How to Create a Wiki
Setting up a Collaborative Online Workspace
Does your team actively capture and build business knowledge? And, do you have a system for sharing evolving practices and procedures? If not, it may be time to consider using a wiki to aid collaboration.
What Is a Wiki?
"Wiki" is a Hawaiian term that means "quick." A computer-based wiki is a type of content management system that allows a community of people to add, edit, structure, and delete content held in a central location.
The largest and most successful example of a wiki is the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia®. The content in Wikipedia is contributed entirely by volunteers, and the website is largely maintained and edited by volunteers, too.
Wikipedia allows anyone to contribute to the site. If you're signed in, you can click "Edit" in the top right hand corner of almost any Wikipedia article to alter the information on the page, or you can add new articles of your own. (But bear in mind that other people will be able to edit your contributions, too.)
Wikipedia is so successful that, at the time of writing, it is the sixth most popular website in the world. It boasts 530 million readers each month, and it has more than 30 million articles, written in 287 languages.
When to Use a Wiki
The first wiki was created by a computer programmer called Howard G. "Ward" Cunningham in 1995. His goal was to create a place where software developers could record and share chunks of code. This is what a wiki does best: it allows multiple people to collaborate and create content around a specific purpose or idea.
Wikis are ideal for building up a "big picture" based on multiple perspectives, and for capturing information that is evolving or still being agreed. They make it easy for teams – especially virtual teams – to collaborate on projects, share notes and ideas, and contribute resources.
You can use a wiki to share notes and compare thoughts about a recent meeting or training session. And, where several authors are working on a single document, a wiki will aid version control by ensuring that they always have the latest edit.
Be selective about how and where you use wikis, however. They are not suitable for capturing conversations, or for sharing definitive information that should not be edited, such as formal procedures or records. If you need a knowledge management strategy for collecting important information from retiring experts, for example, it might be better to use a blog, or a set of static web pages. (You could link to these from your wiki.)
Other technologies such as email, blogs, message boards, and databases also have their place in knowledge management. See The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management for a useful assessment of the pros and cons of different technologies.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that technology can only capture explicit knowledge – information that is easy to write down and capture. A lot of business knowledge is subjective and difficult to articulate, which is why practices like shadowing and mentoring are so useful.
See our article on Knowledge Management for information on other ways to curate knowledge in your business.
Creating a Wiki for Your Team
Follow the steps below to set up a wiki for your team.
Step 1: Establish a Need
First, make sure that a wiki is the best tool for your needs. Look carefully at your document, project, and overall aims, and consider these questions:
- Will this project involve multiple people?
- Will the team or organization benefit from making this information accessible to others?
- Will you need to use or share this information in the future?
- Is this an evolving or a static document? (A wiki is not suitable for static documents.)
If it's difficult to state what you want to accomplish with a wiki or how your team will benefit from its use, then you may not need one.
Step 2: Conduct a Risk Analysis
Before moving forwards, conduct a risk analysis to make sure that the information you store on the wiki will be secure.
Different software programs will have different levels of security. Research your options thoroughly, and ask your organization's IT department for their recommendations on the platform you should use.
Step 3: Set up the Wiki
Some organizations provide wiki hosting, software, and templates for a fee. These paid services, like Central Desktop® and Same Page®, provide the tools and templates you need to get started. They can also work with your organization to deploy and maintain the wiki.
When choosing between a free or paid service, think about why you need this wiki, how many people will potentially be involved, how much time you can devote to setting it up and maintaining it, and the level of security you need. You can use a site like WikiMatrix® to compare your options and find a wiki that best meets your needs.
If you want to host a private wiki on your organization's intranet, you can choose a wiki software or application package. Some of this software, like TikiWiki®, is free. Other applications, like Twiki®, charge a one-time fee for download.
Once you have set your wiki up, invite a small number of users to test its usability and readability. Ask for feedback, and take action on their suggestions, if appropriate. Testing the wiki's usability before it goes live will help you ensure that the wiki is a success.
Step 4: Achieve Buy-In
While people who are familiar with wikis often participate with enthusiasm, newcomers may be wary of editing a document that someone else has created, or they may be put off by the "markup code" used for formatting.
The wiki will be less effective if team members are reluctant to join in, so it's worth investing time and energy into achieving buy-in from the whole group.
Conduct a stakeholder analysis to identify who has the biggest stake in the approach. Work on winning these people over first: influential early adopters can lead by example with the rest of your team.
Explain what a wiki is, and how the team will benefit from using one. Emphasize the fact that the wiki tracks the history of each edit, so nobody's work will be lost if someone deletes it accidentally.
Set up a demonstration, and encourage everyone to "get their hands dirty."
Step 5: Invest in Training
Some people on your team will be eager and knowledgeable enough to start using your wiki right away, while others will need training to feel comfortable.
Most people will benefit from hands-on, active training, while they learn about the wiki. Provide a cheat sheet of markup characters to help individuals format text. Give support to individuals while they write and edit a "practice" wiki, and continue to emphasize the purpose of the wiki and the benefits that people will get from it.
Step 6: Keep the Wiki Up-to-Date
Since a wiki is a "live" document, it needs to be maintained. Encourage team members to take ownership of the wiki and keep it up-to-date themselves. You may wish to use a software plugin that rewards users with points each time they add to or edit the wiki. Alternatively, come up with your own rewards for active contributors.
Consider appointing one person as curator, or "gardener," of the wiki. A dedicated curator will cull irrelevant information, help users put information in the right place, and ensure that no conflicts develop between team members who edit one-another's work.
Some people may continue to resist using the wiki by falling back on more familiar tools (like email) to share information. This undermines the efficacy of the wiki, because it limits knowledge-sharing to those people on the recipient list.
Work at changing people's habits by consistently reminding them to add information to the wiki, rather than sending it through email or IM. Then, watch your wiki flourish and grow.
A wiki is a website that allows you and your team to share information and ideas, organize group work, and collaborate on projects. Anyone with permission to access the site can contribute to, and edit, the wiki.
To create a wiki for your team, follow these six steps:
Step 1: Establish a need.
Step 2: Conduct a risk analysis.
Step 3: Set the wiki up.
Step 4: Achieve buy-in.
Step 5: Invest in training.
Step 6: Keep the wiki up-to-date.
Wikis are "live" documents, and they need to be maintained. Appoint a curator to take care of the wiki and ensure that others are updating it. This will extend the useful lifespan of the wiki by keeping the information up-to-date, relevant, and well-ordered.
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