ABCs of KMFeatured StoriesKnowledge visualization

The proof is in the pudding – knowledge visualization types and examples [Knowledge visualization series part 6]

This article by Hanlie Smuts is part 6 (and the final part) of a series of articles exploring knowledge visualization aspects from an organizational perspective.

Knowledge visualization refers to the application of visual representation techniques from multiple visualization domains aiding knowledge-intense processes such as knowledge sharing among employees in an organization. In the past 5 parts of a series of articles discussing a knowledge visualization framework from an organizational perspective, this final part presents some knowledge visualization types and examples. In the table below, I collated knowledge visualization types presented by scholars1. This is by no means all the possibilities, but I wanted to illustrate application with some example types. In addition, the type of knowledge visualization that you choose will be guided by the purpose of the knowledge exchange required i.e. do you need to motivate a team, generate new insights, promote knowledge recall or coordinate efforts.

Type Description
Sketches
  • Simple drawings that help to visualize the key features and the main idea very quickly.
  • Can be used in group reflections and communication processes as they make knowledge debatable.
Diagrams
  • Abstract, schematic representations that are used to display, explore and explain relationships.
  • Reduce complexity, make abstract concepts accessible and amplify cognition.
Maps
  • Present overview and detail at the same time, help to structure information, motivate and activate employees, establish a common story and ease access to information.
  • Present entities on a different scale; bring 3-dimensional objects into a 2-dimensional visualization.
Knowledge maps
  • Inventory of an organization’s internal or external repositories or sources of information or knowledge.
  • Consists of two components: context, which should be easy to understand for all users of the map; elements: grouped in order to show their relationships, locations or qualities.
Concept maps
  • Consist of nodes, which contain information, and links that show the relationship between the different pieces of information.
  • Represent meaningful relationships between concepts in the form of propositions.
Images
  • Can be renderings, photographs or paintings that may represent the reality, but can also be artistic.
  • Able to address emotions and can inspire, motivate or energize the audience and improve recall or initiate discussions.
  • Special kinds of images are visual metaphors, used to convey an abstract idea by relating it to a concrete phenomenon e.g. natural phenomenon like an iceberg used to illustrate root cause analysis process in an organization.
Objects
  • Show content from different perspectives, allows to explore an object in 3D.
  • Interactive 3D models allow different perspectives.
Interactive visualizations
  • Computer-based interactive visualizations allow to access, control, explore, combine and manipulate different types of complex data, information and knowledge.
  • Help to create new insights e.g. animations recognize important changes over a certain period of time
Visions / stories
  • Non-physical, imaginary mental visualization, which help to transfer knowledge across time and space.
  • Help to discuss potential influences of ideas and concepts on future scenarios.
  • Enable to establish a shared vision and a coherent story that motivates and activates the recipients.

By applying the principles shared as part of the organizational perspective knowledge visualization framework, some examples of knowledge visualizations may be considered. I have only extracted a few examples to illustrate the potential. For each example, I have indicated the source.

In the image below (Figure 1), a tube map (extract) was used as a knowledge map to represent a project. The tube lines represent a group of recipients and the stations project milestones. The visualization clearly presents which recipients contribute to a particular milestone. The purpose of this knowledge visualization was to share a complex project with different target groups, to create a mutual narrative, to attract and motivate employees, to provide an overview and detail in one image, to initiate discussions and to foster understanding.

Project Tube Map
Figure 1. Project Tube Map (source: © Gabriele D’Arrigo, reproduced by permission).

The periodic table (Figure 2) was used as a visual metaphor to classify 100 different methods of visualization. Groups, recognizable through the same background color, contain visualizations of the same application area, which are categorized into data-, information-, concept-, metaphor-, strategy- and compound visualization. For each element it is indicated whether the method provides detail, overview or both, whether convergent vs. divergent thinking is required and whether structure or process need to be represented. This visualization provides an overview of a variety of different visualization methods and guides towards the correct method to be applied for the particular problem you want to resolve.

Periodic Table
Figure 2. Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (source: © Robert Meyer, reproduced by permission).

Scholars used the image of a bridge to share how to lead successful negotiations (Figure 3). This visualization is based on the negotiation method of Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
Figure 3. Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) (source: © Martin J. Eppler and Remo A. Burkhard, reproduced by permission),

In conclusion, research regarding knowledge visualization has been published since the early 2000’s as you can see from the references shared in these articles. Yet, its adoption for knowledge sharing in an organizational context seem to be low.

From an organizational perspective, the application of knowledge visualization enables the organization to manage large volumes of knowledge that need to be shared for the purpose of cross community learning and engagement. Furthermore, in an environment where employees have to cope with fast changing environments, knowledge visualization stimulate imagination and new ideas while minimizing ambiguity. From a knowledge perspective, knowledge visualization facilitates the re-use of knowledge, encourage development of mental models and improve comprehension.

Happy knowledge visualizing in your organizations!

Header image source: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay, Public Domain.

Reference:

  1. Eppler, M. J., & Burkhard, R. A. (2008). Knowledge visualization. In Knowledge management: concepts, methodologies, tools, and applications (pp. 781-793). IGI Global.

Dr Hanlie Smuts

Dr Hanlie Smuts is an Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria since 2017. During her tenure in industry, her role aimed to deliver consistent, customer relevance across all digital touch points, to empower customers through convenient and effective self-service, and to drive growth through personalised digital offerings. Through a deeper understanding of the digital and adjacent ecosystems, she championed transformation to digital and the need for collaboration in this context. Her thorough understanding of the digital and adjacent ecosystems also enabled her to implement digital financial solutions for the mass markets in South, East and West Africa. Her current research focuses on information systems and the organisation, with particular emphasis on digital transformation, disruptive technologies (4th Industrial Revolution) and the management of big data and knowledge. The combination of these research areas enables cross-domain research in the field of knowledge visualisation as an organisational tool, as well as collaboration between human and machine knowledge (artificial intelligence and machine learning) for knowledge-related work. Dr Smuts has published several papers and book chapters in her field of study.

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