Spotlight on the residency – Natural History Museum and Science Museum WIR 2013-14

Photo shows John, wearing a black Wikipedia t-shirt, in front of a cross section of a giant sequoia, one of the largest trees in the world
John Cummings at the Natural History Museum

This post was written by Daria Cybulska, Programme Manager

Recently released annual review of Wikimedia UK made me look back at 2013. One of the important projects we supported that year was the Natural History Museum and Science Museum Wikimedian in Residence, a project delivered by John Cummings. The work continued long after the official end of the residency in January 2014, and luckily shortly before full preparations for Wikimania 2014 kicked in, John was able to finalise the case study report from his project.

Why did the residency take place? What happened during the project? What are we thinking of doing now?

Open doors

Over the course of the project many doors were knocked at, and from that wide range of ideas we got some very encouraging wins. Below are some highlights extracted from the case study report.

  • Partnerships with other organisations. John focused on working with external organisations on open knowledge initiatives, many of which lead to further cooperation with Wikimedia UK. Content improvement. Some examples:
  • A trial release of Natural History Museum archive content which was then added to Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource.
  • The Science Museum has started to open its collection with 50 images of significant objects which around 20,000 people are viewing on Wikipedia each day.
  • 400 photos from the National Media Museum (part of the Science Museum Group) were released to Wikimedia Commons (see here).
  • Three videos from Science Museum’s Pain Exhibition were released under an open license (e.g. No Pain).
  • Advocacy work on changing the attitudes and licensing of content towards openness cannot be understated. Much of the project’s time was spent on producing documentation, pilot evidence, and delivering talks advocating open knowledge.

Key reflections

Long duration of the project allowed for many thoughts on future improvements – dig into the later parts of the report (p. 25 onwards) for the whole picture. Some of the highlights are:

  • Connecting with external organisations has been incredibly powerful throughout the residency. John has worked with a lot of partners thanks to being linked to NHM and SM, and also connected with umbrella organisations such as Collections Trust and DCMS.
  • John has been a successful advocate of open knowledge throughout the sector, not just focusing on his host institutions – it was one of his key tasks, even though it wasn’t planned as such to start with.
  • Skills and knowledge transfer between residents was assessed as patchy and often reliant on residents using their free time to volunteer at each other’s events.
  • It is often difficult to assess how long a project will take to produce positive outcomes.
  • A valuable insight from the project was that many institutions don’t measure web traffic related to their organisation on other websites. This makes it more difficult to convince them to release content (e.g. they wouldn’t count views on Wikimedia Commons images in their stats). John had ideas of how this could be changed, and we will continue working on it.
  • Infrastructure development. Looking into the future, John identified many technical developments that would help with the residents’ work.

Any comments and ideas can be directed to John ( or to our GLAM programme (