WikiProject report

WikiProject Report: Military history

This week we chose to interview the lead co-ordinator of the Military History WikiProject, Roger Davies. (For those who are unfamiliar with the lead of the project process as demonstrated here, the lead co-ordinator bears overall responsibility for all tasks undertaken by the Project and the other Coordinators are assigned to specific areas.) Initiated from humble beginnings as a small project aimed towards improving Wikipedia's coverage on battles in October 2002, the Project has developed and expanded immensely in the time since then; now covering many aspects of military and significant events in modern history — some examples of what the project covers are: Maritime warfare, the American Civil War, War films, Intelligence and the more obvious such as the First and Second World Wars. The Project represents an appreciable and noteworthy proportion of featured content, whether they be articles, lists, portals, topics, pictures or sounds. It has numerous departments, with each assigned different tasks that help with the overall (momentous) task of overseeing the content marked under the Project's scope.

Can you describe what the project is? What is its history?

At its simplest, it is an informal association of editors, with the aim of improving collaboration for military history articles. The project has its origins in three wikiprojects – Battles, Military and Wars – formed between October 2002 and January 2004. The first task force, covering Canadian military history, was set up in January 2006 and the first coordinators were elected a month later. Much of the infrastructure was heavily influenced by Kirill Lokshin, who was the project's first lead coordinator, in post from February 2006 to February this year.

How effectively do you think the co-ordinatoring program works within the project?

Broadly, very well. The theory is that – as most people tend to assume that someone else will do whatever needs doing – it is better to designate editors specifically to look after the necessary. The bulk of coordinator work is wiki-gnome stuff – routine housekeeping and maintenance – keeping our announcements up to date and our members informed of various reviews. As the project has grown the need for more coordinators – to provide sufficient cover during wiki-breaks – has grown with it. We currently have ten coordinators, including me, bringing very different skills, styles and experience to the table. Many major initiatives originate on the coordinators' talk page, where any editor is welcome to contribute, and fine details are usually hammered out before being put to the project at large. This brings a useful early focus to the wider project discussions and makes them more fruitful.

What were your emotions whilst undertaking elections for the lead co-ordinator position?

I had previously served as an assistant coordinator and unexpectedly found myself up for the lead role when Kirill, who had been lead coordinator for the previous two years, decided to withdraw. My initial reaction was to wonder what I let myself in for but the other coordinators are so very supportive that it has all turned out very well. Despite his semi-retirement, Kirill provided a huge amount of invaluable help, so much so that we handcuffed him to the project shortly afterwards by making him an emeritus coordinator.

Is there any future coverage possible for articles related to Military History?

The most important area for development is probably our A-Class review. It is invariably the last step before articles are nominated for featured article status. Funnily enough this is one of the few areas where coordinators are actually written into the process, as only coordinators can close the review. We are currently exploring ways of making the review more rigorous so that a Milhist A-Class article becomes coverted in its own right, rather than just the final step before FAC. For this, we are dependent on quality reviewers and copy-editors, who are always in limited supply.

Are there specific roles for each member, for example, like those laid out for the co-ordinator?

No. It's unstructured and informal and, despite the project's scope, about as far away from a military set up as you could imagine. My own role as lead is largely titular: I'm not very keen on hierarchical structures and prefer devolution to centralisation. This has resonance in the project's structure, where each task force has a high degree of autonomy, using the project's systems mostly for logistical support. Our biggest contribution is probably in producing high quality articles. Typically, the project has around 100 articles a year promoted to featured content status. Last month, for instance, we had as many articles going through FAC as we had undergoing peer reviews.

How are the tasks delegated to each co-ordinator? Are they mainly based on interests, for example? There's not really that much to delegate. The unwritten principles are that any coordinator can do any task, and that the first coordinator to come across a task needing attention deals with it. Other than that, with fifty task forces, it is very useful for coordinators to act as liaison between the task forces and the project and so we have all "adopted" task forces that interest us. The idea is to ensure that each task force has someone who knows their way around the project acting as designated point-of-contact and that there's an effective communication channel for problems.

As one of the largest WikiProjects on Wikipedia, do you feel there is a problem with the 'recruitment' of new members or do they somehow find it through the massive scope of the project?

No, we have a healthy influx of new members, typically around 15–20 a month. They are usually attracted either by their interest in the specific areas covered by our task forces or by participation in our drives. The coordinators have an important role to play here, welcoming newcomers to the project and helping them with any questions. We find that, despite the project's apparent complexity, most people quickly find their feet.

Also this week:
  • Wikimania 2008
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • Dispatches
  • WikiProject report
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

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