A major oil company – using wikis to develop technical knowledge bases

In a workshop at the University of hertfordshire’s Blended Learning Conference (2008) Prof Betty Collis (Emeritus Professor, University of Twente, Netherlands) described the use of wikis by a major oil company, as part of their learning and leadership development programmes.

Wikis have been used as a tool to support professional communities of practice in developing corporate knowledge bases. Prof Collis cites three levels of knowledge management: the lowest level is associated with global networks, where ad-hoc advice, learning and ideas are captured and shared. At the next level up, is the use of wikis where knowledge and learning is distilled into a more detailed “Corporate encyclopedia”, combining knowledge from many existing sources. At the top level of knowledge management  “practices worth replicating” is the most relevant, quality assured information – what everyone within the corporation must know and apply. The wiki is a tool at the heart of this knowledge management process, where communities of professionals use a learning process, developed in conjunction with Prof Collis, to build the “Corporate encyclopedia” – in different specialist areas. It must be stressed that the wiki is not used as a dump for knowledge: rather, the learning process that has been developed is designed to ensure all the community of practice professionals contribute towards the knowledge base and critique each other’s work.  For example, the learning process may commence with each member (or groups) being tasked to contribute knowledge to the wiki.

The next stage of the process may be for each member to check and critique the work of their peers. A further stage may be for each member to then build on the work of their peers.  In this way, all members contribute and critique equally to collaboratively develop a knowledge base. It is reported that the Shell wiki has over 40,000 users.