Have you used an Ask Metafilter-style site to train your workforce?
September 15, 2009 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone created an Ask Metafilter-esque site for internal training purposes within their workplace? How did it work out?

I've often thought that having a discussion board very similar to Ask Metafilter could be an excellent training and knowledge sharing tool within large organisations. I'm sure I can't have been the only one to have this idea, so I'm wondering whether anyone has implemented something similar, and whether it proved effective?
posted by puffl to Work & Money (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This is what companies typically call their "intranet". It might take the form of wikis, blogs, forums, etc. The technology is mature, the ideas are well intended and widely attempted. For it to fly in the long term, it needs real, regular effort on someone's part to maintain. It needs concrete support from the higher ups.

Don't expect it to sustain itself on user-generated content. Work is by definition boring, and people aren't gonna have a compulsive desire to contribute to it the way they the do TMZ, Ask MeFi or Digg. Plus they probably don't have time to help out. Realize also that the free-form expression of online media often clashes with the command & control culture of most corporations, even the supposedly younger, hipper companies.
posted by randomstriker at 12:37 AM on September 16, 2009

The big company where I work has an intranet homepage with various multimedia articles about aspects of our business, and training things as well. So more MeFi than AskMe, but with aspects of both. Apparently anyone can contribute an article, but (apparently) no one does, except the folks paid to generate content. Anyone can comment on an article, and some people do. All comments are the same:

"★ ★ ★ ★ ★"
"★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Fascinating to see that side of the business."
"★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Thanks for sharing this"
"★ ★ ★ ★ ★"
"★ ★ ★ ★ ★"
"★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Very helpful."

It makes sense to me. No one wants to look uninformed, or express anything but rah-rah-rah, under his own name on the work intranet site where his boss's boss's boss can see it. And where I work is really quite an open place, not the fortress of thought-control many companies can be.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:16 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heh heh, Methylviolet, I don't think you work at my big company (IBM). Comments can be a *lot* more negative than that on our intranet, and more nuanced, also.

Whilst we have a huge range of intranet tools, there's nothing that compares with the simplicity of ask.metafilter. Actually I lie, we have an internal analog to Twitter which functions as an unofficial kind of ask.mefi. It works very well - but it's very self-selecting. The employee pool that uses it is comparatively tiny.

This is the major challenge we face - online engagement can be hard for the majority when they're very busy etc. They need significant motivation to post, thus it's important to keep the sample size large.
posted by smoke at 2:53 AM on September 16, 2009

The general population are generally much less likely to contribute towards user-generated content that you might expect. Even if people complain about information being insufficient or incorrect, it generally requires a huge effort to get them actively interested in improving it - and even then that effort is generally not sustained beyond the initial push from higher management.

The company I work for (which is fairly well advanced in terms of awareness of knowledge management techniques) has tried several initiatives to improve its online knowledgebase based on input from users, however it is generally only the same small group of people who end up generating the content. The fact that our knowledgebase is so good is more a result of a lot of effort by dedicated groups over a long period of time, rather than as a result of active input from the general population.

The best way to build a knowledgebase of user-generated content is to do it in such a way that the users do not realise they are generating the content (e.g. facebook and google are building a huge database of information to aid profiling people, however I bet this though doesn't cross the minds of most people who are uploading their information).
posted by oclipa at 3:05 AM on September 16, 2009

I spend so much time on work intranets that "work like AskMe" that I sometimes lose track of whether I'm there or here, and more than once I have thanked FSM that MetaFilter has bright and obvious color backgrounds to tip me off. My answers tend to be similar on each, which further confuses things in my poor little brain.

Yes, they can work well, but they rely on workplaces that have strong written cultures to begin with. If the workplace in question still struggles to use e-mail reliably, or is driven in large part by people who are on the factory floor or driving around to visit customers (and are thus not at a desk all day), it probably won't help to throw more writing at the employees.

That is, healthy systems rely on users to apply judgment: to realize that "I added it to the intranet page last month!" isn't an appropriate level of urgency for a serious/growing problem, in the same way that an e-mail called "The New Version of Form 3635-B(1) IS ONLINE NOW!" isn't a great thing to spam the whole department with.

