My Open Data Challenge to UK Local Government: a Wikipedia Page for Every Council

At yesterday’s excellent West Midlands “Open Data: Challenges & Opportunities” event, hosted by the West Midlands Regional Observatory, Chris Taggart (), who runs the very useful Openly Local website, aggregating data about councils and their elected members, mentioned the problems he has extracting linked data about councils from Wikipedia, via DBPedia, because Wikipedia tends to conflate places with their local authorities.

See, for example, the Wikipedia article on the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley; or those on , which (at the time of writing) has only a small section on its town council and Lichfield district (so a challenge there for Stuart Harrison, , and his colleagues!); and compare them with the separate articles about and ; or , the , and . The former, all-on-one-page, pattern is far more common. (Disclosure: I created some, and have edited all, of those articles.)

I suggested at the event that this problem could be solved if staff from each UK council simply started a Wikipedia article about their council, where none already exists.

As each UK council is, inherently, (to use the Wikipedia jargon) notable, there should be no issue with this, provided that they are mindful of Wikipedia’s policy on conflicts of interest (which explicitly allows for such editing), and the requirement that articles maintain a neutral point-of-view, and be referenced. Short “stub” articles can be created in the first instance.

(If council staff are hesitant to do so themselves, then I can help to pair them up with volunteer Wikipedia editors who will assist them, or create articles directly.)

Update: Added Dudley & Lichfield district examples.

9 thoughts on “My Open Data Challenge to UK Local Government: a Wikipedia Page for Every Council

  1. Paul Irvine

    You’re suggesting that every council should create, and so maintain, a page about themselves on Wikipedia? Err, WHY? Where’s the value in this? Excuse my ignorance, but I just don’t see what the value is, or am I the only person who would put Wikipedia at the BOTTOM of a list of possible websites to go to, when looking to find out about my council, or its services?

  2. Josh

    I personally think that orgs creating pages for themselves is verboten – though pairing up with volunteer editors a good way forward. Also, it may be possible to request creation of pages with reference to notability?

  3. pigsonthewing

    @Paul Irvine – no, far from it. I’m suggesting that each council should create (at least) a short stub article, to set the ball rolling, so that other editors can and will add to and maintain it; see the “stub” link. The value is in seeding that development; and in resolving the difficulty exeprienced by Chris Taggart/ Openly Local, thereby facilitating better open data about the authority.

    @Josh – No, as I say above, it’s explicitly allowed, with caveats. See the “NPoV” link. Yes, there is also a mechanism to request the creation of pages by third parties – but with no guarantee of a response, let alone a timely response.

  4. Chris Taggart

    The point as Andy says, is there just needs to be a stub, a starting point for the community to be able to add stuff too. At the moment, the bit about the council is often part of the page about the area, which doesn’t make sense (London is not the same as the GLA, Kent is not the same as Kent County Council), and so when people edit and add to the info they are, to a degree making the job of separating the entities from each other more difficult (and also making DBpedia less useful)

  5. sdcsmith2000

    An interesting idea but I am inclined to agree with Paul and my question would be if the online community felt their local council was a notable entity then why cant they start the page or stub as Chris put it and if they can why haven’t they is there any intrinsic value to it? Don’t get me wrong I am a user of wikipedia but if I wanted data on my local notable I would go there or a specific aggregation site like openly local and I would imagine I would find a lot more information there as opposed to the wiki site.
    For what its worth, I believe that in the longer term if we all look to embrace standards around linked data and get that out there the useful stuff will become visible/usable anyway?

  6. Roger Bamkin

    I’m surprised at some of the comments here. You might like to think that those who need information go to the relevant web site that each council maintains – but that is not the case. Over 400million people use wikipedia each month. (Thats not clicks, thats people). If your child is asked to find out the name of your mayor or what is in the local museum then maybe they “should” use the website the ratepayers paid for, but sadly this is not the case – they use the free one that has better pictures and more unbiased information. In the last six months we have created 12 new articles on items in Derby Museums as part of a collaboration backed by Derby City Council to allow their museum to collaborate with Wikipedia. Those short articles have had more hits then the Derby Museum web site in that time. The museum now has objects in their collections which you can read about in dozens of languages and accessible via smartphones. I’m not sure if the alternative official source is more reliable but I am sure it is more costly and will not be updated so frequently.

    Why not create the page you are being challenged to do and see what its hit rate is?

  7. Andy Mabbett Post author

    Chris’ point about stub articles being “a starting point for the community to be able to add stuff too” is exemplified by the way the election results of 5 May 2011 were added to the Lichfield District Council article by Wikipedia editors, without any intervention by the council.


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