The Coast Guard is using a wiki to answer questions about a major IT project and to develop an acquisition strategy for it.
The Coast Guard Logistics Information Management System or CG-LIMS is a new logistics system to support ships, aircraft and shore facilities.
In creating the wiki for CG-LIMS, the Coast Guard aims to gather best practices for taking a large project and breaking it down into smaller and faster deliverables.
“We decided we needed to look beyond just what the program office, what the Coast Guard, could come up with and share the problem with industry,” said Captain Dan Taylor, the project manager for CG-LIMS, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.
“Anybody can ask a question and they’re really getting an answer from the person responsible for the project — usually within less than a day,” he said.
The Coast Guard wiki uses the same platform as Wikipedia.org. This platform is available to any government organization through Apps.gov. Taylor said it took him about 10 hours to set up the framework for the wiki.
Since the wiki was launched three months ago, 150 people have registered to be able to edit the wiki, Taylor said. The level of participation from users varied, he said. Those concerned about having their name and company appear online emailed Taylor directly, who then posted the information for the user under anonymous.
“We all tend to overestimate the risk of sharing information,” Taylor said. “but industry can share things with government to help government do business better without giving away government secrets, particularly in the pre-RFP [request for proposal] arena.”
Because the wiki is open to anyone, the Coast Guard risks “vandalism” to the site. For example, someone posing as Taylor could post an answer to a question. Taylor said because everything is transparent, he would be alerted if someone else answered a question. Also, “it’s immediately visible who provides the answer and it’s visible to me that I need to go in and fix that.”
In the three months the wiki has been online, Taylor said the site only had one comment for an advertisement. He said he took down the comment and banned the user.
The wiki replaces industry emailing questions to the government and then the government posting the answers online. Because many industry people had the same questions, the wiki was a “whole lot more efficient for the government, whole lot more efficient for industry,” Taylor said.
The Coast Guard’s use of a wiki is part of a broader shift in public affairs that has incorporated more social media and collaborative tools.
Tools like the wiki allow the agency to have an “open, honest conversation with the American people and move away from that decades-old model of public affairs as a broadcast forum,” said Christopher Lagan, chief of social media for Coast Guard Public Affairs.
In using social media, Lagan said the Coast Guard asks itself how the tools can be used for both internal and external communications and, ultimately, in helping people do their jobs better, cheaper and faster.
As an agency that was an early adopter of collaborative tools, Lagan said, “I think the biggest lesson is to not be overwhelmed by the obstacles out there.”
Agencies will have to be open to both positive feedback and criticism, he said.
“The important lesson for any organization – whether it’s a government organization or a private organization – considering venturing out into this world we call socia media, you better be ready to answer some very frank questions,” Lagan said.