ILRIComms / Knowledge and Information / Social media

Using ILRI wikis to communicate, collaborate and co-evolve

There are many social media out there – as the social media guide that we developed in 2012 shows. Each plays a specific role.

And among social media, wikis play a very special role. Because they might just be the most important tools to collaborate online. But that is something that we already knew, at least since this video was released in 2007.

Wikis are indeed great tools for teams to:

  • Connect;
  • Collect resources;
  • Develop ideas and documents together;

At ILRI, we have been using wikis since at least 2009 and they have been used extensively in projects such as the Nile Basin Development Challenge, Africa RISING, and the Livestock and Fish research program.

They are used as semi-internal communication and collaboration support tools for projects (the content is normally open to view). Staff share all sorts of interim documents and the wiki helps track people and activities and events. Especially for events, we use them for planning and agenda setting massively reducing email traffic. We also have a wiki for each ILRI main campus, containing basic information useful for visitors that can be sent in advance of a meeting.

Though they have some basic project nformation, our project wikis are not normally ‘the’ web site for a project, though they usually cross-link (example). Though they contain documents and other products, they are also not intended to be the final document repositories for a project (we use CGSpace for this purpose).

We also develop wikis to coordinate activities and document conversations related to specific events such as: The Africa Innovations Systems in Africa event and the two knowledge management and communications for CGIAR research programs workshops etc. (see also the list of events here).

Behind the scenes, we also use the same wikis, but restricted access, to support some of our management and governance teams.

A place for ‘everything comms’

But we have also developed a special wiki: the ILRI Comms wiki.

This is used by all ILRI communications and KM staff as a way to document our practice, to share ‘frequently asked questions‘ about various things we do (and who does them); link to standard logos and templates; keep track of standard tags and categories; list all our websites, blogs, wikis; document our practices in using various social media (e.g. Slideshare, podcasts) or planning events

Over time the ILRI comms wiki has become a great place to plan and document our events, also to document our plans and priorities for the year, ways to improve internal communication etc.

So, wikis can actually be great ways to do much more than was originally thought, as they help you:

  • Connect;
  • Collect and curate resources;
  • Develop ideas and documents together;
  • Document and keep track of important team activities and results;
  • Document and reflect on our practices;
  • Plan, organize and document important events;
  • Link to all other information repositories;
  • work ‘out loud across teams and more widely;
  • Co-evolve around the signals and opportunities we perceive.

The next challenges?

For our ILRI comms team, the main challenge is to keep all our key pages up-to-date in a time of fast and regular change. This is especially tru of the ‘reference’ pages of our own wikis; and encouraging and mobilizing research colleagues do to the same for their pages.  Many wikis, for a specific event for instance, are now static and serve as an archive or repository.

For general use of wikis within ILRI, we need to continually raise awareness on their use (we include them in our face to face ‘komms clinics’, staff induction events, and informal training and coaching). We also need to find dedicated processes (and people) to keep them useful, up-to-date and used.

In practice, some wikis are more used than others, it largely depends on the different dynamics in teams and of individuals. When a project leader or event manager decides to really use a wiki, we see higher uptake rates than when communications people ‘push’ them.

But the fact that wikis are now part of a typical ‘project communications package’ (example) is a good sign …

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