Visual Science Representation: Alessandro Marchetti’s Impactful Leadership in Wiki Science Competitions

Alessandro Marchetti, an organizer and a jury member of the Wiki Science Photo Competition, reveals why bringing visual science to Wikipedia is important and what are the most challenging moments in organizing international photo competitions.

Please tell us something about yourself, what is your profession

Alessandro Marchetti. Photo by Anna Marchenkova, CC BY-SA 4.0

Hello, I’m Alessandro Marchetti, a former full-time researcher who has gradually transitioned his professional focus on scientific outreach and advisory roles in the domain of open knowledge. I hold a Ph.D. in chemistry. 

How did you get involved with Wikimedia and what have you mainly been focusing on?

Since 2011, I have immersed myself in the Wikimedia community, exploring diverse interests across multiple multilingual platforms, for example my first contributions were on French Wikipedia. My initial involvement was fueled by a keen interest in fostering free knowledge and a passion for a collaborative environment where individuals collectively share information. Recognizing an opportunity to enhance the community’s richness, I explored different topics I was curious about during my free time. Over the years, my primary focal point has centered on Wikidata, serving as my main platform for engagement and contribution. In the past year, I have consistently edited articles on English Wikipedia, specifically focusing on biographies and companies.

How and when did you get involved in organizing the Wiki Science Photo Competition? What motivated you to begin? What do you like about it? 

Award ceremony of Wiki Science Competition 2021 in Switzerland. Photo by GF-wmch, CC BY-SA 4.0

My commitment stemmed from my passion to enhance scientific awareness and information dissemination. The prospect of spotlighting the aesthetic aspects of science through visual storytelling is an interest that has consistently captivated me and has persisted since my university days.

My initial interaction with the WSC organizers occurred during the 2015 European photo competition, where I was a participant. I volunteered soon after to take on an organizational role for the subsequent 2017 edition, the first international edition of the event as we know today.

What have been your roles and responsibilities in the process of organizing the competition? 

In the competition’s organization, my responsibilities encompassed diverse tasks. These included overseeing submission management, refining categorization and metadata for improved accessibility and indexing of the material, fostering reuse of content on Wikipedia as appropriate, and curating content for the social media campaign with our communication manager Mascha Stroobant.

The primary task as head of the academic committee is coordinating the selection process, which involves managing the jury. This role was multifaceted, demanding meticulous attention to detail and seamless collaboration with both the community and researchers involved. You try to gather as much feedback as possible.

As you have led the work on the WSC jury, what do you consider the most difficult part of that job?

Selecting an engaged and qualified jury is paramount to upholding the integrity of the process. The most challenging aspect involves identifying experts across diverse scientific fields with the availability to thoughtfully review numerous images. Evaluating such a wide selection of files poses a considerable challenge, particularly in ensuring fairness in judging without prior knowledge of the best  submissions. To address this, inquiries to external experts become also essential, and should be reported to the main jury so that a full functional peer-reviewing mechanism is present.

The commitment to maintaining competition integrity necessitates replacing jurors after a specific tenure. However, the onboarding of new jurors entails the challenge of integrating them from scratch in the mechanism.

You have also organized local science photo competitions in Italy and in Switzerland. What have been the biggest challenges?

Don’t forget China, when I was working there (2017). Organizing local versions of the competition has been both rewarding and challenging.

One of the major hurdles has been tailoring the competition to resonate with diverse communities and their specific preferences. Surprisingly, language barriers haven’t been a significant issue due to the widespread use and understanding of English.

However, a more intricate challenge has been deciphering the interests and aspirations of younger participants, understanding their perspectives, and aligning the competition’s essence with their aspirations and vision. This insight is crucial for ensuring the competition’s relevance and appeal to a wider audience.

How do you assess the success and impact of the competition on the Wikimedia community and on the broader popularization of science? What have been the most memorable moments and achievements related to this competition?

Science Wiki photo competition side-meeting at Wikimedia Summit 2019. Photo by Thomas Shafee, CC BY-SA 4.0

Assessing the success of a Wikimedia photo competition can start with the number of uploaded files. However, this metric is not perfect and the output can vary based on factors like country participation and site notifications. A more insightful measure includes the number of competition files achieving quality status on Wikimedia Commons or being selected as “Pictures of the Day”, but it is still a little self-referential. The reuse of Wikipedia articles is also a good target.

Personally my preferred achievement was gathering ample third-party sources to meet English Wikipedia’s notability guidelines and get a Wikipedia article about it. Additionally, being invited to academic workshops to discuss the history of WSC was rewarding. These accomplishments ensure that the competition’s legacy extends beyond its stunning files, securing its place in the history of Wikimedia.

How would you encourage others to get involved in organizing a Wikimedia competition?

I would recommend others to start with a team and also to embark on incremental improvements each year. Establishing a continuous presence makes a significant difference, so it’s better to have a long-term view.

The primary focus should be on enhancing the prizes, as the promotional infrastructure is relatively well-structured and not the main challenge for national organizers. Another critical aspect is assembling a talented jury, which takes time.

It’s crucial not to view the organization merely as an administrative goal but as an opportunity for personal growth for both organizers and volunteers. This perspective adds a different dynamic to the experience.

Is there a particularly inspiring scientific photo or photographer that you like or that has influenced or inspired you somehow?

Numerous learned societies and scientific organizations began hosting photo competitions in the early 2000s, and I found these contests remarkably engaging and began following them closely, occasionally participating.

Yet, it wasn’t until I discovered Wiki Loves Monuments during my Ph.D. (circa 2011) that I fully appreciated the vast possibilities of a platform like Wikimedia Commons. It became evident that such a platform could also be dedicated to hosting scientific-focused photo competitions.

When the European Science Photo Competition appeared in 2015, I was already “prepared” to enter it with ideas that I had developed over the previous decade.

What plans are there for future innovations or changes related to the Wiki Science Competition?

The goal is always to continue elevating science visually and fostering connections through photography and imagery.

Moving forward, there’s a focus on expanding the competition’s reach to more countries, with a particular emphasis on engaging and recognizing winners from regions in the so-called “Global South”. 

Additionally, I would like to facilitate more meaningful discussions within academic circles, potentially paving the way for peer-reviewed articles that highlight the impact and significance of this competition on the scientific community.