At minimum, a distinction between those allowed to post above-the-fold or front-page notices vs those who may comment/respond is often a good idea.
posted by rokusan at 3:13 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the last year or so, I have built and now administer a Wiki for the company I work for. It's been a major struggle, but it's finally (finally!) beginning to pay off. At this point, it's functionally replaced our entire previous intranet, and is getting daily use across the company. We use it as a repository of useful documents, templates, phone lists, contact details, system tutorials, you name it. If it's a document, idea or piece of information that someone in the company was constantly getting asked for or that was parked on our shared server, it's on there now. We're creating a page for every client we have, every product we sell and every supplier we work with. It's been a real drip-drip of information, but we've gone from 0 to over 500 usable pages in less than a year. The major lessons I've learned:
  • Get your IT team on side, from the start - When I got to my company two years ago, it was a solely .NET shop, with no internal capability or knowledge in PHP or anything you need to use most decent opensource web apps like Mediawiki or Wordpress. I nagged and nagged and eventually got an old mailserver to prototype with, effectively the opportunity to prove, live, the value a wiki might have for the business. The IT team have been an incredible help, especially once they realised how much simpler maintaining a wiki would be than the rather dated and shaky in-house CMS we were using to add very occasional updates to our stagnant intranet.
  • Sell, sell, sell the benefits - No-one will spend time or effort on your project unless there are visible, concrete benefits. Fiddling around with wikis is, frankly, something that only geeks are into for the pure hell of it. For everyone else, there has to be a point. For our business, the main benefit is massively reducing the number of random requests for information, templates etc that whistled around the business constantly, as well as making our intranet simpler, easier to add to and develop and more useful.
  • You need 'gardeners' and 'keen beans' - You need to be incredibly enthusiastic about your wiki, willing to write a lot of the initial skeleton content, establish page templates, figure out technical glitches and ride herd on your contributors. You need to go through and fix people's screwed-up formatting and do it without bitching. You need to silently amend and fix and cleanup and correctly categorise and interlink pages and articles, all the damn time. In short, you need to be slightly obsessive about constantly improving your wiki. You also need to find a few people in the business who can help, either by doing a subset of your 'gardening' tasks or by spewing out great gouts of information, dusting off collections of PDFs they have tucked away on their PCs and otherwise filling the well of collective knowledge. And you need to be constantly enlarging, training and encouraging this group, because they'll provide 95% of the content. The other, say, 80% of the people in your business will get a lot of benefit from the wiki, fix the odd typo and occasionally drop a gem of a paragraph into an established article, but this group are your footsoldiers.
  • Reporting and reinforcement - Have prominent banners on your front page showing how many articles you have up (553 today, woo!). Gather statistics on number of edits, graph it all up, present it to the Board. Explain the benefits, again and again and again. Run training sessions for senior people so they can talk confidently about it. Run training sessions for junior people so they can use it every day. Make it part of your induction and orientation training.
  • Constantly add functionality - We started with a blank, vanilla Mediawiki install. Now, we've got embedded flash video (training vids, presentations), Google Maps (where's our office?), contact pages for every user, PDF repositories. If you keep adding new things, people will continue to be motivated to submite new content and come up with new ways of using the site.
  • Make it stupidly easy to use - I'm a geek, so editing stuff in wiki markup is logical and easy for me. It is not for most of my colleagues. This was a major hump for us, until we found a way to add a rich text editor. Now people type away like it's a word document and bam, our user edits have rocketed. Sure, I have a fair bit of janky formatting to fix and the generated wikicode makes me wince, but so what? It works, and the content is mushrooming.
  • Remind people constantly - Make it their homepage. Take your existing comms channels (I edit a weekly roundup email which is now moved onto the wiki) and consolidate them on there. Keep running training sessions.
Social media stuff like this has been massively overhyped as a big gamechanger in the workplace, but it can work. It needs a hell of a lot of work to establish it, but if people can figure out how to trade ninja cucumber badges on Facebook or whatever, they can figure out a wiki. It's not a magic bullet cure-all and it's not enough to take the Field of Dreams (if we install it, they will use it) approach to user engagement. It's hard work. But it's also enormous fun, and it can make a real difference.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:24 AM on September 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

In our office, we created an intranet template based on Drupal, in part because of the interactive functionality. I manage the content only, as I'm just one step above dunce when it comes to coding. The site works alright in terms of disseminating news, but it could be much more effective and useful in an askmefi way if users contributed and commented to others' content (right now, content is mainly generated by team leaders who want to publicize their activities).

