Public Policy Initiative
Introducing the Public Policy Initiative
- User:Sross (Public Policy) is Sage Ross, the Online Facilitator for the Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative. As a volunteer, he edits as User:Ragesoss.
The Public Policy Initiative is gearing up now, and I want to explain, in about as much detail as we have pinned down so far, what the project is about. I especially encourage any Wikipedians who care about Wikipedia classroom assignments, reaching out to experts, helping new users, and/or Wikipedia's coverage of American public policy to get involved.
This initiative is an ambitious project: the goal is to take a (frighteningly large) subject area where Wikipedia ought to do better—United States public policy, broadly construed—and find systematic ways to enlist experts to work with the Wikipedia community to improve the coverage.
The on-wiki hub of the Public Policy Initiative will be the new Wikipedia:WikiProject United States Public Policy, and we're recruiting now. This will be in part a traditional WikiProject, focused generally on collaboration on and assessment of articles within its scope. But it will also be the site for coordinating work by a number of public policy students whose professors have signed on to work with us to develop and implement major Wikipedia assignments in their courses.
We've seen many very successful Wikipedia classroom assignments in recent years, but the common denominator seems to be that the instructor must be an experienced Wikipedian to make it work. Through a combination of in-person instruction, systematic online assistance and mentoring during courses, and high-quality instructional materials, we hope to change that; even a teacher unfamiliar with Wikipedia's culture and practices ought to be able to run a successful assignment. To fill the gap between the desire many experts have to contribute to Wikipedia and the knowledge required to contribute effectively, we're recruiting Wikipedia Ambassadors—including Campus Ambassadors and Online Ambassadors. These volunteers will help professors and students learn the ropes on Wikipedia. The details of the Wikipedia Ambassadors program are still being worked out, but if you are interested in either role or would like to help plan these programs, please let us know. Contact Annie Lin (the Campus Team Coordinator for the Initiative) if you are interested in being a Campus Ambassador—especially if you live near George Washington University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Indiana University, or Syracuse University. Contact me, or drop by the IRC channel #wikimedia-outreach, if you are interested in being an Online Ambassador.
The project's first major challenge is to get a baseline for the quality and scope of U.S. public policy coverage. We will be trying to quantify how the broad swath of U.S. public policy coverage changes—hopefully a lot, and for the better—over the course of the project. To do that, we need a fairly robust way to identify the relevant articles, through categories and WikiProject banners. So the first goal will be to add the project banner and assess every article about some facet of United States public policy; there are likely thousands. The next goal will be to think through the categorization of public policy articles, which represent a fairly underdeveloped branch of the category tree. We hope to have these things largely complete by the beginning of August. So if you like working with categorization and/or assessment and want to be part of the project, please, jump right in!
We also plan to do some serious analysis of Wikipedia's standard quality assessment system (stubs, B-class articles, Featured Articles, and so on) to find out how self-consistent it is and how well the ratings correlate with independent evaluations by experts. If you have a strong interest in Wikipedia's rating system itself, how its different permutations work (or don't), and how it could be improved or how useful data can be built from it, you can get in touch with our research analyst Amy Roth or leave your thoughts on the WikiProject discussion page.
Training for Campus Ambassadors will take place this summer, in time for Ambassadors to assist instructors and students at the start of the new school year. Online Ambassadors will be collaborating with the Public Policy Initiative team, and hopefully some of the existing editor groups who work with students and new users, to come up with a system for assisting students as they begin their assignments, try to write or improve articles, and seek community feedback.
During the Fall 2010 semester, WikiProject participants will be working with dozens, possibly more than 100, public policy students (mostly graduate students) and their professors to select articles to work on and to bring them, over the course of the semester, to a high level of quality. Good Article status will likely be the goal for most of these projects, with ambitious students encouraged to shoot for Featured Articles. The strategy here will be to have students work as much like regular editors as possible, using all the normal means for getting feedback and reviews (and reviewing and giving feedback for others), collaborating with each other and whoever takes an interest in any particular article. In this way, we can hopefully avoid overburdening existing processes or putting too much strain on any particular region of the editing community.
At the same time, Annie Lin and the Campus Ambassadors will be working to recruit a new, even larger wave of professors to run Wikipedia assignments for the Spring. We will apply what we learned from the first wave, and try to scale it up.
Between the end of the Spring 2011 semester and September, we'll be analyzing the results and figuring out where to go next: whether it makes sense to continue and expand this kind of content improvement project, or move in other directions; and what kind of support from the Wikimedia Foundation is necessary versus what can be done independently by volunteers.
Creating sustainable and scalable ways to reach out to experts and help them use Wikipedia in the classroom or contribute in other ways is a high priority for us. We also want to find ways to ease the learning curve for students assigned to edit.
One idea we have for online assistance of new users is what we're calling LiveHelp. Users would be able to click a link from the article they are editing and immediately get help from experienced Wikipedians—basically, a more accessible version of the #wikipedia-en-help IRC channel. At this point, it's just an idea without running code; if you're interested in contributing to the Public Policy Initiative as a developer for something like this, we'd love to hear from you.
Other things on the radar include creating a system to request article reviews from relevant experts and archive them for editors to study and respond to, finding other, independent ways to measure article quality, and starting a program for Wikimedians to create and curate instructional screencasts about the various aspects of contributing to the projects.