Conclusion: So, what is the gender breakdown of heads of government?

Lucy Chambers
Jun 8, 2017 · 5 min read

And what did we learn while trying to get the answer?

Over a series of four recent blog posts, we’ve been talking ourselves through the steps of using Wikidata to answer the question: .

We’ve finally reached the stage where the data is in good enough shape to provide the answer, which we’ll share at the foot of this post. Yes, this is a cliffhanger device to keep you reading — roll with it!

While you’re taking a wild guess (spoiler alert, women do not make up a massive majority), let’s wrap up with a final check, some points that we learned along the way, and a review of why this sort of exercise is so useful.

Some intriguing questions

It’s been a surprisingly fun ride in some ways. For example, here are some of the more interesting moments we encountered:

What does it mean to be a country? You might not have thought that Guernsey and Western Sahara had much in common, but here’s one thing: not everyone is sure whether or not they count as a ‘’. Both had their status flipped (by various Wikidata contributors) several times during the experiment. Likely they will again.

Who knew Bjarni Benediktsson was such a popular name? Well, Icelanders, presumably: it’s the name of the current Icelandic Prime Minister and also the name of one from the 1970s, and sometimes people link to the wrong one.

When is a Prime Minister not a head of government? Well, in Uganda, for example. Back in the 1960s the Prime Minister at the time abolished the post and declared himself President instead. In the 1980s it was re-established, but even though the Prime Minister chairs the Cabinet, the President is still officially the Head of Government.

What’s more confusing, a country with two heads of government, or one with none at all? As we discussed previously, Switzerland doesn’t have a Head of Government at all, and that can make it seem like there’s a problem in our reports. But it’s even harder to deal with San Marino, which is a diarchy — especially when we need to check for consistency across the multiple routes. In the end we just had to explicitly ignore this one and hope people get it right!

Where our assumptions were wrong

Well, those were some fun things to learn, but the really useful stuff came simply by going through the whole process, and taking you along with us (many thanks to those who joined in!).

Here’s a breakdown of some of our practical learnings:

We’d assumed that the biggest problem would be missing data, but it turned out that we’d underestimated the issue of out of date information. Of the three routes for filling in the information, the simplest should be to add the “P6: Head of Government” link directly on the country. But that turned out to be the least accurate. Bringing this information up to date didn’t merely require filling in the 40 initial gaps, but also correcting 55 entries where the information was incorrect or out of date.

, we had the best results from the two hop process described in posts one & two; finding the office of the head of government (P1313) and then who currently holds that office (P1308). The additional effort of having two things to fill in did not appear to be a problem.

We didn’t explain everything clearly. Of course, we did our best: that was basically the whole point of this series of posts — but you can never know what you’ve forgotten to say until someone points it out.

So for example, some people who were unfamiliar with Wikidata tried to edit the reports directly, rather than correcting the underlying item. That’s a totally reasonable assumption to people familiar with Wikipedia! We’re glad it was pointed out to us, as it enabled us to make things clearer by adding a note to the reports — and we’ll always appreciate hearing what has puzzled people or caused them to go awry, so we can do our best to avoid similar issues in the future.

And the actual answer

*Toots trumpet* Finally, here is the answer to our original question, which, thanks to all the data which has been checked and added, we can now see with ease:

The gender breakdown of Heads of Government around the world at time of writing is….

Male 191; Female 12

But this is obviously changing all the time — . You can run the latest figures here and here is a list of all of the female heads of government.

You might be wondering: why did we go through so many steps to arrive at this point? Well, the contrast report we created in this series of blog posts means that we can be pretty confident in the results, even though there are three different ways to enter the same data. Three weeks ago, if you’d tried to answer this question, you would have received three different answers; now it’s all been tidied up, there’s only one.

So, we’re glad to say that the approach worked: it was successful in significantly improving the information in Wikidata, thanks to both the existing Wikidata community and the new people who came and gave it a go.

And the work we’ve done on this data means that we can now easily answer other questions, too — questions like:

How to stay involved

If you’re one of the people who tried Wikidata editing for the first time, that’s great! We hope it’s something you’ll carry on with. We will be publishing lots more missions like this in the future, so keep your eyes on the relevant WikiProjects for the next ones.

Of course, time marches on, and any data needs regular maintenance. Fortunately, the tools we added during this process should automatically update and help keep the information up to date over time.

But human input will always be needed: the contrast report gives an easy way to check for errors on a regular basis, and the new documentation we’ve added on “What To Do When Your Head of Government Changes” will help people remember all the different things that they should update to stop the data getting out of sync.

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