Thursday 16 January 2014

Wikis in the Military - lions led by lions?

Wikis are a cornerstone element of many Knowledge Management frameworks - think of Shell, Pfizer, ConocoPhillips. This really interesting post from Nancy Dixon reminds us that Wikis have their place in Military learning systems too.

Nancy explains how the US Army are using an open Wiki to host Army Doctrine - an amazing turnaround for an organisation where Doctrine has historically been tightly controlled and rigorously policed. Nancy describes the use of Wikithons to update 600 selected field manuals, where the leadership of the Army have realised that the necessary knowledge lies not in the centre, and not in the training department, but with the troops in the field.

The knowledge in these manuals is tactical, rather than strategic, and the best people to comment were the people implementing the tactics.

However rather than opening the wiki and "hoping that people will contribute", the Army put some process around the wiki preparation. Nancy calls it "Kaizen events", but there is more than a hint of Wikithon in there as well. As Nancy describes

In a nearby room Soldiers were busy putting the manuals up on the wiki – the idea being, we won’t really know what the problems are until we start using the wiki. General Dempsey dubbed these first  [field manuals] as a pilot, to give everyone the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes as they went along. 
The beauty of not having a perfect plan is that you don’t have to stick to it - it can change as you learn. The second Kaizen event, with another group of Proponents, occurred three weeks later and at the end of that event there were 16 ATTPs [on the wiki]. 
The question remained, at the end of Nancy's post, what would happen in practice in terms of keeping the wiki up to date.  However the exciting part was how quickly this wiki was populated - within a few weeks of the decision. This was down to decisive leadership, a group of change agents in HQ and TRADOC, and a simple collaborative process.

Some of you may remember the description of the First World War military organisation as "Lions led by Donkeys" - brave soldiers in the trenches trying to apply tactics determined by Officers in HQ, whose concept of warfare was outdated and inappropriate.

If there had been wikis in 1914, perhaps the Lions could had led themselves.

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