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Research Studies on Indian Language Wikimedia Projects 2019-21

Posted by Sneha PP at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
This is a compilation of the final reports from a series of short-term studies undertaken by the CIS-A2K team in 2019-2021, on an array of topics related to Indian language Wikimedia projects. The projects were undertaken by Subodh Kulkarni, Bodhisattwa Mandal, Bhuvana Meenakshi Koteeswaran, Ananth Subray, Satpal Dandiwal and Nitesh Gill, with research oversight and editorial support by Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and internal review by Sumandro Chattapadhyay and Ambika Tandon.

See the full report on Wikimedia Commons here

Click to download the full report here

Wikipedia and its many sister projects have been rich sites of study for researchers across the world for many years now. The online encyclopedia presents a microcosm of the real world in terms of the dynamics of knowledge production and use, including content and infrastructure, and community interaction among many other things. Research about Wikimedia projects and platforms has been undertaken in various languages, and from multidisciplinary perspectives, as illustrated by the research index on Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, and several important publications over the last several years. Research on Indian languageWikimedia projects and platforms, and on topics related to the sub-continent have also emerged significantly over the last several years.However, as understood in the course of the studies in this compilation as well, awareness about such research within the communities itself remains limited. While there is a lot of important work being undertaken on topics relevant to Indian Wikimedia projects, often by researchers who are Wikimedians themselves, factors such as dissemination beyond academic spaces, and accessibility in terms of language and context seem to also affect their availability to the larger communities, and in terms of implementation of learnings and recommendations.

The six short-term research studies undertaken by the Access to Knowledge team over 2019–2021 were therefore initiated as a pilot, an initial foray into the space of research on Wikimedia projects in India. Based on the recommendations of the Wikimedia Foundation, this work was undertaken primarily to tap into new areas of work, while also drawing upon existing expertise at CIS, and in order to build the capacity of the team. With these broader motivations in mind, the research was structured with the following objectives to:

  • Identify knowledge gaps, challenges, and opportunities in different aspects of content creation and participation in Indian language Wikimedia projects.
  • Develop a better understanding of systemic issues such as gender bias in Indian language communities, access to and reuse of cultural content, open learning in multilingual classrooms, and specific experiences of content creation within Wikimedia communities in India and associated initiatives.
  • Develop recommendations and best practices towards addressing existing challenges and optimising available resources for the larger free knowledge movement.

The studies in this compilation therefore examine different aspects of Wikimedia platforms and projects in India, in close alignment with existing work in the programme. These include the gender gap in Indian Wikimedia communities, creating multilingual and open educational platforms and resources, focus on specific projects such as GLAM and Wikidata, and efforts and challenges with content creation, access and outreach in specific language communities.

Working on these studies has been a learning experience, especially given the diverse contexts in which the projects are located, and the capacities and interests of the researchers themselves. The design of the studies was also therefore developed and modified to build on existing capacities within the team, and its learnings from previous years of working with various language communities. Capacity-building for team members on research design, methods, fieldwork and documentation was mostly done through close individual supervision and collaborative work. The methods used were largely qualitative, and ranged from interviews, literature reviews, data visualisations, focused group discussions and comparative analyses. The effort was also to try and capture the scale and diversity of the nature of work being undertaken in different Indian language communities through these projects. There were several challenges as well, beginning with framing the research questions and project design in a way that they were accessible to a wider community of people who would be engaged in contributing their inputs towards the work. Process-related challenges, such as translation of interview questionnaires into Indian languages revealed several interesting gaps, such as the lack of technical terms related to digitization or open access in these languages. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 led to restrictions on field visits, thus effectively hampering in person conversations and easier access to community members.

There have been several learnings in the course of working on these studies, key among them being questions of awareness, relevance and impact. The lack of existing and easily accessible research (including those outside academic work) on several areas of Wikimedia in the Indian context has been a limitation in many ways, offering little in terms of available knowledge and best practices to work with. The limited awareness about, and imagined relevance of research in the regular work of communities has also been an impediment. As illustrated by learnings from a short research needs assessment carried out earlier this year, few community members were aware of research on Wikimedia projects being undertaken in India, and on a global scale. More importantly, there needs to be a conversation on its relevance to their own work, and to the larger movement. An effective communication strategy for research work, in different Indian languages, would perhaps address some of these gaps. A closely related question is also that of impact. The studies in this collection largely focus on short-term impact, through best practices and recommendations that may be developed through the research studies. While this is definitely a pragmatic approach, often the interest in a problem-solution design may look at research purely from an instrumental lens to identify quick solutions and their implementation, without a critical take on exploring and understanding larger, systemic or structural gaps that may be contributing to the problems itself. Going forward, it would be imperative therefore to identify areas of research, and build processes of research design that may address these challenges. Given the dynamic nature of Wikimedia, its platforms and communities, it is important to identify immediate gaps and possible solutions, but also to speak precisely to this aspect of long-term impact and relevance, to both current areas of work and the growth of the larger movement. We hope the studies in this compilation offer some insights towards these, and many more interesting questions related to research on Wikimedia and the free knowledge movement in India.