by C.G. Lynch

Three Things the CIA Learned About Implementing an Enterprise Wiki

Jun 10, 20083 mins
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium Business

The CIA's Intellipedia, built on wiki technology, is a central repository where 16 agencies collaborate on key topics and challenges facing the intelligence community. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, two officials who have championed the technology share their best practices.

The two CIA officials who lead the Intellipedia—a wiki set up by the CIA for disparate intelligence agencies to collaborate on key topics—delivered a keynote at the Enterprise 2.0 conference this morning. When it comes to social software implementation, they stressed the importance of administering access, starting small and moving information out of narrow channels like e-mail and into broader platforms like wikis.


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The presentation was delivered by two leaders of the CIA’s Intellipedia project, Sean Dennehy, who’s title is “Intellipedia Evangelist,” and Don Burke. Intellipedia was founded in April 2006 and it is used by 16 agencies in the U.S. government, according to a Wikipedia article citing several government sources and media reports.

1. Set access policies.

Because most people associate wikis with Wikipedia, you need to establish that there will be access controls about who views (and just as important) who edits information on a wiki. With Intellipedia, for instance, there are three different versions. One is generally viewable by most agency employees, another is secret, and a third is top secret. Within each of those versions, some people have editing access and others only are allowed to view. Some aren’t allowed writing or viewing access depending on their security clearance.

The beauty of the wiki model, Dennehy says, is that all edits can be easily tracked and made available in version history. “We’re often asked in the intelligence community, what did you know and when did you know it?” Dennehy says. “We’re not dealing with facts; we’re dealing with puzzles and mysteries. If we get something up, we can debate it and talk about what to do. We can have a page that says analysts believe x and some believe y, and we make that transparent so people can look at what documentation supports what viewpoints.”

2. Start small.

According to Burke, implementing social software is more of a cultural challenge than a technical one. Many of the disparate intelligence agencies had held onto their own data and didn’t share it with one another for years, so changing that paradigm can be difficult, he says. Given this reality, it’s important to start small. At the CIA, the first wiki page they created was a list of acronyms. Since the intelligence community is riddled with them, it became a page people were willing to update (and saw immediate value from). “It’s very simple, and gets to people who are uncomfortable with the tools to quickly make and edit and publish it,” Dennehy says. “If you make those barriers small, they’re more likely to adopt.”

3. Move information out of traditional enterprise tools such as e-mail.

In order to change what tools people use to consume and disseminate enterprise content, it’s important to show first that you aren’t making more work for them. As an example, if you find one employee who typically publishes information by e-mailing 50 or so co-workers, encourage him to put that information into the wiki or an internal blog (which the CIA also has) instead. “Move processes out of channels and onto platforms,” Burke says.”If we can take those and replace it with platform based tools, we can capture them on the network.”