Wikis Help Government Agencies Address Pain Points

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Ann's Tips for Improving Wiki Adoption

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Earlier today I wrote a post about how many government agencies struggle with the idea of Government 2.0 because of an organizational culture that prizes insularity and ingrained practices over innovation.


There are, however, some notable examples of agencies that are forging ahead with Government 2.0 projects. The General Services Administration (GSA), for example, is piloting a website called BetterBuy that includes a wiki through which vendors can provide feedback on the government procurement process and offer suggestions for improvement. Speaking at a recent Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for assisted acquisition services at the GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said the site's usefulness appears to have overcome initial user reluctance to use it.


The GSA was wise to select an obvious pain point like procurement. I always say technology is most effective when it's used to streamline procedures that are unwieldy and/or just downright unpleasant. That's why self-checkouts have been so successful. Faced with the prospect of a long line at the grocery store with a surly clerk at the end of it, I'll take the self-service option every time. In an InformationWeek article, Davie admits the procurement process "tends to be complex, confusing and is quite challenging with the stuff that we're buying."


Among current uses of the site, the GSA is using the wiki to gather ideas to help it determine the best way to move its e-mail to the cloud.


The wiki has been a popular 2.0 tool among government agencies. Last August the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Center said it would use a wiki to encourage collaboration among federal agencies on cyber security. Google designed a customized Wikipedia-like system called Intellipedia that allows 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to share information.


The State Department rolled out a wiki called Diplopedia to help Foreign Service Officers swap information. As an Ars Technica article explains, the globe-trotting officers are expected to come up to speed quickly as they move from post to post. More than 10,000 articles have been contributed in the 3 1/2 years since its launch and daily visits have grown by more than 300 percent over the past two years, peaking in the period following the earthquake in Haiti when it was used to recruit task forces to support U.S. relief efforts. In a new paper describing the project, one of the project leads wrote:

In the past, staff and appointees who are regularly changing assignments could take anywhere from six months to one year to learn some of the basic information on their new city or country. With Diplopedia, a lot of the information that would need to be learned firsthand or by making numerous phone calls is now available online with a simple search.