how to wiki well

How to wiki well is a guide to using wiki as a tool for collaboration, deliberation, seeking truth and practicing efficient civics.

Why do we use wiki?

Open Politics uses wiki software because, as a tool to support participation in public policy issues, it rocks. Unlike politics as usual where adding large numbers of people to a decision making process usually makes things worse; the more people you have working on a wiki, the better the result. Wiki supports the massively parallel development of issues, positions and arguments, all of which can influence current legislation, be used for citizen initiatives, and support participatory democracy.

How the Open Politics wiki works:

In a wiki based web service, each page is dedicated to deliberating on a specific topic, which is determined by the page name. Everyone who views the page is welcome to edit the content of the page, making contributions in any way that (they think) helps. If others agree your contribution was helpful it will stay there - a "good edit."

by maintaining the correct Point of View.

A page that has been collaboratively written by dozens, if not hundreds of people will be quite a mess unless the participants all agree to write from a point of view. When describing issues, Open Politics uses a neutral point of view - when talking about same sex marriage as an issue, one should not discuss whether they are for or against it - hold off on stating your opinion until you get to the position statements.

and separating issues from positions and arguments

Adopting the issue/position/argument system is a crucial step toward efficient civics. Rather than waste time in battles of rhetoric, Open Politics helps people understand and listen to each other by deliberating in three steps:
  • clarify what the issues are:
    • define what the words you are using mean.
    • cite the objective facts and statistics
    • consider the related issues
  • explain what the multiple positions are:
    • cite positions taken by organizations, political parties, or develop your own position.
    • don't interfere with the right of others to state and refine a position.
    • compare and contrast the different positions and try to understand the reasoning, and perspective of those who hold that position.
  • build arguments for and against positions.
    • argue for or against positions,
    • make counter arguments to other arguments.
    • cite evidence, provide sources and authorities to back up what you say.

Be Bold

Wikis are designed for collaboration, so please be bold. Provided you understand the basics (which you will if you've read this whole page) you should boldly edit any page in which the edit button appears. As long as you are being constructive, others will appreciate, assist and applaud your effort. Your feedback and opinions are essential to understanding the truth about an issue. People will respect you for what you contribute, particularly when you bring solid facts and help with research. Avoid rhetoric and unsubstantiated opinions. Always try to be editing toward the final version of the page. Don't put asides or comments in that people will have to remove later. Rather than make a comment, (which is passive) make a change, edit freely.

Be Helpful

Wikis are like kitchens, they need to be cleaned up all the time, even if all the cleaning only serves to provide an opportunity to mess things up again. The wiki is one big living document, constantly self organizing - where the self includes you. If you encounter messy pages that don't clearly articulate issues, positions and arguments, follow existing naming conventions or other guidelines feel free to refactor them, and give everything its proper simplest name. Wikis are also always growing - when you see an open link, this is your chance to add a new branch or leaf to our tree of knowledge.

Be Respectful.

Open politics has high standards for debate and civil discourse. If we wanted to participate in name calling and ad hominem attacks, we could visit our legislature. As an editor, you can relocate, revise or remove any content or contributions which give offense or are out of place. Participants who have differing points of view are invited to issue challenges to each other - a formalized competition of ideas which serves the public interest by allowing detailed head to head comparisons of differing positions on an issue.

Become Wise.

People become wise by continuous learning. On the other hand, people who never listen and don't try to understand others take tend to stay stupid. In a wiki, some of the things you write may be edited mercilessly, and this is usually a good learning experience. Absorbing the criticism, praise, and the best ideas of others will strengthen your intellect, and broaden your perspective.

Thank you for taking these few minutes to read about how to wiki well.

Now you may get started.

See also: wiki etiquette, guidelines and if you need it, get help.