How to Create a Wiki
Collecting and Sharing Knowledge at Work
Almost every organization needs to gather institutional knowledge, collate material from multiple sources, and share experiences and insights. And many companies achieve this by using wikis – web pages that can be worked on by multiple users.
But are wikis the best way to keep your information accessible and up-to-date? With a vast array of data-management and communication products now available, businesses have to choose their tools carefully. Wikis have moved on, too, giving organizations fresh options and new decisions to make.
In this article, we explore whether a wiki is the right way for you to collect and use information. If it is, we explain how to set up your wiki, and how to start using it effectively where you work.
What Is a Wiki?
A wiki is a website or online resource that can be edited by multiple users. Some wikis, such as Wikipedia, are publicly accessible. Others are used by organizations to manage information in-house, enabling teams to easily share knowledge and work together more effectively.
The Advantages of Wikis
In the right circumstances, a wiki can be a very efficient way to gather and distribute information. It can improve collaboration among team members who need to refer to, or work on, the same material. Anyone with the necessary editing rights can add ideas and observations as they occur, often in response to other people's updates.
Because they're online, wikis can make it easier for teams – especially virtual teams – to cooperate on tasks, share notes and suggestions, and contribute resources. Where several authors are updating the same piece of work, a wiki can aid version control, as it's always clear which version is the most recent.
Wikis can be set up temporarily, to support discrete projects, or developed over the longer term as ever-evolving archives of organizational knowledge.
The flexible structure of wikis allows them to adapt as the information itself changes. Plus, by keeping a record of each step, edit by edit, wikis show how a project, an area of knowledge, or even a whole organization develops over time.
The Disadvantages of Wikis
However, in other situations, some of these potential benefits can, in fact, become problems.
When you let multiple users alter important information, inaccuracies can appear. Shared pages can quickly become cluttered and hard to navigate. And if people disagree about key points, conflict can arise – and be played out in public!
Wikis aren't usually the best way to share definitive information that should not be edited, such as formal procedures or records. In these cases, consider using static web pages, databases, or other techniques and tools. You can still link to these from your wiki if you wish.
Wikis are not ideal for capturing conversations, either. Communication platforms such as Slack, Teams and Asana can give your team members safer and more sophisticated spaces for discussion and debate.
Even if you do decide to use a wiki, there are many different types, so you'll need to select wisely in order to reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls. And the first question to ask is: do you need to create a wiki at all?
Establish Your Need for a Wiki
Before building any type of wiki, it's important to ask what business problem you'll solve by doing so. What are the benefits of sharing knowledge in this way?
Perhaps you've identified the need for an accurate and up-to-date collection of team-building activities. If you gather these in a wiki, people in different departments will be able to add their own resources and share their ideas.
If you're setting up a new project, a wiki might help your team to organize key documents, and add comments to them for others to discuss.
Or maybe you've noticed that important information about your company's culture and heritage is being lost when people leave. With a wiki, everyone could contribute to a collection of knowledge that would remain in place even after they themselves had moved on.
You'll likely get the most value from a wiki if the following points apply:
- You're trying to build up a "big picture" based on multiple perspectives.
- You want to capture information that's evolving or still being agreed.
- Everyone on the team needs to see all the knowledge gathered so far.
- There's value in creating links to other information, either internal or external.
- It's helpful to see all the writing and editing steps that have led to this point.
- It won't be disastrous if errors appear, because they'll quickly be spotted and fixed.
If not enough of these factors apply, or if you have difficulty stating how a wiki would benefit you, it's likely the wrong approach. What's more, if you already have effective ways to store, edit and communicate all the material you work with, a wiki may be more trouble than it's worth!
Creating a Wiki
If you've decided that a wiki is the right way to go, here's how to get one up and running:
1. Choose Your Technology
Your organization may already have the technology that you need to create a wiki. With SharePoint in Office 365, you can easily set up wikis and make them available to others. And there are add-ons to Google Docs, such as YouNeedAWiki, that let you design and share wikis with your team. Or, your current intranet may allow you to post information that others can adapt.
