Wiki:Why, What and for Whom?

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The issue: taking better advantage of existing knowledge

There is abundant information on coastal and marine processes and issues. But most of this information is not easy to find or to use. Existing documentation and publication practices do not enable taking full advantage of present knowledge and experience. The present situation is:

  1. scientific knowledge is communicated mainly among fellow experts; scientific publications focus on specific disciplinary aspects and are almost inaccessible to non-expert coastal and marine professionals;
  2. integrated assessments of coastal and marine issues often refer to specific field situations and are published as grey literature or brochures, which are hard to find and to get;
  3. results published on project sites often become inaccessible shortly after the project has ended.

Powerful search systems have been developed to retrieve information from the Internet, but due to the huge proliferation of websites generally not more than a fraction of the relevant information is found. Use of this information is further hampered by lack of coherence among the information pieces and lack of comprehensiveness and context. Some pieces of information may be outdated and others may be unreliable. For these reasons much coastal and marine knowledge existing in research institutes and in practitioners organizations throughout Europe is not fully used and similar studies are carried out more than once. New knowledge dissemination practices are needed for Europe to take better advantage of existing knowledge, especially for use in practice and policy.

The wikipedia concept

A wikipedia is a searchable website that allows visitors to easily add, remove and otherwise edit and change available articles. It is the product of collaborative writing by authors who can add new articles or improve and update existing articles. The whole history of additions and improvements can be traced, no information gets definitively lost. The Coastal Wiki can best be described as an information web equipped with a powerful search tool. Articles of typically 2-3 pages are structured according to different layers of specialisation. Authors focus in their articles on a single topic at a certain level of detail, but are capable to provide a wider context and to provide more detailed information by introducing links to related articles. Therefore the wikimedia software incorporates a very handy tool, which is the automatic linking to related information pieces. Well chosen links ensure coherent access to the body of information. Wherever you enter the wikipedia, you are guided to the information you need. The most detailed information is contained in external literature references and specialised external websites, which can be linked using the CoastWeb technology. In this way non-experts are guided to specialised information without getting lost in a “forest” of details and practitioners and policymakers can get access to scientific information at a level they can understand. The wikipedia concept therefore complements present knowledge dissemination practices and mitigates major shortcomings: scientific publications only accessible to experts, lack of interdisciplinary links, difficult access to practical knowledge and experience due to dispersal over grey literature sources, lack of comprehensiveness and consistency among sources, not freely accessible literature and sources which are not up to date; unacceptable delays in establishing intellectual property rights through traditional publishing routes.

Note that the Coastal Wiki does not follow exactly the same concepts as the Wikipedia. An important difference is that it is not possible to edit anonymous at the Coastal Wiki. Another differences is that at the Coastal Wiki, terms are defined in separate, individual definition-pages. Furthermore, not all editing-functions available at the Wikipedia 'work' in the Coastal Wiki. Therefore, not all information from the help-pages at Wikipedia can be used for editing at the Coastal Wiki.

Target user groups

The primary users of the Coastal and Marine Wikipedia are professionals, usually with higher education, who are either generalists who need to update their knowledge about a broad range of subjects or specialists who need to gain an understanding of other sectors or disciplines in order to work in an integrated manner. Target user groups are:

  • Policy makers: e.g. a coastal mayor, an employee at high management level in regional or national administration, European Commission staff, or managers of influential NGOs;
  • Practitioners: e.g. a marine protected area manager, an expert working for administration, a planner or consultant at all administrative levels, employees of firms active in the coastal and marine area;
  • Scientists: e.g. a researcher (from any area of marine-related science) needing information from other than his/her own field of interest or as a start-up to enter a new research area;
  • Students at academic institutions and trainees, who want to familiarise with concepts of coastal and marine science and with practices of coastal and marine management;
  • Public stakeholders with particular interest in coastal and marine information, e.g. water sports practitioners, amateur fishermen, seaside visitors, etc.
  • The wider public. With this group in particular, a pro-active approach to the dissemination of research outputs is necessary and foreseen in the project.