Wikipedia and other knowledge-sharing systems – Thursday 24 January 2019


Making and sharing knowledge in communities: can wikis and related tools help?

Accumulating, organising and sharing knowledge is never easy; this is the problem Knowledge Management seeks to address. Today we hope networked electronic platforms can facilitate the process. They are never enough in themselves, because the issues are essentially human, to do with attitudes, social dynamics and work culture -- but good tools certainly help.

In past seminars, NetIKX has looked at MS Sharepoint, but that is proprietary and commercial, and it doesn’t work for wider communities of practice and interest. In this seminar, we will be looking at a range of alternatives, some of them free of charge and/or open source, together with the social dynamics that make them succeed or fail.

First we will look at the wiki model. Our case study will be Wikipedia — famous, but poorly understood. Fortunately we will have an excellent guide in Andy Mabbett, a hugely experienced Wikipedia editor, who inspires respect and affection around the world for his ability to explain how Wikipedia works, and for training novices contributing content – including as a ‘Wikipedian In Residence’ encouraging scientific and cultural organisations to contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia.

A few stats: Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can in theory edit, has now survived 18 years, existing on donations and volunteering. It has accumulated over 40 million articles in 301 languages, and about 500 million visitors a month. The English edition has nearly 5.8 million articles. There are about 300,000 active contributors, of whom 4,000 make over a hundred edits annually.

Under the wider banner of ‘Wikimedia’, there are sister projects such as Wiktionary, Wikiversity, which hosts free learning materials, Wikidata, which is developing a large knowledge base, and the Wikimedia Commons, which holds copyright-free photos, audio and other multimedia resources.

And yet, as the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia admits, “Wikipedia has been criticized for exhibiting systemic bias, for presenting a mixture of ‘truths, half truths, and some falsehoods’, and for being subject to manipulation and spin in controversial topics.” This isn’t so surprising, because humans are involved. It’s a community that has had to struggle with issues of authority and quality control, partiality and sundry other pathologies. We look to Andy for insight into these problems, and how the Wikipedia community organises itself to define, defend and implement its values. For our part, we will glean these narratives to learn from them.

ALTERNATIVE PLATFORMS: No NetIKX seminar would be complete without syndicate sessions, conducted in parallel table groups. For the second half of the afternoon, each group will be presented in turn with tales from three case studies of knowledge sharing using different platforms and operating under different rules. These endeavours might have used email lists, Google Docs, another kind of wiki software, or some other kind of groupware. We have not yet finalised arrangements for this exercise: there will be tales of triumph, but of tribulation too.

At the end of the afternoon, we pool our thoughts. We’re looking to identify key factors which might point the way towards building better ways of sharing knowledge. These could be about [a] network and software features and ‘affordances’ [b] human values and behaviours and [c] governance and management issues.

Our principal speaker

Andy Mabbett has been a Wikipedia editor (as User:Pigsonthewing) since 2003 and involved with Wikidata since its inception in 2012. He has given presentations about Wikimedia projects on five continents, and has a great deal of experience working with organisations that wish to engage with Wikipedia and its sister projects. With a background in programming and managing websites for local government, Andy has been ‘Wikimedian in Residence’ at ORCID; TED; the Royal Society of Chemistry; The Physiological Society; the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group; and various museums, galleries and archives. He is also the author of three books on the rock band Pink Floyd.

Our ‘Case-study witnesses’

Mark Barratt trained as a journalist and then typographer. He worked on newspapers and magazines, radio, video, employee communications and early electronic media. He co-founded Text Matters in 1990, bringing together multiple specialties in ‘information design’ – evidence-based communication design based on user needs and capabilities – working for a wide variety of corporate, government, academic and community projects using print and electronic media. He occasionally teaches at the University of Reading’s Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, and works on action research projects with the Centre for Information Design Research.

Mark has long been active in community media projects from wall newspapers to collaborative wikis. He says, ‘All of them have partially or entirely failed to meet their objectives, but I hope to get it right one day!’

Steve Dale is a freelance consultant and certified (KMI) Knowledge Management specialist, and has spoken frequently at NetIKX meetings. He develops collaborative environments (e.g. Communities of Practice) with a focus on the integration of ‘enabling technologies’ (KM, IM, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence), to encourage innovation and improved productivity. He is the author of several published research papers on collaborative behaviours and information technology. He can be reached at steve.dale[at], LinkedIn and @stephendale.

Sara Culpin is currently Head of Information & Knowledge at CRU International, where she has implemented a successful information and knowledge strategy on a shoestring budget. Since graduating from Loughborough University, she has spent over 25 years in information and knowledge roles at Aon, AT Kearney, PwC, and Deloitte. She is passionate about getting colleagues to share their knowledge across their organisations, while ensuring that their senior managers see the business value.

Dr Richard Millwood has a background in school maths education, with a history of applying computers to education, and is Director of Core Education UK. As a researcher in the School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin, he is developing a community of practice for computer science teachers in Ireland and creating workshops for families to develop creative use of computers together.

In the 1990s Richard worked with Professor Stephen Heppell to create Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, acting as head 2005–2007. He researched innovation in online higher education in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton until 2013, gaining a PhD by Practice in ‘The Design of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education’.

The Twitter hashtag for this event is #netikx96 (note: corrected from #netikx97). 

Provisional Timetable

14:00 - 14:30   Registration, networking, refreshments

14:30 - 15.30   A talk by Andy Mabbett, followed by questions and discussion

15.30 - 15:45   Tea and networking

15.45 - 16:40   Syndicate session in table groups

16:40 - 17:00   Reporting back and general discussion

17:00 - 18:00   Refreshments and a glass of wine

18:00               Close


The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS (The nearest London Underground Station is Bond Street)

Seminar Costs

If you are a NetIKX Member or join NetIKX now, there is no charge

Non-members are welcome to attend. Please register below.

Athough the normal rate for non-members is £30, there will be discounts available for returning members and others. For further information, please send an email to web[at]

If you have a problem registering for this meeting, please send an email to web[at]

Price: £30.00