06 Everyone loves Wikipedia

Posted on May 28, 2008 by

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Yet hardly anyone realises that potential of the underlying (wiki[i] software for streamlining paperwork in an MFA and significantly improving the efficiency of the archiving system.

‘Wiki’ software essentially allows for the organic creation of ‘meta-narratives’, which allow for a symmetric freedom: the writer(s) are not constrained in the detail they may wish to introduce in the narrative, and the reader is not constrained by the need to wade through the detail.

What are key elements of the ‘wiki’ software?

(1) It can grow organically from a basic text. The ‘top layer’ is a simple text (that can itself be edited, or added on, under defined circumstances) that itself can evolve over time. Layers and layers of underlying details are hyper-linked to it in a structured way and can be easily retrieved from the ‘top layer’ narrative, enriching it as required by the reader. The number of layers and the number of links is essentially endless. Stand-alone documents, photos as well as web links can be incorporated. Flexibility is retained, as the all levels within the narrative can be changed to suit the evolving situation. The construction of a ‘wiki’based text is not done in linear fashion, but intuitively to accommodate the idiosycrasies of the participants.

(2) It is run by multiple editors. Many editors can enrich the text – from set pieces to small remarks. This is either done in democratic fashion (through interaction and reciprocity), or under general supervision (eventual inclusion is authorised by the supervisor). This ensures the emergence of different points of view, as well as recording of detail that may have escaped the ‘authorised’ reporter in the ‘stand-alone’ mode. Authorship is traceable, and entries can be challenged (under specified rules).

Ministries now store files and documents electronically. They may obtain multiple labels in their archives. Conceptually, however, these documents all remain ‘stand-alone’ items linked together only by the fact of the reference number(s). They are not merged into a common ‘meta’-narrative. Reconstructing the narrative becomes a complex, repetitive, cumbersome, and in the end thankless task. Items may be overlooked, and forgotten. The ‘stand-alone’ approach, furthermore, is by its very nature selective and reductive. Disjoined information, the telling anecdote or reflection, is lost as a sole document is created.

Lets make the example of the meta-narrative: ‘negotiation of an FTA’. The ‘top-level’ narrative would refer to key events like the mandate, list all major meetings, provide the current draft of an agreement, and list the main open issues. Such a text would represent a brief to the Minister on the current stand of the negotiation.

§ Under the key word ‘mandate’ one would find in an orderly fashion the internal preparatory work;

§ Under the key word ‘meeting’ one would find the reports of the negotions.

§ Under the key word ‘draft’ one would find article by article the current stand as well as the historical development;

§ Under the key work ‘open issues’ one would find the opposite positions to be reconciled.

The Chief Negotiator would supervise the ‘top layer’ narrative. Members of the delegation would have access to and edit lower layers, as appropriate. The editing could be ad hoc, and disjoined, to suit the larger narrative, rather than be constrained by the ‘stand-alone’ framework.

Such ‘narratives’, once concluded, could be used for training purposes. A junior staff member is given the task to learn how to run an FTA negotiation. As he proceeds in an orderly fashion through the ever increasing layers he absorbs the structural emements of the process.

Finally, such ‘narratives’ could be used to create ‘expert systems’ in which the know-how from departing staff is retained. Before leaving, the staff member uses a simple narrative to record it.

Using major narrative themes finally facilitates the supervision, as the supervising entity (principals like ministers or even Parliament) are confronted with a limited number of then and can be selective in the pursuit of the needed detail. Needless to say, the annual ‘meta-narrative’ of the activities of the Ministry could be greatly facilitated.

MCI 28/5/08


[i] My experience is with the ‘wiki’ software provided by Google. I presume there are other, more professional declinations with ‘whistles and bells’. Such ‘add-ons’ would only enhance the effectiveness of the basic system.

Posted in: Diplomatic Tools