely to have the same level of experience or credentials. It's a phenomenon that happens on a daily basis on Wikipedia and which aggrieved parties have even written about several times in popular publications.

Many academics, journalists, historians, GLAM professionals, and other subject-matter experts do contribute productively to Wikipedia, of course, but it requires a particular kind of patience beyond that demanded of most other editors simply because the social and professional structures they're socialized in weigh thoughts and opinions according to expertise and specialization. Furthermore, since many experts are unprepared for the kinds of challenges and interactions Wikipedia has in store for them, they may use their real name and worry that reverts and disagreements could have a negative impact on their professional reputation. Still, many Wikipedians and groups within the community routinely express that they wish more experts would contribute. Most would agree that expertise does have value on Wikipedia -- just not in some of the most obvious ways.

Since the beginning of the project, the way we have tried to engage new Wikipedians has been to encourage them to edit articles directly. The question we seek to address in this workshop is: How can we engage academics and other knowledge professionals in ways that allow them to contribute expertise without requiring them to edit articles directly?

FORMAT - The workshop will begin with short presentations which cover:

  • an overview of the challenge
  • past failures
  • potential strategies (ways of selling the idea of contributing to Wikipedia, addressing concerns about "credit", lessening the time needed to get over the learning curve)
  • alternative forms of contribution (article reviews, content gap analyses, expert consultant for a particular WikiProject)
  • possibilities for mediated engagement (talk pages, templates, bots, off-wiki tools, audio or video commentary)

Most of the requested time, however, is for discussion. We would like to learn from and collaborate with the Wikipedians, Wikimedians, librarians, academics, teachers, journalists, curators, and others in attendance in the hope that we can cultivate ideas, develop strategies, and formulate some practicable ways forward.

Length of presentation
60-75 minutes
Special schedule requests
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  1. Soupvector Stuart Ray (talk) 14:52, 26 August 2015 (EDT)
  2. --Sphilbrick (talk) 21:37, 26 August 2015 (EDT)
  3. Emw (talk) 18:17, 28 August 2015 (EDT)
  4. Gaurav (talk) 17:46, 29 August 2015 (EDT)
  5. Kosboot (talk) 09:56, 31 August 2015 (EDT)
  6. Pharos (talk) 17:26, 31 August 2015 (EDT)
  7. --Frank Schulenburg (talk) 22:22, 31 August 2015 (EDT)
  8. emitraka aka lv_ra 10:06, 1 September 2015 (EDT)
  9. Megs (talk) 13:32, 1 September 2015 (EDT)
  10. Samantha (Wiki Ed) (talk) 14:01, 3 September 2015 (EDT)
  11. Helaine (Wiki Ed) (talk) 17:10, 3 September 2015 (EDT)
  12. Mozucat (talk) 17:03, 5 September 2015 (EDT)
  13. EpochFail (talk) 10:31, 10 September 2015 (EDT)
  14. FriendlyFred (talk) 08:17, 23 September 2015 (EDT)