Wikimedia UK, a regional chapter of Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organisation responsible for bringing free content to the world via popular online encyclopaedic portals including Wikipedia, Wiktionary and MediaWiki, this weekend committed to professionalising its operations.

It has appointed a new board to educate contributors, increase content quality and organise events.

Appointing members on Saturday, April 17 at its annual conference, Wikimedia UK moved from being purely voluntary to announcing it would open a full-time office within a year – providing a base from which it can continue to support volunteers as they add content. Ensuring articles and media are of consistently high quality, the chapter will also train members on how to engage with local charities, museums and businesses to increase participation levels on Wikipedia, sharing knowledge that previously was either unavailable or lacking in understanding.

The idea is not to keep control of content of sites such as Wikipedia or any other of the projects run by the Wikimedia Foundation, instead it exists to help collect, develop and distribute “freely licensed knowledge”. Recent appointments by the UK chapter ensure it can liaise with contributors, schedule training events and recruit ambassadors allows the Foundation to do just that.

Martin Poulter, one of the four new directors joining Wikimedia UK this year, told us that one of the key missions of the organisation is to engage with members of the public, go out to educational institutions and companies and make them aware of how adding content to Wikipedia and other projects can benefit both them and WikiMedia. Poulter believes that by educating the public, usability barriers that would have stopped users from contributing content can be overcome, ensuring Wikipedia and other projects become a more reliable resource overall.

An example of how Wikimedia UK is already working to improve the quality of articles on Wikipedia is via collaborations with the Derby Library and British Museum. Both institutions have offered ‘Wikimedians’ a backstage pass, where members of the foundation are able to enter these locations to view special collections not normally on display, in turn adding high-quality media and articles to the online encyclopaedia. The addition of archived information makes it available to the public, driving visitors to Wikipedia but also developing interest in the exhibits stored within some of Britain’s most comprehensive historical collections.

The German Federal Archive has already donated over 100,000 files to Wikimedia Foundation, sharing images that are related to the history of Germany. Poulter noted that as a result of sharing images via a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Germany License (CC-BY-SA), the Federal Archive reported a sizeable increase in the number of photo license requests for images from press and media organisations, providing revenue that the Archive may not have enjoyed if it had not allowed its collections to be indexed by Wikimedia Commons.

The success of its German chapter spurs its UK counterpart, and it is already working within museums to incorporate the latest technology to drive visitors to the website. One such initiative is to introduce QR codes, which can be added to exhibits and collections with museums or archives, allowing children (or adults) to use mobile devices to pull up additional information for an artefact, painting or collection on Wikipedia. If incorporated across the country, schoolchildren could make a game out of digitising works, also adding high-quality media to existing content.

At the beginning of the year Cancer Research UK requested a Wikipedia Workshop, wanting to learn how to increase the quality of cancer-related articles on the encyclopaedia. The workshop allows its specialists to tidy up articles, improving the accuracy and clarity on pages but also adding new articles on Cervical Screening and The Hallmarks of Cancer, ensuring that sufferers and those wanting to know more about the disease can obtain the information they need.

Poulter hopes Wikimedia UK can inspire other organisations to do the same, helping them produce informative content on subjects they have expertise in.

The Wikimedia Foundation sees half a billion online visitors a month, so it isn’t going away. Educators often lament the use of the encyclopaedia to source information but the Foundation believes they are looking at it from the wrong angle. Poulter admits there are “mischievous” users that can lower the quality of some works, but says the drift is upwards and articles are only improving in quality. With this in mind, he believes that educators should direct their students to Wikipedia and other WikiMedia projects to update the articles they are referencing to help improve the quality of information Wikipedia contains.