Bridging different local contexts and Wikimedia projects' notability and verifiability policies
By 2030, we envision the Wikimedia movement to be more complete in terms of diversity of content as well as types of content (including images, audio, video, 3D recreations, etc.).
In order to encourage such changes, we propose to either develop more flexible and context-sensitive interpretations of notability policies (in order to include missing or suppressed voices and bridge gaps in content, reach, and users (in terms of both access and contributions) or to create alternative platforms.
Previous related recommendations:
To become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge we need to collect every kind of information that may be valuable to anyone’s learning experience.
Firstly, our policies about what notability means and what are to be considered reliable resources are written with primarily dominant culture populations/communities/language in mind. Often content about underrepresented cultures are considered not notable because a) their sources are not considered relevant or neutral and b) there are not dominant culture sources to support it.
There needs to be more awareness of these factors and policy should be context-sensitive. In other words, given the time and place, would the subject of an article have been included in dominant culture sources? If not, because they were part of a colonized community, of a certain gender, of a certain social class, etc. what are the most reliable historic records from within their own community-- those sharing their characteristics-- upon which notability could be based.
Secondly, there is debate about the fact that issues from minority language contexts are erased in majority languages wikis under "local sources / not relevant" claims. Sources from any territorial variation of language add perspective and depth to knowledge and should be admissible on any platform for all stakeholders. There needs to be more education and clearer policy around the plurality of language and culture.
Thirdly, to increase Cultural Diversity in content, the promotion of the participation of local organizations in the documentation process is highly recommended. In conjunction with partners who can develop and map content gaps, partnerships should be made with groups and organizations which can identify the most reliable types of references to address filling those gaps.
Fourthly, to protect the idea of content diversity, policies need to be constantly evaluated for systemic biases (See recommendation on Inclusive policies). For example, viewing notability through a western lens often means articles with reliable sources still get flagged as questionable or to be deleted. Notification of such discussions is poor, leading to the problem that those familiar with the subject may not participate to point out the notability and they get deleted eventually. Policies should be written to clearly identify and notify stakeholders with an interest in the topic of deletion discussions.
Lastly, the notability requirements need a broader definition for “reliable sources” as the present criteria is based on some requirements that local knowledge generated in Western societies meet more easily. Policies need to have a global focus and a recognition that with the help of trusted partners we can bring the standards of documentation about underrepresented cultures closer to the verifiability requirements. To enable all editors to clearly understand what constitutes notability, guidelines and policies should be readily available, as well as tutorials developed to assist in the on-boarding of new editors.
We believe that several outcomes can result of looking for different ways to bridge the gap between the different local contexts and notability policies:
- Standardization of notability and reference criteria enabling easier cross-platform collaborations and addressing systemic biases;
- More inclusive content and participation, through the development of under- and unrepresented content and cultures
- Changing the perception and consciousness of the community about our content gaps
- Increasing the engagement for filling the gaps and also the awareness of the need to incorporate unrepresented content to broaden our knowledge base and means of knowing. This can be achieved by creating tools that demonstrate the known content gaps clearly and invite people to fill them.
- Will create a lot of discontent as change is never simple. It will require that the community redefine reliable sources in such a way to ensure that given the context of who the subject is, what material is available, when it occurred, and where it happened reference sources may vary. For example, if someone is part of an ethnic minority and lived in the 19th century, sourcing which focuses upon the predominant culture is not likely to contain material on that minority group. Instead the sources of information would be most reliable materials which focus on that group, perhaps ethnic newspapers, journals, artifacts, archives, narratives, etc.
The proposal would change the way policies for content contribution on different Wikimedia projects is developed taking a broad collaborative approach to evaluate content gaps and base inclusion criteria on the best available reference materials that exist for each community.
It would eliminate the existing “one size fits all” western definition of reliable sourcing and would require continuous review of policies and notification processes to ensure that systemic biases are not creating a skewed, non-neutral view or silencing authentic voices of people to tell their own history.
This policy adaptation and implementation could rely on mentioning external resources such as a source evaluation based on the knowledge in relation to a particular human group, and tools that monitor the gaps like the cultural diversity observatory (WCDO).
It is possible that the community will not accept changing policies, and would consider this approach as too permissive, “righting great wrongs,” or giving preferential treatment. There will be those who view looking for sources based on context as lowering the standards, but in fact, it is the opposite. Searching for anything where it is unlikely to be is almost guaranteed to result in not finding it. Instead, we need to focus on where sources would logically exist based on the human characteristics of the people involved.
Forming partnerships to develop new references, map source locations, and who digitize records is key to solving the challenge. Awareness that different characteristics, places and times effect reference material availability is needed. It is suggested that "deletionist" tendencies be addressed with awareness campaigns. Surveys, research projects, etc. could give greater understanding.
Not all content is acceptable for any platform. For example, alternatives to written knowledge which include audio and visual materials, may not be suitable for Wikipedia, but rather for alternative projects aimed at preserving those types of knowledge. Creating Wikidata properties to be used/included in templates as article related links (eg. WikiDonne request for Enciclopedia delle donne - Women Encyclopedia) which is used as external link for women’s biographies is another option.
We assume that there are systemic biases, which reinforce that the default is male or the west, and also create imbalances in the knowledge we provide. Without acceptance of a more diverse base of references, and a more diverse contributors, that imbalance in content is unlikely to change. Because a lot of articles related to underrepresented or unrepresented content are not well covered by reliable resources of the dominant culture, topics often are proposed for deletion, losing a part of the world’s knowledge. For a parallel, protected species acts are designed to preserve specific environments. Our approach to notability policy needs to evaluate the preservation of unrepresented and underrepresented knowledge and create inclusion criteria which fits those communities in their own environment.
It relates to Advocacy, Community health, Partnerships, and Roles & responsibilities.
The earlier the better.
Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, in conjunction with affiliates, and other stakeholders.