When the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic a year ago, Wikipedians were busy improving articles related to coronavirus, especially the main article on the pandemic. Quality varied widely, however, across articles related to state and regional responses to the pandemic. Articles about states like New York or California with vibrant existing editing communities were already pretty well developed, but those on states with smaller editing bases had little information. While local media covered that day’s COVID news, it was hard for citizens to get a high-level overview of the situation in their state or region. Wikipedia could provide that overview — if editors were engaged in all states and regions.
Wiki Education stepped in to fill this void. As an organization that has spent a decade building a network of academics physically located across the United States, we were uniquely qualified to reach out to experts in nearly every state. And our existing Scholars & Scientists program had previously demonstrated success in teaching experts to add their knowledge to Wikipedia articles. Thanks to the generous sponsorships provided by one of our funders, we set out to use our network to broadly improve Wikipedia’s coverage of state and regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic through a series of courses that ran between April 2020 and February 2021.
Our key question was: Can we empower subject matter experts across the United States to meaningfully improve the quality of English Wikipedia’s coverage of state and regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing Wikipedia’s readers information they’re seeking?
A year later, we have our answer. To our knowledge, this initiative was the first effort ever to engage subject-matter experts during a national emergency to systematically improve Wikipedia’s coverage of a topic crucial to the general public.
Today, we’ve published an extensive evaluation report on Meta, the central organizing wiki for the broader Wikimedia community. Reports like these are an important element of Wiki Education’s commitment to transparency, to sharing our learnings, and to acknowledging both our successes and our challenges. We welcome feedback on our evaluation report as either a comment on the talk page of the report or a comment on this blog post.
Hero image: Matt Hecht, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons