US Army uses wikis to update field manuals

July 3, 2009

The Small Wars Journal informs us that the US Army is converting the contents of their field manuals into wiki format allowing soldiers to update military doctrine. (It’s wikipedia for the Army.)

Lt Gen William Caldwell, a leader in the use of social media in the US military, writes:

"By converting manuals into wikis, the Army hopes to make doctrine a living document and reduce the traditional three to five year period it takes to staff and write field manuals. This system will allow lessons learned in the field to become an immediate part of doctrine, with rapid dissemination."

For a ninety-day trial period anyone with an Army Knowledge Online password can edit the contents of seven field manuals. Comments will be reviewed and compared with other contributions by subject matter experts.

If the trial is successful, the US Army intends to extend the project to incorporate 200 field manuals. 

During a recent conference on Strategic Communications one of the problems identified was heirarchical, bureaucratic and thus slow communication structures. The use of wikis enables a distributed conversation to take place around a document offering a far faster way of reviewing, debating and redistributing content.

Indeed, Caldwell argues that this trial is "a great opportunity to flatten traditional Army hierarchy and leverage technology to benefit Soldiers who are deployed or training to deploy."

The adoption of field manual wikis represents the latest effort by the US military to use blogs and social media to improve the process of institutional learning. (A topic I recently discussed with Andrew Exum for BBC Radio Five Live.)