Submissions/Wikis across government agencies

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This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no. 734
Title of the submission
Wikis across government agencies
Scheduled Time
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
Author of the submission
Peter B. Meyer
E-mail address
Country of origin
United States
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

This presentation describes some of the wikis through which government workers can combine their knowledge and work together between and across organizations. The presentation envisions growth in this activity in the future.

The main examples come from the U.S. federal (national) government: the Intellipedia, Diplopedia, and OMB’s MAX. Other U.S. examples include DoDTechipedia, OSHApedia, and Statipedia. Canada’s GCPedia, Britain’s CivilMedia Suite, and many others. Most of these are organizational or "enterprise"-type wikis, not accessible to the public, so government workers can write relatively freely. In other cases, governments or government-like institutions have public wikis, such as the OECD’s WikiProgress and Eurostat’s Statistics Explained. Screen shots from most of these are available. Most of these are described in public sources, and I have talked with people running or using them.

These wikis are used sometimes to build global knowledge bases, sometimes for particular projects or tasks, and sometimes as personal workspaces or social networks. A “knowledge base” might have technical definitions, institutional definitions (which can be complicated), institutional history, procedures, advice, and draft answers to questions from outside the organization; these can be viewed across the organization. Systems that are more project-oriented sometimes use more granular security systems with more definitions of user rights and privileges.

MediaWiki and/or Confluence software runs most of the platforms in this category that I have seen. Users are identified by their username, and behave professionally. Conflicts on-wiki, and intellectual property issues seem to be minimal. On some platforms users mainly upload documents to the platform – using it as a repository – rather than editing wiki-text which is fragmentary, multi-authored and more searchable.

These platforms often run as cloud services and are associated with other such tools (often open source ones), and are thus likely to be able to expand and improve easily in the near future, and could rise in importance. Broadly there will be ways to do better: easier login, wider availability, easier editing. Coming systems of identification associated with OMB’s login or with identification cards may make this easier in the U.S. federal government.

It can be hard to get a new system authorized. Often wikis are justified with a rhetoric of "shared information" or "open government" and carefully framed examples. One vision is that such wikis will help achieve transparency or translucency in achieving public objectives with public resources. A successful vision for Intellipedia was that networked dangers and opportunities in the intelligence world call for networked responses. (Andrus, 2005) Diplopedia is explained as documenting and disseminating practices through a wiki. MAX's central defining activity was sharing budget information within authorized groups. In my observation it seems to be less common or less successful to depict these platforms as if they were intended to free government workers from constraints (e.g. administrative or software constraints), or from information silos, or to help them learn or adopt wiser practices, or to review the practices of others, or to operate flexibly in emergencies. These are sometimes underlying objectives, and can be discussed on the grounds of efficiency and cost and information-sharing broadly -- the economics-of-information arguments are similar.

In a more wikified government, one could think of employees as associated with large wikis (knowledge pools) to which they have access. That structure is simpler than their many intricate and specific organizations, tasks, power relations, detailed authorizing legislation, or occupations. On wikis the work of particular employees, and perhaps their opinions, can be more visible across organizations. Specialists and their work can be more discoverable and have broader effect.

The new platforms should make it easier to find opportunities for open-source practices – that is, copying and reusing practices, procedures, source code, and so forth. Metrics and examples of such successes are not always widely available. Explicit cooperation with Wikipedia and Wikipedians does not yet seem to be common but there are examples.

Wikis and the Public Sector
Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
Special request as to time of presentations
Presentation scheduled for Friday July 13 at 9am
Final sides actually presented

See also

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  1. Yaron Koren (talk) 23:44, 30 March 2012 (UTC)
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