For the third time, I (User:Giantflightlessbirds) have been employed by Development West Coast, a business-development trust on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, as a Wikipedian at Large. The Wikipedian at Large model was invented in 2018, and offers an alternative to the standard model of a Wikipedian in Residence: a Wikipedian at Large is not housed within a single institution, but instead spends a short amount of time (a few weeks) with multiple instutions, training staff, working on small Wikimedia projects, and recruiting volunteers. The role can also involve extensive travel, visiting archives or regional museums, and taking photographs of undocumented places, often with the assistance of local volunteers.
Development West Coast is a charitable trust which seeks to support businesses and increase tourism on the remote West Coast of New Zealand. In 2020, 2022, and now in 2023 they have funded a Wikipedian for 5 to 10 week stretches of work. In 2020, 17 volunteers signed up to assist remotely, and contributions were logged every day, including a daily photo. Volunteers in addition received a virtual postcard each week, which appeared on their Talk page (all postcards are archived here). This was a very successful initiative, but a huge amount of work, with the Wikipedian working seven days a week to keep volunteers motivated and meet requests for photos. Over 1000 photos were uploaded, about 50 new articles created, and dozens improved. Book prizes, donated by Development West Coast, were given to the most productive volunteers. There was a great deal of interest from media in a recently published study by Hinnosaar et al., which suggested improving Wikipedia articles in a region could increase the number of tourist nights, with significant economic implications; comments from the Wikipedian were reported in Forbes and The Telegraph.
In 2022, the Wikipedian at Large worked half-time rather than full-time at a more manageable pace. Reporting was weekly, rather than daily, which put less pressure on volunteers to do something each day, and postcards arrived fortnightly rather than weekly. Despite being half-time, the Wikipedian ended up doing almost as much work as a full-time role, and there was plenty of media interest, with three television interviews and stories in the local papers. Having a Development West Coast staffer feeding press releases to the media and contacting TV producers made a big difference, and the project certainly raised the profile of Wikipedia editing in New Zealand. The remote volunteer team of 11 improved 193 articles and created 25, and 1126 photos were uploaded. Five articles appeared in Did You Know, and a video posted to accompany one received over 405,000 views.
2023 Wikipedian at Large
I began another Wikipedian at Large project with Development West Coast on 11 September. Two volunteers flew from Wellington to Christchurch and joined me on the West Coast for four days. Together we explored the Fox Glacier area, photographing hiking trails and creating them in Wikidata, expanding the article and Commons category for Gillespies Beach, and accompanying White Heron Sanctuary tours on a visit to the only breeding colony of Eastern Great Egrets in New Zealand. This latter trip led to creation of an article on the Waitangoroto Nature Reserve, uploading of numerous photos, and significantly improving the article on the nearby town of Whataroa. The team of 11 volunteers are receiving weekly summaries and fortnightly postcards as before.
The white heron colony at Waitangiroto
There has been plenty of support from the local hotel chain and tour operators, who are very keen to see improvements in Wikipedia coverage of the area. The lack of a strong volunteer community on the West Coast means that articles on most places are Stub or Start-quality, and photo coverage in Commons is sparse. From the point of view of the Movement, Development West Coast supporting improving the encyclopedia is making a real difference. It has been important to make it clear to funding bodies and tourism operators that Wikipedia is not a promotional tool for them: volunteers have had free reign to work on what they please, and DWC has at most suggest some general geographical areas that are especially badly covered. DWC have not tried to exert any editorial influence or be back-seat drivers, and have supplied numerous press clippings and hundreds of publication-worthy tourism photos from their image library to be released under an open licence. They've been very pleased with the media attention the project has had, and ordinary West Coasters have been keen to help; several of them have donated photo collections. The Wikipedian at Large model has not had the same effectiveness at recruiting local editors however, a task better suited to a Wikipedian in Residence.