Promoting the art and science of civil engineering – via Wikipedia

Feel your discipline isn’t covered well on Wikipedia? Not sure how to improve matters? Follow the ICE’s lead and start a campaign to deepen Wikipedia’s coverage of your profession, its people and projects.

Building on my own interests in civil engineering, during the mid 2000s I wrote and edited many Wikipedia articles about tunnels, dams, bridges and the civil engineers who designed them and supervised their construction. More recently, I’ve also started editing articles about construction IT (BIM, for example) and some of the organisations involved. However, I am a PR professional and construction IT writer, not a civil engineer, and I sometimes wished for more archive material, or for the input of technical specialists to explain particular designs of structures or methods of construction.

At the same time, I know the Institution of Civil Engineers as a professional institution is keen to promote the art and science of civil engineering. So I have been talking to the ICE (I am on the ICE’s information systems panel) about a drive to improve and expand civil engineering content on Wikipedia. Among other suggestions, I would like the ICE to open up its archives (and encourage its members’ companies to do the same) and make them available to the public via Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia’s repository for open-licensed images and other media. For example:

  • with new content to work on, volunteer editors might also be recruited and trained in good Wikipedia practice to collaborate on new articles,
  • a Wikipedia “writer in residence” can also help institutions digitise and get more of their collections online,
  • recruitment of users to join ‘WikiProjects’ to improve content – there is already one relating to civil engineering – and
  • ‘outreach’ initiatives such as QRpedia (using QR codes to access articles via mobile devices) can help present Wikipedia information in context, and encourage more involvement – think of a QR code as a digital “blue plaque” on a building, though it could just as easily be on the hoardings around the sites of ongoing engineering projects like London’s Crossrail or ThamesLink.

By helping build a strong core community of disinterested (NPOV, or neutral point of view, in Wikipedia parlance) enthusiasts, the ICE could harness the ‘wisdom of the civil engineering crowd.’ It could use this crowd’s collective expertise to expand and improve the discipline’s coverage in Wikipedia – and promote the art and science of civil engineering – while avoiding conflicts of interest (an area where marketing and PR folk like me must tread carefully, as I’ve previously noted). The same approach could also be adopted by other professional institutions – maybe the RIBA, IStructE, IMechE, IET, etc – and not just in construction, but right across other disciplines and interests.

Wikipedia workshop

The first ICE Wikipedia workshop is being held at the ICE’s One Great George Street headquarters in London on Friday 20 April, and is being facilitated by friend and experienced Wikipedia volunteer Andy Mabbett. Places are still available – so if you are, or were, a civil engineer (or are studying to be one), please email Richard Armstrong about joining the session (it’s free to attend, but places are limited).

[This is a slightly edited version of a blog post originally published on my PR blog.]

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  1. Thank you, Paul. I’m really looking forward to the event.

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