Rarely in modern life do the decision makers who sit at the top of the power pyramid ever listen to those at the very bottom -- despite the fact that the people at the bottom are expected to carry out the mission of the organization or institution.
A few years ago I began to think about this. How could we easily capture the valuable insights, ideas, observations and wisdom from the frontline, hands-on, experience of peer groups that reside at the bottom of the power pyramid? What could they tell the leaders about issues that are plaguing the system? How could we make it comfortable for them to come forward and share what they know in a way that could be used to inform policy making and priority-setting?
Thus was born WikiWisdom. This process harnesses the power of technology, peer collaboration, and networks to unearth front-line wisdom and connect it to people in power.
In traditional organizational structures, insights, ideas, and recommendations must overcome the impediments created by layers of bureaucracy before they can rise to the top. The bright ideas that start on this journey often arrive in a very different form, having been rearticulated, rewritten, and reformatted until they have lost their essential truth.
WikiWisdom is the solution to this problem.
This process uses the Internet to offer people a chance to do more than gripe about their situation. It gives them the opportunity to use their knowledge to tell the powers that be how to do things better. It's a rare gift to people at both ends of the power structure.
Since launching this methodology I have seen it used successfully with social workers, nurses, patients, teachers and professional women. Their collaborative intelligence has been presented to a governor, a mayor, NGO presidents, CEOs, and the Obama Administration.
In a TED Talk, the American writer Clay Shirky advocated that combining human generosity, the ease of sharing on the Internet, and people's free time, society has available a "cognitive surplus" to help solve problems and find new solutions.
WikiWisdom gives leaders a way to harness the "cognitive surplus" of those who are closest to the customer, the student, the patient. By working collaboratively as a peer group, those frontline workers can solve problems and create new ideas based upon their experience.
The WikiWisdom process works because the participants are guaranteed their ideas will be heard by someone in power.
How does it work?
There are six steps to a WikiWisdom project:
1. Start at the top. The leader of the organization agrees to listen and learn from the frontline workers about a specific problem facing the organization. This can be a risky proposition for leaders because there are no guarantees they will like what they hear.
2. Guarantee access. Participants are drawn to the online conversation by the promise that their ideas will be presented directly to someone who has the desire to listen to them and the power to effect change.
3. Generate ideas. A targeted group of peers -- those frontline experts -- are invited to an online, moderated conversation. They register under their real names -- no anonymity here -- and share ideas on how to solve a specific problem using their everyday experience in the workplace or in their community. The moderation ensures everyone is heard and that gripes are turned into actionable ideas.
4. Sort the data. An algorithm identifies the most engaged thought leaders in the idea generation phase. Once the online discussion ends, these individuals are invited to join a small group that will take the ideas to the next step.
5. Mine the "cognitive surplus." The small group of thought leaders work with the moderator to distill and expand the ideas generated by the large group into a written report filled with actionable ideas and solutions.
6. Back up to the top. The thought leader group meets in person with the leader of the organization to present the group's ideas and get direct feedback.
To date, WikiWisdom has helped a large hospital chain understand how to better serve patients and their families, helped a large school district understand how to better use time in school to benefit students, and helped a nonprofit understand what executive women need to blast through the glass ceiling. This is a process with infinite possibilities. Anywhere there is a leader willing to listen and workers willing to offer solutions, WikiWisdom can be the process that facilitates positive change.