If you can use existing tools like these, you'll save time and effort, and reduce the need to train others.
If you decide to bring in new technology, there are both free and paid-for options. Some systems allow you to design your own wiki in full, while others provide templates or can even produce the "foundation" wiki pages for you.
Some products, such as Tettra, give you additional control over users' access. People can be given responsibility for particular areas of the wiki, and alerted when anyone else wants to make a change. Some also offer enhanced search and analytics tools, which will likely be increasingly important as your wiki develops.
Many organizations are using systems like these to redefine their approach to wikis. While still allowing multiple users to contribute and collaborate, they also put more controls in place over how and when information is changed. In addition, they can be connected to other work-management tools.
As a result, wikis can be used to manage high-value, company-wide knowledge and sometimes even opened up to people outside the host organization.
2. Set Up Controls
When you create a wiki, carefully consider the levels of security it will require, and whether you need to put any of your own rules in place. Pay particular attention to data security, and liaise with your IT department to ensure that anything you set up complies with company policies and national laws.
Decide who should have access to read and edit your wiki, and how much you want them to be able to do. Other controls will likely be in the form of "rules for use." Maybe there are particular style points that you want users to stick to, or other important guidelines about how they should edit their own or other people's work.
Whatever technology you use for your wiki, make sure that you know who's in charge. Appoint curators for the whole wiki or just for particular parts. They can help by culling irrelevant material, and by guiding people to put their information in the right place.
This should also reduce the risk of conflicts developing between team members as they edit each other's work (known as "edit warring"). Curators can decide if and when posts appear, and whether certain discussions need to be held offline.
3. Start Writing
Writing in a wiki is different from other forms of communication, because your initial work will be changed – possibly many times, by many different authors.
So, when you start, establish the structure and style you want, but expect the content to be adapted over time. Organize and express your information as clearly as you can – this enables others to understand it easily, and to contribute effectively.
Before making your wiki live, get some feedback. Is its purpose clear? Is the content understandable and accurate? Is it obvious how other people should take it forward?
It's also a good idea to get someone else to road test your wiki. See if they can access it as you intended, and check that any changes they make appear as expected.
4. Begin Collaborating
When you're happy with the way your wiki looks, and how it works, it's time to get other people involved.
But don't just tell them how to use the wiki – also explain why it's a good idea. Emphasize the benefits of keeping information relevant and accurate. Explain that an effective wiki will reflect different people's knowledge and experience, and that everyone will be able to access it wherever they're working.
Be sure to explain how each edit is recorded and displayed. And reassure people that mistakes can easily be corrected by reverting to earlier versions. This should help new wiki users to feel more comfortable about altering a shared document, particularly if it contains business-critical information.
For best results, wikis require effective collaboration and mutual respect – as well as an appropriate level of honest challenge between colleagues.
For this to happen, everyone needs to feel safe in offering their input, but be ready to have their contributions challenged. For more on creating the right environment for this, read our Expert Interview with Amy Edmondson, Why Psychological Safety Matters.
Some people may resist using the wiki and fall back on other familiar tools, such as email, to share information. This can make the wiki less effective, because it limits knowledge sharing, and stops the wiki being as rich and responsive as it could be.
Look for ways to change people's habits if necessary – not least by celebrating the impact of your wiki as it flourishes and grows.
Wikis are collaborative web pages. They can help you and your team to share institutional knowledge, discuss ideas, and work on projects together.
However, open-access wikis are not suitable for all forms of information. Many organizations prefer systems that take a more controlled approach.
Before creating any type of wiki, first establish a business need. Then work out exactly what you want your wiki to do, and choose the right technology to do it.
Address any security implications, and put in place clear rules for use.
Make sure that the "foundation" information you post is accurate and organized. Then ensure that all your people know how to use the wiki, so that it remains a safe and productive way to gather and share knowledge at work.
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