Getting your community to work on a wiki can be hard to pin down.

Getting your community to work on a wiki can be hard to 'pin' down. HA!

With this post I get back to my roots on the Collaborative tools aspect of Web 2.0. I know, it’s less sexy and less popular, but I believe collaborative tools (versus social media) can demonstrate much potential for the use of Web 2.0 internal to Government.

Tools like wikis hold a lot of promise for the government, but they still have much in common with general enterprise wikis. I’ve written before about GCPEDIA, the Government of Canada-wide wiki, and its 3 main roles:

  • People:  Creating communities and connecting to people
  • Collaboration:  Providing a space for minds together to do collaborative work
  • Knowledge:  A repository of information at people’s fingertips.

Leveraging these roles to create communities on wikis can be difficult, as users may be unfamiliar with the tool, unsure of its role, and unaware of the support or direction they have to use it.   Unlike knowledge wikis (like Wikipedia), enterprise wikis like GCPEDIA and departmental wikis (like the NRCan Wiki)  have emerged 3 main uses:

  • Disseminating a message: The wiki page you create is available to all (who have access);
  • A repository of information: Use the wiki to keep important information on a topic, event, community;
  • Collaborating on a document: Put up your thoughts and get other’s input as well in one place.

There is a lot of interest to use wikis for community support and community building. It makes sense: Communities are best supported with a website that has the information they need, and a community-run website best does this, and what sounds closest to a  community-run website than a wiki, I ask rhetorically. Well, anything but a wiki unless you know what a wiki is, which may not be most people. Add to this the revelation that wikis aren’t meant for supporting communities; a wiki is a platform supporting knowledge, that can be applied for supporting communities. Wikis are no more for communities than they are for informing others about your corner-of-the-desk project, for storing your favorite recipes or collaborating on your camp trip. These are uses of a wiki, not purposes. And supporting a community is a use of a wiki. So, understanding that wikis, out-of-the-box don’t support communities, you’re one step ahead to understanding that the work ahead to crafting and plugging your community into a wiki requires work. The next steps I hope to help you with the following tips.

First off, it’s important to know some of the pros and cons to having your community on a wiki:

Pros:

  • a wiki can help bridge  the gaps in geography between members;
  • provides an outlet for members to be more involved and interactive;
  • can be more efficient to provide more timely information;
  • can connect the community to other communities on the wiki, and other people and the enterprise knowledge.

Cons:

  • You can drive your community nuts;
    • May seem like you’re imposing a tool on the community. ”What? Something else I have to use?”
  • Wiki limitations can limit the potential of your on-line presence, tools;
  • You submit to the tool and its administrators;
  • You may not “get it” yourself;
    • Enterprise wikis have their own culture, code, and can be hard to learn when taking the bull by the horns with your own community

Remember: wikis don’t create communities – wikis support communities.

Here are 6 steps to supporting your community using a wiki:

  1. Step 1: Know the wiki
    • Enterprise wikis can have their own mandate, culture, code of conduct and Information Practices. Perhaps they have their own way to work with communities, eliminating overlap, confusion (i.e.: maybe another community in another department or branch has the same name?). Check out other communities that are using the wiki. What are their pages like? Maybe get in touch and ask what challenges have they faced? Are the members contributing, or do they just use it as a resource? This will be useful to answer ahead of time as you will have very many questions later. Also helpful is to find out who you can ask for help while building the community up or making the pages.
  2. Step 2: Draft up what the community page will look like
    Get your hands dirty with drafting what the community presence on the wiki will look like. It may be harder than you think, but find this out is the point. But don’t let the lag get in the way. As you scope out the content you should have up, understand bare-bones isn’t going to cut it when you’re getting people onto a new tool, but you also don’t need to go crazy filing it up. Instead concentrate your time and efforts on 2 things:

    1. have your wiki page do what enterprise wikis do best: disseminating your message and getting people on the same page;
    2. improve the pages usefulness by building up that repository of information: meeting date and locations, bios of the members on the committee, contact info, minutes of past meetings, etc.
    • More tips:
      • Steal/copy/borrow from other wiki pages, and don’t feel guilty about it one bit. These are wikis.
      • Indicate atop your page(s) that “This is a draft”.
      • Put all the information you can about the community. You will want to make members’ first visit to be a fulfilling one.
  3. Step 3: Getting management buy-in / avoiding management shut-down:
    • Before you go further, but after you’ve done your “pathfinder” to figure the tool out, you’ll want to tip off your management about this uncharted territory. Key here is to get support from above so they’re not asking you to shut it down later (which is worse). Careful though: you may get your wheels stuck if they don’t get this “kiwi” thing you’re talking about . Explain this will add value and efficiency to the community, and point to other similar communities that are on-board. Show the draft you’ve made, point out the “This is a draft” banner, and show similar communities as well. If you can’t get approval, or you get delays in going further, do not pass Go and do not collect $200.
  4. Step 4: Craft your community’s purpose on the wiki. Make it explicit.
    • Though your ultimate goal may be to have everyone actively contributing, discussing, collaborating on the wiki page, that won’t happen overnight, or on day 1. I suggest you make the purpose humble and make it explicit. Simply calling the wiki page “the community” isn’t enough, you need to spell it out, that the wiki will serve as the hub of information (repository of information, the weekly bulletin, the time and location of the next meeting). But still do invite them to discuss (you may have come across templates with easy to place code already formatted to invite this on the page). Users will contribute and discuss when they’re ready. And they’ll be ready when they see the value. Those who “get” wikis will do it without avail. Or with avail. I don’t know how that word is used. Anyway, you get me here. “Will do it without hesitation”.
  5. Step 5: Get feedback from key members of the community
    • Before you start to shout out the location of the community wiki site to all the members, you want to get another opinion to see if there are any red flags. Maybe you missed something completely obvious, or have some wrong information up there. By asking key members of the community you can hit two birds with one stone: you get their views and (hopefully) get their buy-in (people like heads-up on exclusive information). Ask for input and appreciate the opinions, but in the end don’t be bogged down by contradictory or opinions, your page can always be better and there’s always many ways to skin a cat (but apparently few ways to repeat a bad idiom). Your wiki page reflects your best efforts and your best ways to support the community using the wiki.
  6. Step 6: Promote it through the regular channels (email?). Prepare to keep on emailing.
    • Now you’re ready to promote the community’s wiki page. Be sure to talk to members’ possible concerns while mentioning the benefits. Do expect to still be using email for the medium to long-term. Rejoice if it doesn’t end up that way. Continue to email your updates, but now you can keep them concise. Link to the wiki page as much as you can, to more content if a member wanted, to a page where they can write a comment about the topic, to anything.
  7. Step 7: Stick in there
    • Lastly, it’s important you persevere. If the wiki is new to everyone in your community, not having a revolt on your hands is a good thing. The seeds of your culture-change will emerge from the soil, and the fruits of your labour will come to fruition as the community matures to a fledgling life of its own. Stay mindful that the benefits may not be so obvious but may exist; members can access the information they need any time, cutting your otherwise long and expensive discussions with web designers or cashed-in favours with office geeks. Also you’ve learned a new skill (wiki formatting, web development and knowledge management), and nothing but time keeps you from editing those pages and making them even better (instead of money, access to tools). And when someone has a correction to submit or views worth two cents, you can tell them to “do it!” themselves and mean it (politely of course). But until it takes a life of its own, be prepared to hold onto the stick, copying notes from emails to the wiki, and updating it regularly yourself.

There you go. Now get out there and do it!

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