Government Making Good Use of Wikis

Ann All
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Not all organizations are finding the path to collaboration via wikis a smooth one. My employer, IT Business Edge, hasn't had much luck with wiki adoption, a struggle I wrote about last spring. However, the federal government appears to be making successful use of wikis, with the General Services Administration, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security among the agencies using them.


You can add the Coast Guard to the list of government entities using wikis. As detailed in Federal News Radio, the Coast Guard is collecting advice via a wiki for its Coast Guard Logistics Information Management System (CG-LIMS), a new logistics system that will support ships, aircraft and shore facilities. Said Captain Dan Taylor, the project manager for CG-LIMS:

We decided we needed to look beyond just what the program office, what the Coast Guard, could come up with and share the problem with industry.

This is the same approach being used with ExpertNet, a project that the federal government hopes will help it more easily locate experts to participate in policy discussions. As described in a Federal Computer Week article, ExpertNet will be used in conjunction with the Federal Register, an information-gathering tool the government has used since 1935. The government will pose questions on a wiki, in hopes that experts in those topics will respond.


Based on comments from experts interviewed by Federal Computer Week, ExpertNet's key challenge is the same one experienced by many other wikis: attracting users and keeping them engaged. The experts suggest keeping questions clear and brief and perhaps testing them with a small group of experts before posting on the public wiki. BetterBuy, the wiki maintained by the GSA, uses a format in which it poses basic questions to help folks find their areas of expertise, then drills down with more specific and detailed inquiries.


To keep the advice relevant and objective, experts say the feds may want to consider peer review of the advice that's offered and/or a ranking system in which other experts can vote on ideas submitted via the wiki.


The Coast Guard's Taylor says its wiki, which attracted 150 registered users in its first three months, is far more efficient than its previous method of information gathering, which mostly involved fielding questions via e-mail. According to Federal Computer Week, the Coast Guard must now determine whether it wants to continue using the wiki.

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