The missing link in the free knowledge ecosystem

APO and Wikimedia have both been existing in the free knowledge ecosystem for the last two decades. They have finally come together to work on an exciting new project. APO Director, Brigid van Wanrooy, explains what the free knowledge ecosystem is, why it’s important and what the new project is all about.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

What’s the free knowledge ecosystem? 

Francis Bacon is attributed to the phrase, ‘knowledge is power’, as he convincingly argued that the sharing and growing of knowledge isn’t just good for an individual, but good for all of society. This is essentially the foundation on which the free knowledge movement is built. 

The most prominent member of the movement is Wikipedia. Actually, it’s Wikimedia – Wikipedia is just one component of the ‘Wiki-verse’. Wikimedia’s mission is to make knowledge accessible by everyone. 

And they aren’t alone, there’s the open access movement advocating for research outputs, particularly those produced by (publicly funded) universities, to be openly accessible and usable. 

There’s also us, APO, a part of the open access movement. Specifically, we champion open access and evidence-informed decision-making. We believe that the best way to improve societal outcomes is for the best available research to be integrated into decision-making. And the best way to achieve evidence-informed decision-making is to make research and policy freely available through open access.

If you haven’t read my earlier blog, you may question why we are championing open access to publications produced by organisations, for free. While they may be freely available, they aren’t generally findable or accessible as they tend to be sitting on an organisation’s website. APO sources this material from across numerous websites. We make it accessible in our repository and we create metadata which makes it findable across the internet, including search engines. 

And there’s plenty more initiatives, organisations and individuals that are advocating and doing what they can to make knowledge free and accessible – that’s the free knowledge ecosystem. 

And why is it important? 

If you told Francis Bacon that 400 years later, this technology would be invented where a person could source any information they wanted… well, I don’t think he’d be that naive to think that people would only use it for good.

There is no doubt that the digital age has brought many benefits, but it’s also created challenges. Having experienced a one in 100 year pandemic and watched protestors storm the bastion of democracy – you would have to say the most obvious challenge is the amplification of misinformation. So it’s important that knowledge is free and openly accessible but also accurate and good-quality. 

And in a world where economic inequality continues to grow – both within countries and across countries – this can only be made worse if there isn’t free and equal access to information and knowledge. 

The missing link project

The Wikimedia Alliances Fund supports mission-aligned organisations that are part of the Free Knowledge Ecosystem to partner with the Wikimedia Movement to amplify each other’s work. APO is being supported by this fund to undertake the project, The missing link: Incorporating policy reports into the free knowledge ecosystem

To create content for Wikipedia, volunteer Wikimedians rely on peer-reviewed journals, or books, textbooks, magazines, and journals published by respected publishing houses or mainstream newspapers for sourcing information. 

While webpages and news media contain the latest and most up-to-date information they often do not present in-depth research or policy on a particular issue. And while books and journals fill this gap, the time taken to publish leads to a loss of currency and they tend not to be open access.

So the purpose of this project is to improve the presence of valuable policy and research material and coverage of important policy issues in Wikimedia. This will be achieved by using APO’s database to verify the most reputable and prolific publishing organisations as sources, upload these to Wikidata so they can be sourced in Wikipedia pages, and then creating new or updating existing content on public policy issues. 

Join the free knowledge movement

The free knowledge ecosystem is volunteer-led and so I’d like to invite you to join us. 

Anyone can add a resource that has been published by an organisation to APO. 

In the final step of the project next year, we’ll be asking you to join us to create Wikipedia content related to public policy. You can keep up to date on the project page and I’ll be providing more updates here on the APO blog.

And anyone can become a volunteer Wikimedian. Free events, training, and meetups are regularly held online and across Australia and New Zealand.