A wiki is a website that allows staff, or members of a community of practice, to edit, add and delete content. A wiki can be an excellent platform for a Knowledge Asset.
These collaborative tools initially found favour among groups that were jointly creating complex documents such as standards and manuals. However, as the technology has evolved, and the ease of use of the wiki sites increased, they have started to be used to retain best practice in a form that allows it to be annotated by others. For example, engineers in one manufacturing company are using a wiki to store and share knowledge about the operation and maintenance of conveyor belts. In another example, an oil company is using the knowledge of experienced operators to build a wiki on the subject of bitumen production. Bitumen production is a tricky process, which requires considerable operator experience. This latter wiki is being updated from the results of learning interviews.
Shell make extensive use of a wiki as a corporate knowledge base. The Shell wiki was launched in 2006, to provide access to operational business know-how as well as general knowledge on the Shell organisation, and to make available training material from the Shell University. The content of the wiki was originally created by subject matter experts, but the articles are open to comment by readers, and will be updated if these comments identify new lessons or other process improvements. A good way of getting started with wikis is to put the current practice, or the current 'way of doing something', onto the site, and ask staff to contribute their experience and ideas on how to improve it. Through this process, it is possible to tap rapidly into a wide range of experience. Once the experiences have been shared and best practice developed, this should be taken off the wiki site and put somewhere more permanent.
Wikis are often assumed to involve informal, bottom-up technology, designed to draw on the wisdom of crowds. The often quoted example is Wikipedia, with no formal content-ownership roles (though the editorial roles are becoming far stronger), with voluntary ad hoc submission, and with edits by the readership. However, the major drawback of the Wikipedia model is that it requires a huge user base. There is a much-published rule applied to voluntary wikis, the 1:9:90 rule. This states that for any one wiki, the majority of content will come from 1 per cent of the user base; a further 9 per cent will add some, more minor, content; and 90 per cent of users will never contribute at all. The wiki, under this model, taps a tiny percentage of the company knowledge.
Successful wikis in commercial firms or public sector organisations use a different approach, ensuring that each wiki is part of a Knowledge Management Framework, with clear roles, ownership and accountabilities, with clear processes for updating and "feeding" the wiki, and with clear governance structures.