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March Canberra WIPA/WSG meeting

The March Canberra WIPA/WSG meeting was held yesterday at the National Library of Australia, covering topics of wikis and collaboration.

GovDex: a tool to support collaboration across government agencies

The first speaker was Brian Stonebridge from the Department of Finance and Deregulation, who talked about GovDex. GovDex is a resource developed by government agencies to promote interoperability and collaboration within Government. It provides governance, tools, methods and re-usable technical components that government agencies can use to when developing information services. GovDex can be used by all levels of Government (federal, state and local) and provides the facility to have private and public sites. Most GovDex sites are currently private.

GovDex is currently secured to IN-CONFIDENCE level of security, with PROTECTED security planned for GovDex 2. GovDex is built on the Confluence platform.

Brian and his team member Rita provided some examples of the use of GoxDex. One was the Five Nationals Collaboration Workspace, which provides collaboration for meetings between five Governments around the world. Another example is the Australian Government ICT Standards Interest Group, which is used to establish the Australian Government position on OOXML (a hot topic!).

Kate from the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts also presented a GovDex site that they’re currently using for incoming Graduates for both DEWHA and Department of Climate Change. The site is used to keep in touch with the incoming Graduates who are often spread around Australia (I reckon that there are quite a few overseas enjoying a holiday before starting work!). The site provides information about Canberra, the Department, HR information, training information etc. She provided a lot of positive feedback about GovDex but also mentioned that the uptake hasn’t been as good as expected.

If you’re wondering why there hasn’t been any big announcements of GovDex, the reason is that the Department of Finance and Deregulation has done a soft launch rather than take a big bang approach. They’re still checking for scalability issues and ironing out some usability issues with the user interface. What I found particularly interesting was Brian’s comment that he expects to see a bigger uptake of collaboration tools under our new Government. It’s interesting to see the influence of culture from top down when it comes to collaborating within and between agencies and departments. It might still take a while for it to filter across federal Government but it’s definitely encouraging.

Wikis at work

The next speaker was Michele Huston, the Director of Web Publishing at the National Library of Australia. She presented a case study on the implementation of wikis at the NLA. Michele stated that libraries, rather than being as starting point for information access like it was in the days before this prevalent use of the internet, are now just one of many nodes of information. This results in exploring new ways of managing knowledge. Hence the interest in wikis as a new way of managing information.

Wikis in the NLA have been in existence for about two years although it’s picked up a lot more popularity through out the Library over the past year. They are also using Confluence as the technological platform which had features additional to the ‘standard wiki’, such as access control, a WYSIWYG (which was a key requirement from NLA) and the ability to post news items. The wiki started with two projects and was exposed to the rest of the Library via one particular project.

Library users liked the wikis and have been using it across a range of things including IT documentation, rosters, processes etc. They liked the flexibility, freedom and trust that came with a wiki. It’s not all roses though. There are some issues with the user interface, scalability, and the wiki also provides another spot to store documents. In addition, the same elements (flexibility, freedom and trust) that they liked were also the same elements that they didn’t like due to the feelings of uncertainty of some users. Michele also mentioned that what hasn’t worked is archiving of documents and publishing workflows.

What I found really interesting is the culture of trust within the NLA. There wasn’t much governance around wikis. All staff can request a wiki and all staff can edit any of the wikis. Michele has found that staff were more comfortable exploring, creating content and making edits in their own wiki space, rather than one big overall organisational wiki. She has also found that no matter how messy the content may look, staff do go back to clean it up later on

So is it a success? Michele states that it depends upon how you define success. They currently have 88 wikis which have been implemented over the past two years. The take-up within the organisation has been great. To me, it definitely sounds like a success.

Trust

So the question is whether a wiki will work in your organisation. There are many factors that will influence the success of wikis within the workspace but one of the key ones for me is trust. For wikis to work, you need to trust your staff. This is often much harder in the Government space but as long as you trust your staff to do the right thing (i.e. treat your staff like adults), this will go a long way in fostering a collaborative working environment.

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