The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, population just 755,000, leapfrogged over centuries of media evolution to arrive at a modern mediascape characterised by digital technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet. Traditionally an oral culture, it has embraced Facebook and Twitter, but its engagement with Wikipedia has been less successful. Pages about Bhutan have been published, but mostly by non-Bhutanese and they vary in quality, sometimes being incomplete or factually wrong. While Bhutanese use the site as a general reference, their own forays into publishing have been unsuccessful, mainly due to cultural miscommunications, such as the infamous "Bhutanese passport" incident of 2015. This is a wasted opportunity. Wikipedia has a lot to offer Bhutan: a cultural repository, teaching resource and platform to present itself to the world. Equally, Bhutan has a lot to offer Wikipedia, which faces ongoing challenges of editor retention and renewal, as well as diversity, to meet its ambitions of providing the benefits of all knowledge to all peoples. This project aims to increase Bhutanese participation, while also trialling new methods of initiating a collaborative culture that fits with Bhutan‰Ûªs own strong social networks. It will also investigate ways that Wikipedia can better utilize its digital affordances to accommodate an oral culture.
This presentation will outline an ethnographic project to upskill a range of Bhutanese stakeholders in the practices and protocols of Wikipedia while at the same time researching this intersection of oral practices and digital affordances. It follows a project by Heather Ford and others in South Africa working with school teachers and a review committee to ensure academic rigour of articles, which offers a model for Bhutan, where local knowledge is extensive and printed material sometimes limited. This researcher welcomes input from the Wikipedia community about this project.
I hope this session will draw people who are interested in extending Wikipedia's global reach and audio capabilities. I would welcome robust discussion about the limitations and possibilities of this project.