To Wiki or Not to Wiki, that's the question


Part of my work this year for the CTC VISTA Project is fostering some resource development among the VISTAs. This is new concept for a project that has mostly focused on just training, supporting, and placing capacity building VISTAs in community and technology centers. As Paul Hansen mentioned in his Project update article in the last Digest:

"It's because a more focused structure makes it much more feasible for us to provide substantive (priority area specific) support and training to the our VISTAs. And, in a tighter network of VISTAs, members are more likely to support each other in more general ways, as they face the challenges of VISTA service."

As a sometimes idealistic VISTA Leader, I see creating resources as just another way to support CTC VISTAs - to not only give the current VISTAs a chance to summarize and exhibit an aspect of their work but also capture that work for the next round.

Fellow VISTA Leader Ben Sheldon and I have been hashing out both the ideal ways for the VISTAs to collaborate, tempered by the practicality of VISTA life, such as limited time, varying technology skills, and motivation/value of the CTC VISTA network. It's a big challenge to build an active community and build the right tools to support it at the same time. So, we started informally polling VISTAs old and new, by phone, email, and at the MA area meeting. I appreciated all the responses, especially because they were honest and surprisingly in-depth.

The current blog system was created under the idea that VISTAs would have one point of entry to contribute content to the Project.  The problem with the blog is that it is traditionally a journal of a VISTAs tasks, impressions, and musings over time.  When we encourage people to blog once a month, the entries are often entered out of guilt, contain several different ideas or discussion points, and VISTAs don't got back to entries to update them if issues evolve.  Even with the addition of tagging, you still need to read through a month's work of reflection to find one idea.  Plus, blogs are still primarily a one-way / one-to-many communication tool or as Ross put it "communicating by publishing."  Unless people comment and the author responds, there's not any two-way collaboration on the ideas.

And these IDEAS is what I'm trying to harvest, chunk, and sort.

So, our newest idea is to create a wiki. I am a self confessed wiki skeptic. Yes, I use Wikipedia, and yes, I trust the content, but the wiki collaboration process seems very techie and wonky from the outside. Former VISTA Leader, Saul Baizman, created and maintained a wiki for the Project but he was primarily the only person who added anything to it, even among Project HQ staff.

BUT (there's always a but..), why do we think a wiki is possibly a good tool for our little resource gathering project? As usual, Tech Soup has a clairvoyant sense of what I'm wondering about as a community technologist: check out this article, Nonprofits Share Their Wiki Success Stories, by Brian Satterfield. First bit that struck me was the reference to a "wikimaster" - a sort of editor to oversee/maintain the wiki with a "big picture view." We've been talking at Project HQ that some central editor is going to be essential to keep the resource development hopping.

Second part that caught my eye was the case study of how Alzheimer Society of Ontario rolled out the use of their wiki. They introduced the wiki technology in person ("...the organization initially got the wiki off to a good start by getting major stakeholders excited about the technology"), then did in-person trainings, online documentation, and Quicktime movie tutorials.

Our idea is to create a mini-working model of how the wiki could work and do a focus group at the PSO in January with new and current VISTA to gauge their reactions to the tool. I'm hoping to work with Aliya and the other TANP VISTAs to do a survey in the coming months to get opinions as well.

Ben can speak more to the wiki technology options (Drupal module vs. Media Wiki vs. hopping into existing wiki site somewhere), but I'm curious as to how the CTC VISTA community at large feels about resource development and wikis as a tool.

ANY INPUT IS fact, more input is exactly what we're aiming for!