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.
The event was co-hosted by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) programme, both managed by South Africa-based NGO SouthSouthNorth, and Wikimedia South Africa.
The researchers travelled from East, West, and Southern Africa, representing 10 countries: Ghana, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The purpose of the edit-a-thon – a term which describes an event bringing a group of people together to edit and improve a specific topic on Wikipedia – was to address an enormous gap on Wikipedia of African content and contributors.
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 as evidence shows that scientific articles referenced in Wikipedia receive more citations.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
This article was written by Lisa McNamara of CDKN. The original news post is available on the CDKN website.