Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wiki's Wicked Ways

John William Waterhouse: Pandora (detail) - 1896

I became a wiki editor way back in the summer of 2006.  Now it wasn't Wikipedia that first caught my attention, but a small, "hobby" wiki open to anyone and everyone who was interested in that particular pastime.  It was clean, simple, easy to use & absolutely bursting with potential.

I loved it!

And so began my affair with "the wiki way".  I brought it into my GoC department, aided & abetted by a wonderful band of WikiElves who were as enamoured of it as I was.  Though it started as solution to a specific business requirement we KNEW it would grow to be so much more.  And so it did, but not without a lot of drama.

Having spent more than twenty years in the GoC, I really should have seen it coming.  After my first presentation to management one of the directors took me aside and told me that the wiki would be viewed as "subversive".  At the time, I thought this was an amusing comment but it became less so as the years went on.  Because here's the thing; collaboration, knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer are not part of the GoC culture and any attempt to shift in that direction is bound to be met with resistance.  This opposition views knowledge sharing in the same light as Eve eating the apple or Pandora opening the box, i.e. evil, wicked and the end of the world as we know it.

So when I come across discussions like "Let's give 'em something to talk about:" Discussions of GCpedia on the Internet or GCpedia: Will it be More Than a Place for Geeks in Government? I feel a strange compulsion to share my hard-earned two cents worth.   Here it goes ....

The opposition is going to use any excuse not to participate.  They are thrilled to talk about the shortcomings of MediaWiki, its lack of a WYSIWYG editor etc. etc. but it's all just a smokescreen, one that tech  people seem particularly blinded by.  Don't be fooled!  MediaWiki sans WYSIWYG editor works just fine for those interested in communicating, whether they be newbies or not.  Honestly, I've seen "little old ladies" take to a wiki in a matter of minutes because they saw value in it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for improving on the basics but keep in mind that there are some people that are never going to be satisfied.

Speaking of improvement, no matter how hard you try a wiki is never going to be capable of performing the "Vulcan Mind Meld" so it's a sure bet that institutional memory and knowledge is going to be lost.  It's just a question of how much and how fast.  Those public servants that are reluctant to share are certainly not going to be giving interviews to "wiki farmers" with the intent of transfering their thoughts into GCPEDIA.  Remember, it's the sharing that is the problem not the tool facilitating it.  On the other hand, those that find a wiki helpful in their day-to-day life can now embark on a relatively pain free path of knowledge management which, I suspect, will be more palatable in the form of departmental wikis as a first step towards the government wide GCPEIDA.

I do believe that GoC wikis are becoming less "wicked" over time.  Maybe I'm delusional but the signs are promising and I take comfort in the knowledge that  after all was said and done even Pandora still had Hope ;)


  1. Thanks Julie! I do believe the landscape is really changing. It will be great when we can look back on all of this and laugh about how "backwards" it all was.