Public Policy Initiative – FAQ

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What is the Public Policy Initiative?

The Public Policy Initiative is a priority initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation. We aim to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles in a particular subject area: public policy. The initiative's goal is to develop a model to systematically improve articles by encouraging and enabling students and academics to contribute to Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation started the initiative in November 2009 by reaching out to U.S. universities. The goal was to build face-to-face relationships and to get feedback on our initial ideas. A report about the outcome of this phase is available as PDF.

We plan to start the second phase (“quality-improvement phase”) in September 2010. Our goal will be to significantly increase the quality of Wikipedia's articles in a particular subject area. As subject for our case study we chose the topic area of U.S. public policy.

What is the purpose of the project?

The objective of the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative is to increase the quality of public policy content on Wikipedia, and create structures that will support continued improvement after the Initiative's conclusion.

Another key aspect of this pilot initiative is the ability to test a model infrastructure that includes the bookshelf training materials, ambassador training, tools for a mentoring system, tools for article assessment, etc. By thoroughly evaluating and documenting the initiative, we will provide a model for our volunteers to replicate its approach in other disciplines and other geographic areas.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

No, this is a completely new and exciting model for outreach with subject matter experts on Wikipedia. It's also a first for the Wikimedia Foundation, and something we hope will lead us towards new best practices and a solid foundation to better collaborate with our volunteers and with academic and institutional partners.

What is the timeline?

Beginning with May 2010 we will refine the project plan, secure the engagement of various stakeholders, and establish the educational and training framework that will support the content improvement that is the centerpiece of the project.

We will then pilot quality improvement activities with 3–5 schools during the fall and winter of 2010, learn from the experiences of the pilot schools, and scale up to run work with an additional 7–12 schools during the spring of 2011. The project will culminate in a conference at which best practices will be shared and prizes awarded.

What is a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador?

A key component of this initiative will be the development of a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador training and certification program. Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors will be volunteers who will serve as trainers, working directly with classroom instructors to teach the basics of Wikipedia editing at the beginning of each semester. The initiative will leverage the training materials currently being developed as part of the Bookshelf project.

Potential first generation Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors will go through a three-step application process, and will be recruited from various sources: the Wikipedia community, university students, and faculty. In a 3-4 day hands-on workshop, Wikipedia Ambassadors will learn the basics of in-classroom training, presentation skills, effective feedback, and classroom facilitation skills. Additionally, Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors will learn about the technical and cultural aspects of Wikipedia editing and content creation. Potential trainers will receive follow-up evaluation and feedback.

To sustain the Initiative's productivity after the grant period, Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors may also work to build resources and a sense of shared purpose among the Wikipedia community that will develop on their respective campuses. Campus Ambassadors will act as coaches to students and faculty, help to start Wikipedia student groups, facilitate the exchange of ideas regarding Wikipedia as a learning tool, and plan social Wikipedia/student events.

How will you improve public policy articles on Wikipedia?

This will be accomplished both by directly enabling and encouraging people who are knowledgeable about public policy to contribute to Wikipedia, and by establishing a collaborative workspace that will help existing Wikipedians to assist them, thereby fostering longer term working relationships.

The execution of this initiative will include cultivating and generating new relationships with U.S. schools of (or relating to) public policy; promoting the Initiative within public policy academic communities; developing criteria for quality and categorization of public policy articles on Wikipedia; creating a collaborative workspace to facilitate subject matter experts' work in the area and interaction with other Wikipedians; establishing an effective training/mentoring/support infrastructure; and staging hands-on workshops for aspiring Wikipedia trainers.

Every Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia can help with improving articles or mentoring students etc.

The end results will be the improvement of public policy articles on Wikipedia in quality, quantity and structure; and the establishment of a community of practice that will continue to improve content after the conclusion of the funding period. Because of the experimental nature of the Initiative, we will also carefully evaluate and document the Initiative. The evaluation and documentation will serve a dual purpose: to facilitate the future use of this model, and to lay the foundation for the continuity and self-sustainability of the program.

What are the primary questions the initiative will solve?

Can educational institutions, professors and students help build out topics areas by using Wikipedia as a teaching tool?

Beyond the Public Policy Initiative, we see a significant interest and exploration by professors and students to begin using Wikipedia as an instructional tool. We believe there is great potential for scalable model for using Wikipedia in the classroom—with the desired result of article and topic area improvement.

Is it possible to create a scalable model that the Wikipedia Community can use and benefit from?

One of our main goals for this project is to experiment and develop a sustainable and scalable model for Wikipedia topic improvement. This initiative will allow us to create training materials, develop methodologies for working with universities and professors, and train-the-trainer programs that will benefit Wikipedia Chapters.

Why did you chose public policy for the Pilot?

There are several factors which make public policy an area on Wikipedia that is primed for subject matter improvement:

  • there are significant and obvious needs for improvement in both scope of content and structure of public policy related articles on Wikipedia;
  • public policy articles may pose special problems – they may center on issues and debates that are more controversial and less settled than other articles in the sciences or in the humanities;
  • public policy is more interdisciplinary than other topic areas and covers a broader spectrum of subtopics, therefore using the public policy topic area for this pilot provides a significant opportunity to improve a greater number of articles.

Which universities will be involved?

Currently, professors from the following schools have shown strong interest in participating in Fall 2010:

  • Harvard University
  • George Washington University
  • Syracuse University
  • Indiana University

There are several professors at other universities who have shown interest in participating in Spring 2011. We will update this information as additional universities confirm participation in the project.

Informal Advisory Group

In addition, we will be meeting with a group of professors who are currently using Wikipedia in their classroom as a learning tool. Although most do not teach courses on Public Policy, these professors will be sharing with us their experiences (e.g., problems, successes, curriculum, classroom learning activities, processes, and tools). See the page Meeting: Using Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool for more information.

Are you planning to pay editors to write public policy articles?

No. We will not be paying editors to write public policy articles. Wikipedia is written by hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world, and that model won't change with this project. The Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative will recruit Wikipedia volunteers to work with public policy professors and students to identify topic areas for improvement, and work to make them better.

Will the Wikimedia Foundation be responsible for the content of the public policy articles written as a result of this project?

No. The Wikimedia Foundation will not be responsible for the public policy articles. Students and professors at various universities will determine the appropriate public policy content for their classroom activities.

What kind of help is needed?

As part of this initiative, we will be reaching out to the Wikipedia Community to:

  • find Wikipedians who help us to create the project's collaboration space on the English Wikipedia;
  • help with the evaluation of existing public policy articles on Wikipedia;
  • find individuals who will be the first Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors and Wikipedia Online Ambassadors. These roles will be vital to the initiative as we work together online and in the classroom to successfully support new editors, professors, and universities;
  • help with the evaluation of the Campus Ambassador training;
  • translation of training materials after completion

If I want more information, where can I get it?

Please have a look at the project description on this wiki. The page provides detailed information about the scope of the project, its guiding principles, its stages, and a high-level timeline of the project's 17-months duration. If you have further questions please contact Rod Dunican, the Wikimedia Foundation's Education Programs Manager at rdunican[at]wikimedia[dot]org