Posts Tagged ‘Collaboration goals’

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.


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Having survey 102 companies, and interviewed 10 companies and 9 consultants, I compiled the following recommendations regarding the management of wikis in business:

1. For new implementations, consider the needs to be addressed/capabilities to be developed, how people currently work and changes that maybe necessary to routines/behaviours, as well as the nature of the culture, structure and other organisational subsystems, which initially will have to be worked within whilst gradual change is encouraged. For existing implementations, evaluate their impact (if any) on the foregoing factors, and who is (and is not) using wikis and why (including issues users have in respect of wikis and their work processes).

2. View the implementation as a change process and allow for planned emergence during adoption and growth/maintenance, and encourage evaluation throughout.

3. Involve a broad cross-section of people in the definition of flexible (collaboration) goals, and the consideration of how the wiki should be designed and people’s behaviour altered to (better) meet identified needs. Use those goals to guide and evaluate how well the needs are being met.

4. Consider the tasks being undertaken and the level of user competence when deciding whether some flexible structures/templates would help to avoid the wiki appearing chaotic and content being hard-to-find, as people learn how to create their own structure/maintain content.

5. Identify key ‘technical’ users (with needs corresponding to those identified) who can form pilot groups, or who can expand wiki usage to other areas/projects. Encourage experimentation to discover how the wiki can be used to best suit their needs and uncover issues with its design, integration with existing tools and/or impact on other subsystems.

6. Don’t rely solely on the self-motivation of the initial adopter groups. Develop and support good practices from the outset by supplementing self-learning with targeted training and best practice guidelines to help users understand the goals and wiki practices necessary to facilitate more effective/efficient work.

7. Recognise that later adopters may need greater support helping them understand how to use the wiki and work more collaboratively. Engage existing users in this process to grow the wiki organically. Focus on and demonstrate the uses/benefits of wikis’ use for everyday work (with knowledge collection being a by-product of wiki usage rather than an end in itself).

8. Allow people time to develop their skills with the wiki and gradually move them away from use of inefficient tools by constantly and subtly promoting its use (e.g. through moving tasks/information onto the wiki, sending people links/referring people to wiki pages and involving people in projects using wikis). However, support different communication styles and recognise that using a wiki may not be suitable in certain circumstances.

9. Encourage user delegation, and rotation of, a wiki gardening role to people within their respective communities of practice, whilst developing more dispersed habitual gardening practices amongst users.

10. Be alert to how people are using the wiki and seek feedback continuously to learn how people can best be supported in their work. Ensure that any measures used during the evaluation process are aligned with the needs which are driving the implementation. Assess/refine the implementation goals, process and wiki itself even if that means relying on soft data.


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