More agencies adopt wikis to share knowledge

Wikis are proliferating in the federal government as officials seek effective ways to share information and collaborate, experts said April 28 at the ninth annual Knowledge Management conference in Washington.

For example, the State Department’s Diplopedia has 700 registered editors and contains about 3,700 articles, said Eric Johnson, leader of the Knowledge Management Action Team in the department’s Office of eDiplomacy.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command and the Marine Corps also have adopted wiki-like tools to share knowledge, said Kevin Marlowe, director of C2 analysis at the Joint Systems Integration Command, and Lt. Col. Donald Hawkins, chief of the Integration and Technology Branch at the Marine Corps' Center for Lessons Learned. They spoke during a session on learning networks.

At State, it’s easy for employees to participate in the Diplopedia wiki, Johnson said. “We have enough online for people to get started,” he said. “We found it takes about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the user's comfort, to get people started. We’ve only trained a small proportion — maybe 200 people. All the rest have found their way to it and just started themselves, or somebody else showed them.”

Diplopedia has about a half-dozen power users who often help other employees edit articles. “If [power users] see that somebody has come in and started editing, they’ll welcome them into the community and help them along,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, other agencies interested in starting wikis often ask State officials about governance, Johnson said. They ask, “How do you govern this stuff? How do you keep people from saying horrible things about their boss and committing career suicide by wiki?” he said. That hasn’t happened at State, even though the Office of eDiplomacy takes a laissez-faire attitude toward the wiki, he added.

“The goal is to keep a balance between intervening where necessary and just letting things grow,” he said. “We kind of let things just grow and make sure nothing terrible is happening. That’s seems to have worked so far. But finding that balance is absolutely critical.”

If there is a dispute among editors over content, the Office of eDiplomacy will serve as an adjudicator. “We encourage people to work it out among themselves,” Johnson said. “That’s happened in all the [disputed] cases so far. We have not really had to adjudicate any particular cases.”

Officials also ensure that each article includes a disclaimer stating that it is “informative and deliberative but not authoritative,” he said. “We encourage [editors] to link to authoritative content within the article,” such as State’s Foreign Affairs Manual or an appropriate U.S. statute.

Another task is shaping the way information is organized and presented, Johnson said. “When Diplopedia only had 100 articles, it was pretty easy to take a look at what was on there and see how it interrelated,” he said. “But with 3,700 articles, we have to pay attention to things like categorization. So we try to make sure that all articles belong to one or more categories.”

The Knowledge Management conference was sponsored by Federal Computer Week's parent company, 1105 Government Information Group.

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