Wikis, Learning, Teaching and Compliance


I am a believer that the use of 2.0 tools can help compliance professionals. (Hopefully, this blog is a part of that proof.)

Moving to the inherently open communication of 2.0 tools from the inherently private channel communication of email can expose sunlight on behavior and expose information. Incorrect information and behavior can be corrected. Bad information and bad behavior can be seen and stopped before it snowballs into something larger.

I often hear people take the position that the digital youngsters coming out of college can use these Web 2.0 tools as easily as dialing a phone or that they are demanding them in the workplace. I don’t think that’s not true.

Law Schools and Wikis

Eric Goldman and Luis Villa shared their experiences in using wikis as part of their classrooms. It certainly sounds like their students struggled with using these tools, both behind the firewall and in the public Wikipedia.

In Mr. Goldman’s case he offered his law students the opportunity to publish an article in Wikipedia for 20% of their grade. About a quarter of the students in his cyberlaw class at Santa Clara University School of Law took him up on his offer.

In reaction to that article, Mr. Villa recounted his experience using a school-hosted wiki as part of his classes at Columbia Law School.

Other wiki concepts, like extensive linking, or publishing drafts to the world in wiki-style, were apparently even more strange to most of my classmates. None of the four class wikis were deeply interlinked or cross-referenced, outside of what was necessary to create a table of contents and occasional outlinks to wikipedia. Similarly, few students were willing to post works-in-progress to the wiki and refine them there- most students preferred to work privately and then put a final text into the wiki.

Collaboration Between Generations

I found the same to be true at my old law firm. In particular, the younger attorneys did not want interim drafts to be seen and were reluctant to contribute content. The more seasoned attorneys were more willing to edit and add information. The vast majority of article creation was limited to a small group.

In my view, younger team members are reluctant to produce content because they do not want to expose their lack of knowledge, they do not want to expose themselves for criticism and they have little grasp of the technology.

The lack of knowledge is true regardless of how you teach collaboration. It would seem silly to put the youngest members of the team in charge of the team’s knowledge and content production. They have the least understanding of the subject matter.

Dealing with Criticism

The criticism issue has two parts. On one side, I don’t think students are taught to collaborate. They go through school being graded on their individual performance. The few classes that grade as a team are outliers.

The second issue is the internal culture of  your company. Collaboration requires trust. You need to work as a team and avoid individual blame. It also requires sharing the credit for good work among the team. That is just how your company or group at the company operates. Technology does not change culture.

The Technology

As both Goldman and Villa point out, the technology is still a barrier. There are many inherent limitation in a wiki that you don’t have with Microsoft Word. I think the wiki markup language is a mistake. I think platforms should just use html based code.

Regardless of the underlying code, web-based documents do not have the rich formatting of Word. Arguably, you don’t need the vast majority of that formatting. It’s still very frustrating when something easy to do in Word is hard to do in a wiki.

Printing is another issue. In the end you may want to print hard copies. I have experienced widely different quality in what happens when a wiki page goes to the printer.

Wiki for One

I have to admit that I have not been preaching the benefits of 2.0 tools within my company. I use them purely as a knowledge tool for me. I use this blog and an internal wiki to store information for me to find as part of the compliance program. Most of the company is numbers driven, something for which web 2.0 tools are poorly suited.

I did collaborate with a summer intern on a compliance project using the wiki. I had the same experience as Goldman and Villa. Using a wiki did not come naturally to her. It took time for me to develop the trust for her to use it effectively.

In the end we worked together to create a tremendous amount of content for the compliance program that is well-organized and easy to find.

Other Examples

Over the last year I have seen an increase in the public use of Web 2.0 tools by compliance professionals. There has been a dramatic increase in the use of blogs. You can look at my blogroll for other examples.

One to take a close look at is Kathleen Edmond’s Blog. She publishes disciplinary examples from Best Buy. As you might expect, the examples do not include specific people or products. She is able to get the ethics story from Best Buy out into the public. She can get comments on her reasoning and the results.


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4 Responses to Wikis, Learning, Teaching and Compliance

  1. Scott Primeau March 9, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Doug, this is a great post. I agree with almost everything you’ve said, especially the points about younger users not adopting public-facing collaboration tools for fear of showing a lack of knowledge. As for understanding the technology, that probably just depends on who the users are and what tools they’re using. Obviously, some tools are easier than others. And, I’ve experienced the same frustration you have with the lack of user-friendly editing options in wikis or Google Docs. These concerns, however, are not limited to new, younger employees. An older seasoned employee may not be familiar with new technology, may be reluctant to learn new tools, and may be hesitant to expose a lack of knowledge.

    My only real disagreement is with the suggestion that younger members of a team should not be in charge of knowledge and content production. Creating and sharing knowledge is not solely based on who has the knowledge. Other factors, such as the ability to find information, the ability to discern which information is important, the ability to share information in an understandble manner, and the ability to use technology to does these things efficiently, are integral to knowledge creation.

    Younger employees who have been using the Internet for research for years and are accostumed to contending with vast amounts of information may be invaluable to the knowledge creation process. Anyway, that’s just my opinion, as a fairly younger employee in my agency.

    • Doug Cornelius March 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

      Scott –

      Good point about age. My position is that younger members should not be put in charge solely because they are the younger members. Age is not a skill set.

      As you point out, you want to be people in charge who have the best skill set. Usually that’s not the youngest members of the team.

      • Brian Gryth March 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm #


        Shouldn’t the real criteria be the level or years of experience? For example, I went to law school when I was 27 and graduated at 30. Thus, I know attorneys younger than me who have 5-10 years experience. Those attorneys’ knowledge and experience are greater than mine despite their age.

        I generally agree with you position. I just think the more appropriate way to judge who is put in charge of a task is based on experience and level of knowledge. Typically, as you point out, it is not younger employee.


        • Doug Cornelius March 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

          Brian –

          I saw a series of items that encouraged companies to put their youngest employees in charge of their enterprise 2.0 and web 2.0 efforts, assuming that the digital generation knew what to do with these tools. I was going to link to the stories but decided against it.

          You point out the other side of my position that “age is not a skill set.” An older worker may have less relevant experience than a younger one.

          I agree with you. The right may to is look towards to experience and knowledge, not age.