During my research I found that the majority of wiki implementations have resulted from grass-roots initiatives (67.65% of businesses surveyed), which relied heavily on high levels of grass-roots facilitation and self-learning and motivation to use the wiki. However, 17.82% of survey responses reported no significant wiki growth, with key barriers to use being content maintenance, wikis being too unstructured and appearing chaotic, and lack of integration with other tools. Interestingly, the survey responses also indicated that no content maintenance occured in 18% of cases – a direct reflection of the figure regarding no significant wiki growth.
Given that 47% of the wiki implementations survey were under a year-old, the responses may suggest that people are still discovering their uses, how to integrate them into work processes and existing systems, and how to cope with issues regarding content maintenance. More particularly, whilst the user community in the majority of cases indicated content maintenance was being undertaken, in light of the key barriers noted above, its skill/diligence in doing so may be inadequate, suggesting that even ‘technical users’ may not yet have effectively learnt how to adapt their behaviours and the wiki to best suit their needs. In other words, even people who are highly motivated to self-learn and adopt wikis struggle to maintain the wiki and overcome barriers to its use. Consequently, to overcome these issues and to encourage the spread of best practice in wiki usage throughout the different stages of wiki adoption by different adopter categories, grassroots activity should be balanced with directed usage/active managerial promotion and support.
During my discussion with Ross Mayfield, he considered that a key determinant of wiki’s success is the investment made in up-front ‘training’ of the wiki community, not just regarding technical wiki features but also in the generation of a shared understanding of the practices required to support the collaboration goal (including distributed responsibility for content maintenance) and imbuing those practices in the community. He went on to describe how wiki’s growth and maintenance is inextricably linked to its incremental roll-out to an initial core group, who through such ‘training’ establish how the wiki can be used to best suit their needs and build the community to support that use. That group should then be encouraged to ‘invite’ others to undertake the same process, and so continue the cycle, growing the wiki across the organisation with each group establishing their routines/norms to suit their needs.
Apparent in that process are:
- elements of grass-roots determinism regarding the wiki’s use so that it best suits people’s everyday needs, and the community practices to be developed to support such needs, coupled with
- managerial facilitation to assist people’s learning and the spread of such learning.
Euan Semple highlighted another factor to be aware of during that process, namely the importance of engaging a broad cross-section of people who will (voluntarily) fulfill different roles in the wiki “since some people are naturally drawn to create ideas, others to write and some to refactor/garden”.
In summary, managers should be more involved in the adoption and growth of wikis by giving people time to become accustomed to, experiment with, contribute to and maintain the wiki, being responsive/alert to how the wiki should be integrated with work processes and new areas for its use, and leading by example and reminding (e.g. placing information and tasks on the wiki). Consideration should also be given to the benefit of providing initial adaptable structures to guide users and the support/training necessary to encourage people to be responsible for the wiki. In that way, people will be encouraged to capture tacit knowledge (which could be otherwise lost in casual/social problem-solving encounters) that is valuable to them in their everyday tasks and which they care enough about to make it worthwhile maintaining.