A teacher writes on the board during a water and sanitation lesson, in Port Loko's Educaid, Sierra Leone

Wikipedia: A tool for advocacy?

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Leave a Comment

Esther Shaylor explains why she’s cleaning up Wikipedia and how it relates to her work as a water and sanitation engineer.

A teacher writes on the board during a water and sanitation lesson, in Port Loko's Educaid, Sierra Leone

Access to information is essential. Oxfam is providing clean water, toilets and hygiene classes to children in Port Loko’s Educaid primary school in Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard

When I was at college I was sternly warned to stay away from Wikipedia. The reason; because it can’t be verified as a resource, anyone can edit it and put anything up there. But increasingly over the years I find myself quickly looking up a new technology, concept or person on Wikipedia as the link pops up at the top of Google searches. I am not alone; Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website with over 500 million users a day, that’s a pretty inconceivable number.

In an age where fake news is real, access to information is one of the key tools we have for advocacy and policy work in the sector. I don’t pretend to know about different approaches to agriculture, but I do need to have an overview of the subject so I know how I can support my colleagues and can look for opportunities for our areas of expertise to cross-over such as when faecal sludge is used as a fertiliser. This is where I find Wikipedia invaluable. I can get a summary with some useful links to find out more if I need to, and I can do it anywhere in the world!

I know about hack-a-thons for developing mobile phone applications to solve a problem. But I discovered something new to me; edit-a-thons where groups of article editors target articles on Wikipedia to make them better. This World Water Day I am helping to ensure the WASH pages are up-to-date and relevant so my colleagues from other sectors can be sure to get the same overview to what I am working on. And I’m not the only one, on March 19th – 22nd I’m joining colleagues across the sector to help improve Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) related articles on Wikipedia.

I’m not sure the impact of this initiative, but with 500 million users a day, it has the potential to have a huge impact on the sustainable development goals and WASH advocacy by improving the quality of freely available information.

Find out more about the event and how to get involved.

Author
Esther Shaylor

Esther Shaylor

Esther Shaylor is a WASH engineer with experience working in Asia and Africa. She has worked in both the private sector and for INGOs developing market approaches to sanitation and sustainable market driven systems for WASH service delivery. Currently she is working as the WASH Knowledge Management and Communications Adviser for Oxfam based in the UK.