DCL/Why is DITA implementation in Europe so far behind?"

"Why is DITA implementation in Europe so far behind?"

By Marie-Louise Flacke, Formatrice (instructor), Awel-A-Ben


Further to a 2017 survey by Keith Schengili-Roberts, European documentation teams have a sound knowledge of DITA technicalities. Still, DITA penetration into the “Old Continent” is below expectations. Let’s examine some reasons and considerations about potential roadblocks.

Lack of will to take the DITA step
Teams don't know how to approach their management. In particular, they don’t have the skills to make a proposal. Additionally, they are pretty anxious about this new documentation approach.

Missing budget
As a consequence to the above, teams are hindered in launching their DITA project because they have no budget. Additionally, they don't know how to evaluate the cost of their current documentation. Consequently, they are unable to draft an evaluation of the benefits of a DITA migration.

Resistance to change
Some authors are reluctant to adopt any change in their authoring approach. They are so-to-say addicted to proprietary architectures. Any change generates some kind of (technical writer’s) block. “Some authors are reluctant to any kind of change, either out of conservatism… or out of technical incompetency” 1

Another factor that leads to slow adoption is the distance to the decision centres. When headquarters, usually based in a different country, decide to go for DITA, they often neglect to inform up front their subsidiaries about this tremendous change. Information finally crosses borders when the project is well advanced and, at that stage, distant team members have almost nothing to say. They have to deal with this challenge, without any preparation.

Not Self-developed
Teams don't want to consider what they did not develop themselves. Sara O'Keefe‘s blog article "Sturm and DITA Drang" 2 is a perfect example of European resistance to anything that was no grown on their “home turf”.

Managers vs. technical authors
Few documentation managers consider their team has not the skills to switch to DITA ("They won't be able to understand the difference between a TASK topic and a REFERENCE topic”). The article “DITA: a Universal Solution?”1 also stresses that a DITA project is at stake when teams lack of “ability to adapt to new tools and new ways of writing documentation”. Further, this inquiry made in France by Paris Diderot students reveals “many writers were very attached to their specific use cases just because they had always done it that way”. DITA authoring is indeed a revolutionary step in our industry and colleagues are bewildered by topic-oriented writing.

Last but not least, difference must be made between “old-fashioned” teams and those already familiar with structured authoring. Professionals with a basic training in structured technical communication are well-prepared to assimilate the DITA standard rules, such as modular and action-oriented authoring. They are more than happy to switch to DITA, whereas their colleagues without formal training show their fear to abandon the linear, waterfall, traditional, inefficient way to producing documentation.

In conclusion, let’s be optimistic… Colleagues from the European “Far North” have been leading in implementing DITA within their organizations. Our Finnish colleagues were early adopters and showed us the way. Let’s follow their example!


Marie-Louise Flacke

Marie-Louise Flacke specializes in training technical communicators in DITA authoring & Customer Experience know-how with an emphasis on usability and minimalism. With two decades in technical communication, Marie-Louise has extensive experience in applying Information development Best Practices in various industries (aircraft, pharma, IT, telecom, EU institutions) accross continental Europe. In 2017, she was included in the "200 Outstanding Content Experience Strategists" list.


1. DITA: a Universal Solution? Paris Diderot University https://comtechp7.hypotheses.org/27

2. Sturm und DITA-Drang at tekom www.scriptorium.com/2015/11/sturm-und-dita-drang-at-tekom/