A new study by Rice University and the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) Office of eDiplomacy presents a comprehensive analysis of the development and implementation of Diplopedia, the DOS’ knowledge-sharing platform. The paper, titled “Diplopedia Imagined: Building State’s Diplomacy Wiki,” was presented at the 2010 International Symposium on Collaborative Technologies and Systems in Chicago by co-authors Chris Bronk, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, and Tiffany Smith, an employee with the State Department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management.
Diplopedia, an unclassified, open-source wiki platform, was created for America’s diplomatic corps to share their expertise and knowledge. It marked the State Department’s first adoption of open-source software to capture, catalog, and disseminate the job-knowledge expertise required by working diplomats.
The paper, which offers a pragmatic case study for the adoption of Wikipedia-like knowledge bases in government, highlights how the Diplopedia project has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of state employees. According to Bronk, staff members who use Diplopedia now have better and more up-to-date information at their fingertips, which can significantly reduce the time it takes for new employees to learn the basics of their new city or country.
Launched in September 2006 with just a dozen articles, Diplopedia now boasts over 10,000 articles written and edited by DOS employees. Unlike Wikipedia, Diplopedia requires users to be registered, and edits are not anonymous, with page creations and edits attributed to the person who made them.
Diplopedia content includes a comprehensive collection of information for desk officers, who act as the in-house experts and go-to officials on a particular country. The platform provides a desk-officer manual, which advises on everything from department jargon to navigating a new ambassador through Senate confirmation and assignment to their mission. Additionally, forty briefing portals help DOS employees find and contribute information on specific programs, economic issues, and international politics.
As Bronk explains, “When you allow staff to create and edit entries, you are allowing a greater product that can be easily shared over time.” The co-authors also offer guidance on the practical issues of providing security and configuration management for the software and strategies for coping with bureaucracy in implementing new models of information sharing inside a large organization.