What is the purpose of this website?

This website is designed as a space to document in blog form the process of developing a feminist protocol for distributed editing. Much of what is here is duplicated on the project’s Wikipedia page. The project is funded by an INSPIRE grant from the Wikimedia Foundation.

What’s the Gap Finding Project?


Systemic bias and gaps in Wikipedia content — attributed in part to the gendered demographic make-up of regular Wikipedia editors — is a well-known problem area in broad terms. Efforts to address the “gender gap” through targeted outreach events have been largely unsuccessful. While there is enthusiasm for Wikipedia among many different communities, all of which could potentially help address systemic bias (and the Wikimedia community has a great track record of tapping that enthusiasm through events such as edit-a-thons) these participants rarely stay on as active editors. Moreover, those with perhaps the most to contribute — academic experts in feminist and gender studies, for example — are also participants who rarely have the spare time to become long-term Wikipedia editors.

Furthermore, this approach has been identified as problematic because enlisting individuals (be they women, women of color, minorities, or feminists, or any other group) to become long-term volunteer editors is not a useful solution to Wikipedia’s biases. Not only does such an effort push the burden of responsibility for overcoming systemic bias onto these volunteers — a presumption that reinforces gender stereotyping — the effort also limits the scope and vision of what can count as participation in the Wikipedia project.

Beyond this, there’s also a lacunae about what *is* missing on Wikipedia: we don’t know what we don’t know. Lists of pages to make or edit generated out of feminist edit-a-thons are not easy to follow up with or necessarily ever acted upon.

There’s something to learn from the successes in improving Wikipedia’s coverage of specific topic areas through the programs spearheaded by the Wiki Education Foundation, where university instructors assign Wikipedia editing as a conduit to engagement with course materials. Recruiting instructors in specific disciplines results in better topical coverage on Wikipedia. But a major bottleneck is simply identifying suitable articles for student editors to work on; so far we don’t know enough about systemic bias to enable this form of participation to effectively address content gaps either.

This project’s proposed solution

The Gap Finding project seeks to address content gaps through a new kind of outreach designed to make efficient use of the time and expertise of all participants, without expecting anyone necessarily to become long-term contributors. Rather, we seek to value idiosyncratic forms of participation. Our initiative seeks to sort out how to develop a useful workflow for content creation that’s based on sporadic or one-time only participation.

To do this this project brings together a small group of feminist scholars affiliated with the University of Washington — these are the people who are capable of recognizing the ‘unknown unknowns’ of gender-related content — for an event where they can identify specific content gaps (‘gap lists’) in their areas of expertise along with key resources that could be used to fill these gaps.

We’ll then work with Wiki Education Foundation’s Classroom Program to use these ‘gap list(s)’ to recruit university courses to run Wikipedia assignments, and students can draw on the lists to address the gaps.

Courses may be taught, for example, by one of the participating feminist experts, but this isn’t a necessity.

Based on how the process goes, the goal will be to create a simple, repeatable, scalable workflow protocol for similar events that could be run on any topic, without requiring further coordination by experienced Wikipedians. The protocol would ultimately relieve the burden of responsibility from individual editors to overcome systemic bias by spreading out the ways that useful participation can happen — and recognizing the value of sporadic or one-time participation in the project.

What are the goals of the project?

The project has two goals.

First, our goal is to respectfully tap the expertise of scholars working with feminist theory to identify ‘unknown unknowns’ (content gaps) on Wikipedia. Then, in collaboration with Wiki Education Foundation, offer these (now more) ‘known unknowns’ for educators and their students working in gender studies to use for Wikipedia editing.

Second, our goal is to develop a simple, repeatable, scalable workflow protocol for similar events that could be run on any topic, without requiring further coordination by experienced Wikipedians.

If the pilot goes well, we foresee the potential to develop some simple technical tools to make it easy to run a ‘gap finding’ event with non-Wikipedian experts and collect a useful set of fixable content gaps.