3 stages that you go through when wikis come into your organisation

Flickr: Christchurch sunsetA wiki is just a website. Check out the wonderful 'Wikis in Plain English' YouTube vid for the low down.

Just like any other web site it displays (generally) a lot of text with a few pictures scattered about. It has some basic navigation and is linked to other pages so you can find your way through. But still, in essence, it's just a website.

So what's there to be afraid of? Well, it's a website with 3 main differences to your normal intranet*:
  1. Anyone (usually) can edit any page
  2. Linking to other pages is very VERY easy
  3. Navigation/structure is fluid
And so a wiki is also a website with an accessible/open to all Content Management System (CMS) that generates instantly publishable web pages. The power of content authorship moves from the few to the many.

This is scary.

This is, strangely, more scary for the 'many' than the 'few'. The 'few are so glad that they are no longer the bottleneck and that a truck load of work is lifted off their shoulders and they can get on with their real work such as designing stuff, generating top notch content and being writers not cut-n-pasters.

This is scary for a many reasons - when you talk to people you may hear one or more of the following:
  1. Who will control what is is published?
  2. Who will communicate changed information?
  3. Who will tell us where the words should go?
  4. What's to stop people putting up 'wrong' information?
  5. How will I stop people changing my content?
  6. How can we stop people putting 'graffiti' all over the page?
  7. How will I be able to navigate through the ever changing sea of information?
  8. ...
I believe that all of these fears stem from the change of responsibility. This change is, like most change, fraught with fear, uncertainty and concern for those experiencing and is likely to be a change that will, over time, have an affect on culture** that needs to be supported by an awful lot more than just technology. Just because you can does mean you'll be rewarded for doing.

I believe that staff in any organisation that are faced with the introduction of a Wiki go through the following 3 stages.

Stage 1: "They are responsible for it all"
In websites before Wikis there was a select few that had the power to update the words on them - the "they are responsible' world. In this world the normal staff member didn't have to worry about what was on the corporate website and/or the Intranet as this wasn't in their control. If the expense process described on the Intranet was wrong then hey, not my problem as I know how it should really work and I'll just ignore the Intranet and do it my way.


Stage 2: "Everyone else is responsible for everything"
With a Wiki the "they are responsible" excuse is removed. And when it's first removed there is a void ... if they're not responsible, then who is? Surely this means that anyone can change anything and no-one is responsible, hell this is anarchy in all it's fury and it's happening in my office on my watch.

This I call the, "collective responsibility means everyone else is responsible" world. If it's not a known and named person then it must be everyone else - and it heck, I'm certain that it will be everyone! Everyone will be editing every piece of information all the time. How will we control this constant flood of changing information - where is my rock of stability in all this?


Stage 3: "I am responsible for what I know"
The 'aha moment' comes when people realise that they can't, are not expected to and don't have the time to look after ALL the information. In fact they are probably readers of information 99.9% of the time and never have a call to click the 'edit' button.

A handful of people will be maintaining a select domain information such the HR man for your leave process, the Enterprise Architect lady telling you what development protocols to use, your fellow Scrum team members about the day-to-day project happenings. Mostly you just get on with your job of creating actual stuff (in my case successfully delivering the clients business outcomes through actual working software).

With the realisation that the scope is not 'everything' staff come to realise that they:
  1. Have a responsibility to right wrongs (from typos to incorrect facts)
  2. Have a right to grow the information quality and scope
The first is point is a newly given responsibility but is limited in scope to, "when you find it and you are sure you can correct it". This is new. It takes time to change from a "not my job" to a "I have a responsibility to correct it" - without the organisation culture supporting this change you may as well stick with a centralised hub for publishing information.

The second is a right (you are allowed) but not a "must". If you can enhance the information then go for it and the technology lets you but hey, you might not have the time, the confidence, the resources - the leave it alone.

If course if you are the HR man, the Enterprise Architect lady or a member of the Scrum project team then expectations on you to grow the information quality and scope may be a little higher.


I hope this helps those of you thinking about introducing Wikis into your organisations.

I leave you with one last thought - the biggest change a Wiki has on organisations is not normally at the user level (they go through the stages and survive) but on the IT Department as it is one more chip away at the 'control' they have grown to to love like a comfort blanket.
Fight the good fight


More "wikis at work" reading at:

* Intranet (websites that serve up information to staff members but not the general public) are the standard introductions of Wikis. If you think you can avoid this and try bring in a Wiki for another purpose you will very VERY quickly tread on the toes of your intranet because people like ONE place to go and a Wiki tends to have far more up to date content and so your intranet will be usurped. Be aware of the political fights that may ensue.

** I agree with Michael Sampson's assertion that The Implementation of Collaboration Tools Does Not Require a Change in Culture - it's the word 'require'. It can, and probably will, have an effect upon the culture of the place and vice versa but it's not a given that the culture is required to change.

Comments

  1. The 3 stages of CMS: Boris Mann of Raincity Studios made a presentation on mid-February that just got posted on DigitalAssetManagementOrgUK (lots of nice educational links there, and some tools), and it does set out very clearly some principles and ideas, aimed at independent web developers, that are not just right but (for me) becoming articles of faith. It’s about the evolution of web sites into complex interconnected bits, and how best to make them. Sage, too.

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  2. Thanks for that Mr D.R.E. Portal (strange name but when written thus quite cool) - will check it out right now [... waits ...] ooh, good link, thanks

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