Collaborative Tech Planning With A Wiki (Or: It’s A Plan, Not a Commitment)

On Tuesday night I presented a new educational technology plan to the school board of the Palm Springs Unified School District. The board was gracious enough to give me 15 minutes to present, several of the planning committee members were in attendance to show their support (including Dr. Lee Grafton who was my partner in leading the process and writing the plan), and the superintendent, Dr. Lorri McCune, was downright enthusiastic… so it was a positive experience for me and well worth the drive out there.

The plan is the result of a truly collaborative effort, and I think that is reflected in the length. My colleague Ranjit Mayadas in CTAP Region 9 told me months ago that a tech plan for the state doesn’t need to be more than 50 pages in length, but this one comes in at about 150 before appendixes. I really do feel sorry for his counterpart in Region 10, Jenny Thomas, who is reviewing the plan now. :)

Obviously, I was only able to touch on the highlights in my presentation, the things that made it stand out from other more formulaic plans. Check out the slides if you are interested. (Or read the two page executive summary.)

When I say that writing the plan was a collaborative effort, I actually mean we collaboratively authored the plan using… a wiki. Check it out at if you are interested. Each week we met in a computer lab (or with laptops) so anyone could read or edit the wiki at any time. Many of the edits were mine (or made with my account) as I led or facilitated discussions. You’ll see a lot of anonymous edits early on. Later, I password protected the site once the plan-in-progress was released to the press and the public. After that you’ll see edits by a user called pstechplan, which was shared by the entire committee. I focused on ease-of-use over security and accountability. (Of course, I backed it up after each meeting.)

Late in the process we ended up using the discussion feature to discuss changes without altering the text of the main wiki pages. In one of our final group editing sessions, the committee made 40 changes and posted 38 discussion questions in only 90 minutes. I was amazed… and thrilled that the collaborative tool was working even better than I’d hoped by that point. I was then able to make any necessary changes and respond to each concern in the discussion area. Finally, we moved the content into a word template and made the final changes.

It’s not groundbreaking or impressive if you dial into specific pages or posts on the wiki, but the process really was collaborative… and easy, so I thought I’d share it here. I really appreciate having months of work archived there, especially in the “More…” section.

One final thought that came up while I was preparing the slides for this evening’s presentation was the phrase, “It’s a plan, not a commitment.” I initially included it as the lead in to my explanation that the board could approve the plan (which called for an average spending of $5.2 million per year MORE than they are already spending) without fear that they would be held accountable for committing those funds. (Tech plans don’t have much teeth in California.) I realized this phrase really captured the reality of the plan, but it also made me realize that the key to making it work (in addition to keeping it a living document) will be making a continued and consistent commitment to the plan. Happily, Dr. McCune really took the lead on this during the discussion and I almost didn’t have to say another word. :)

She, and the board, seemed to latch onto another phrase I shared (after hearing Jackie Francoeur use it often)… “built it and they will come” or “plan it, and the money will come.” One board member called the $5.2 million a “funding opportunity.” The best part was that by the end of the discussion they were asking the superintendent how long it would be until all students had a laptop… and when one of her staff threw out the goal of five years, one of the board members said, “that’s too long.”

I can’t wait to see what happens there… and I hope some of you will share your tech planning successes (or nightmares) in the comments below, too. Is anyone else using web 2.0 or other collaboration tools to facilitate the process?