In asking people what they use the site for and why they don't comment/contribute, a very common response is "I'd comment/contribute if I could do it anonymously" but right now that functionality doesn't seem to be available. This appears to be true regardless of whether the person's input would be negative or positive. One reason could be that it's a Japanese office and culturally it's just sacrilege to call attention to oneself for any reason, but I wonder if this is a common issue in the corporate world, generally, and part of the challenge to making an ask mefi type of company intranet work ...
posted by Bixby23 at 4:07 AM on September 16, 2009

I'm in a public library and yes, our intranet has a similar askme part where stumpers seeking answers or the answers to hard questions are posted but it is so poorly set up and confusing to locate that no one really uses the intranet when it IS working (its down at the moment again).
posted by saucysault at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2009

My office has this. No one ever uses it unless forced to except for managers and major brown-nosers, and it's a huge joke among most employees. It's widely viewed as a make-work project for people who don't work very hard, and as a time-suck at best for people who have real work to do.
posted by decathecting at 7:58 AM on September 16, 2009

I am pretty much the sole designer, implementer and administrator of my company's intranet. I and my manager (who assigned me the project in the first place) struggled on and off for year to pass administration to the IT team, but they're too busy fixing employees' laptops to worry about something that runs itself (with assistance from me, of course). Anyway, that's a different story. Intranet runs on XOOPS and among the modules we have installed are the standard newbb forum module, wfdownloads, and the dokuwiki module. The adoption over the last three years is absolutely insane. The wiki blew out completely with just about EVERY department wanting their own "homepage" on there - company emails ask people to download from the Downloads module, to check out blah blah on the Wiki, etc. In fact the wiki is used for dozens of purposes including storing meeting minutes, project plans, html tests and POCs and more - I get an email every time a wiki page is updated and I get maybe a thousand emails a month from it (although admittedly a lot of that is someone saving a page, looking at it, editing and saving again several times before they're done because they have trouble visualizing the end result from their markup.)

My company makes software - we have implementers and then support guys. Implementers out in the field make MASSIVE use of the forums to post questions on how to do such and such, and then the developers or support guys chime in with suggestions. It works absolutely brilliantly. Entire site is searchable; users have a choice of either the built-in XOOPS search or else Nutch, which we installed to give folk a one-stop-shop which searches not just the intranet site but also other internal sites (bugzilla etc) and externals (we use Salesforce.com). The entire system is a buzzing hive of activity each and every day - I'm pretty proud of it. Part of my job is to redirect people to the intranet each time I get a phone call or email or someone else in my team is hounded with someone else's question, since our entire process for internal support revolves around use of the intranet/forums/wiki first and our internal helpdesk mechanisms only as a last resort. I would recommend a similar solution without hesitation for any other company - software R&D or not.
posted by tra at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My office has this. No one ever uses it unless forced to except for managers and major brown-nosers, and it's a huge joke among most employees. It's widely viewed as a make-work project for people who don't work very hard, and as a time-suck at best for people who have real work to do.

A very prevalent attitude I've found, and one that misses the point a bit. People who have 'real work to do' in many organisations are often so infernally busy precisely because there is no knowledge management, information sharing and standardisation. Everyone juggles a million things, writes everything from scratch and reacts constantly to a barrage of requests.

This also tends to happen in organisations that value time put in and perceived 'hard work' rather than actual results.

Just sayin'.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:36 AM on September 16, 2009

Happy Dave, that may be true at some organizations, but our knowledge management is fine, evaluation metrics are all tied to performance rather than hours worked, and people communicate well face-to-face. It's a great organization, and the push by management to get people to use this ridiculous system is one of its few weaknesses.

I guess what I'm getting at is that if your company is good at communicating and sharing information, this sort of thing is likely unnecessary. If your company is bad at those things, creating an online source won't fix the problem; you'll need a larger cultural shift in order to solve the problem.
posted by decathecting at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2009

« Older Firefighter vs. Nurse   |   how to entertain a group of 8 in singapore on a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.