I was curious to discover whether wikis are acting as more than just a technology enabler for information dissemination within organisations, and if they could serve a deeper function of facilitating changes to culture and stimulating organisational learning practices.
Consequently, I asked survey repondents and interviewees (i) what factors facilitate collaboration in the company, and (ii) whether those factors were prerequisites for successful wiki implementations or if wikis could be used as a means to develop better collaborative work practices. Common threads throughout the responses to (i) highlighted the need for organization-wide communications, access to/sharing of information/knowledge and a willingness to contribute/collaborate. In respect of (ii) views diverged. Some interviewees considered that, whilst wikis can provide a solution to the problem of locating information, they simply support existing information sharing/communication practices, since politics and cultural issues often hinder wiki usage. However, others considered that wikis encourage transparency by “questioning how people are thinking” and “can be used to increase awareness of people’s contribution to the workplace”.
Ross Mayfield of SocialText concurred with the latter view stating that “the best thing a wiki can do is to make transparent an existing culture. It can change culture overtime but if you try to introduce it into a controlling environment too quickly the entire notion of it will get slapped down”. That emphasizes the importance of ‘managing’ wikis’ incremental implementation so as to build towards a supportive user-community.
I also asked survey respondents to characterize their companies before and after the wiki implementation based on factors derived from the literature review. The overall picture is one of change towards ‘learning organisation’ characteristics (even if only slight in some areas). The greatest shifts occurred in relation to the level of information flows and new ideas being sought/tried, and people’s willingness to help one another carry out work. These changes appear to have occurred in a relatively short timeframe, with 47% of wiki installations being under a year-old. Most respondents considered that the wiki implementation has a minor (27.72%) to moderate (30.69%) impact in shaping companies’ characteristics.
Furthermore, the apparent benefits to be gained from wiki implementations in relatively short periods seem to have rather modest barriers/disadvantages, where survey respondents considered time to contribute (11.67% of responses), and reliance on email (11.67%) to be more significant barriers to wiki usage than culture (9.05%) and lack of managerial support (7.14%). That maybe partly attributable to the climate of openness and trust, and other learning characteristics, which organisations were considered to possess prior to the wiki implementation.
Consequently, the evidence suggests that wikis have improved organisational information flow, enabled people to work/communicate more efficiently and effectively, learn from past experience and share knowledge/ideas, in organizational contexts which are not averse to collaboration and learning. Accordingly, wikis have provided platforms for collaborative and emergent behaviour, which could not satisfactorily proceed through existing technology.
Time will tell whether the reported changes in certain organizational learning characteristics continue to grow and become more pronounced as wikis mature. Certainly, the level of grassroots’ implementations, facilitation and organic growth, illustrate instances of people at operational levels challenging mindsets regarding work practices and the utility of existing systems, experimenting with new solutions and adopting individual/team practices (including peer-to-peer learning) conducive to double-loop learning.
To grow this behaviour across the company and tap people’s “massive undeveloped potential” (Moss-Jones (2005)), management must be more alert to those initiatives and address barriers which inhibit wiki use. To that end, undertaking activities proposed in the wiki management cycle offers managers opportunities to engage in organizational learning practices and develop corresponding capabilities.
So, whilst there is much more to organizational learning and much more than can be supported by wikis alone, I think their use/management maybe informed by practices associated with the ‘learning organisation’ which in turn may facilitate changes to culture and stimulate organisational learning practices, making wikis more than a mere technological enabler for wider information dissemination.