For the world to adhere to the SDGs, people must be aware of them and what they entail. Internet searches are nowadays a much-used way of obtaining information and they will almost always find related articles in Wikipedia as top hits. Wikipedia is understandable for the public, but also for professionals such as researchers, educators, students, practitioners, journalists and decision-makers. However, the quality of the Wikipedia articles are dependent on who is writing them. We have seen that for articles in areas of SDGs, expert contributions are much needed.
During the first phase (2020 – 2022), the focus was on three selected SDGs: SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 14 on life below water. Articles were measured for their quality with an index assessing nine parameters: readability, illustrations, comprehensiveness, sourcing, formatting and neutrality, embedding in web of knowledge, logical flow, ordering of sections, and appropriate level of detail. Once the evaluations of the articles and gaps were made, substantial efforts were spent on editing and writing articles of relevance. We involved experts from the North and South in this work.
The overall goal is to ensure the informed public has good reliable information on selected SDG-related topics within Wikipedia, so that they can appreciate why their governments are spending money on achieving the SDGs for their own country and for the rest of the world.
The second phase (1 Aug, 2022 – 31 July, 2024) tackles SDG 13 on climate action. The overall goal is to evaluate and improve key articles in the English Wikipedia that relate to climate change including extreme weather, flooding, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, disaster risk reduction, adaptation, mitigation, renewable energy, circular economy, National Determined Contributions, social impacts, industry’s role, and more. We also aim to review and improve the main climate change Wikipedia article in non-English Wikipedias, in particular the 12 largest European language versions.
Phase 2, ‘Communicating current SDG knowledge through Wikipedia: climate change topics’, is a collaboration between SEI, IPCC — Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)-affiliated experts.
Importance of the project
This project is important because there is a general disconnect between the knowledge and scientific work on SDG-related topics that is available in peer-reviewed publications, and the content that various stakeholder groups find when searching the internet for information.
Wikipedia articles usually appear at the top of search results but are incomplete in many areas.
This project focuses on three SDGs that are directly impacted by changes to the environment (freshwater, climate and oceans), have linkages to agriculture (irrigation, reuse of nutrients from excreta, eutrophication) and to spatial planning and infrastructure (water supply, sanitation infrastructure such as sewer systems, renewable energy systems).
How the project can help achieve the SDGs, including sub-targets
An important element to making the SDG process successful is to make the information and data on the 17 goals available and understandable to all. The SDGs can only be reached if there is strong political will in each country which is underpinned by broad support and consensus as well as concerted action by civil society. To achieve this buy-in, it is important that civil society has a place where they can conveniently inform themselves about the whole range of aspects related to the 17 SDGs – their targets, indicators, the most current approaches, difficulties, costs, competing interests and so forth. The most popular place where civil society looks for information is the internet by using search engines, which more often than not leads them to Wikipedia. These articles are to date often fairly weak with regards to SDGs and their related topics. Furthermore, topics related to developing countries are generally still under-developed in Wikipedia.
Target groups & communication channels
The target group is the informed public searching the internet for information. This includes researchers, educators, local government decision makers, journalists, students, entrepreneurs and consultants.
The project’s main communication channel is Wikipedia for the products of the work as well as how we communicate with other Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia is a multi-authored dynamic encyclopedia that is already over 20 years old. Existing articles are closely watched by other Wikipedians. This project follows Wikipedia protocols and etiquette in engaging with other Wikipedians when editing. This is done via the “talk” pages of articles and WikiProjects – teams of editors working together.
There are existing WikiProjects of relevance and varying quality for this project, such as “Climate change”, “Sanitation” and “Oceans”. Wikipedia is a powerful tool for public education on the SDGs. It gets ca 1.2 billion visits per month and offers more than 6 million articles in English. It is the 3rd most used website on the internet.
Gender equality & diversity
The project emphasises the communication of cross-cutting issues between the SDGs – integrating socio-political, economic and environmental aspects. This includes gender and diversity aspects as well as a strong emphasis on content provided by research from the Global South.
Results, objectives and impact
The objective is to inform the public about the SDGs and ensure the chosen articles are scientifically correct and easily understandable to a broad public. In the first phase (2020 – 2022) the project aimed to assist the international community of scientists to better translate their knowledge relating to SDGs 6, 13 and 14 into action and to disseminate their work to the public through Wikipedia.
To measure this would require large global surveys which go beyond the project scope. We however, measured the direct project impacts and set measurable targets as follows:
- Number of article leads to be improved: 300 (100 per SDG) – with an increase in quality score from 2 to 5 across all articles.
- Number of full articles to be improved: 150 (50 per SDG) with an increase in quality score from 5 to 15 across all articles (max value is 17).
- Number of professional networks or groups of scientists to be engaged: 30 (10 per SDG).
- Increase in user traffic for the edited/new articles – 15% after two years compared to start of project.
The quality of the Wikipedia articles we work with is being monitored. The quality metric indicators are based on quantitative and qualitative parameters. Also view rates of articles before and after improvement of articles and cross-linking is monitored (data available in Wikipedia).
The innovative aspects of the project are to:
- assist scientists/scholars to bring their work to Wikipedia as a medium to convey their knowledge about SDG-related topics;
- focus on readability for laypersons and those whose first language is not English;
- involve experts from low-income countries; not just the volunteers/researchers from the Global North that dominate Wikipedia editing efforts today;
- encourage more subject matter experts to write in Wikipedia, rather than only relying on volunteers with limited topics of interest;
- bridge the gap between experts and those who are looking for information on Wikipedia about SDGs;
- make use of professional networks in order to reach out and market their project work.