Map Your Knowledge Strategy

By Stanford, Xenia | Information Outlook, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Map Your Knowledge Strategy


Stanford, Xenia, Information Outlook


Knowledge mapping quite simply is any visualization of knowledge beyond textual for the purpose of eliciting, codifying, sharing, using and expanding knowledge.

ORGANIZATIONS TODAY ARE FOCUSED ON THE INTELLECTUAL ANALYSIS of knowledge management and knowledge strategy. Often this cerebral view causes them to overlook a valuable tool for sharing, creating, analyzing and building upon knowledge, called knowledge mapping.

The history and uses of knowledge mapping show the length of time and wide variety of applications. From the past we can learn valuable lessons for mapping knowledge in organizations, including the mapping of the knowledge management strategy.

History of Knowledge Mapping

Knowledge mapping quite simply is any visualization of knowledge beyond textual for the purpose of eliciting, codifying, sharing, using and expanding knowledge. Thus it began as geographical maps drawn by ancient cartographers who depicted what they knew, how it was laid out and where it was located. Actually it could have originated long before that as ancient pictographs found in caves believed to date around 30,000 B.C. show various animals and might have been a way of recording the strategy of the hunt to share with others or to record for later use.

One of the oldest maps was found engraved on a silver vase dating from 3,000 B.C. See Figure 1: Map from Vase Found in Maikop Tomb. This depicted a body of water, a couple of trees and a semi-circular path leading to and from this location. In the water, between the trees and along the path different animals can be seen with the most plentiful hunting ground shown as a junction toward the bottom of the map. This is clearly a means of codifying knowledge to assist the hunter and others in his clan in tracing the steps back to the best booty.

The wisest of all cartographers though were those in the ancient regime who drew not only what they knew but also delineated where the borders and gaps in their knowledge existed. Perhaps it was a challenge to themselves or others to fill those gaps. Some ancient cartographers drew the known areas and at the edges indicated the unknown by drawing dragons. This "here be dragons" saying inferred both the danger and the challenge in finding what lay beyond. Modern cartographers tend to draw only what they know. We would be wise to heed the lessons of the ancients and draw not only what we know but show where be the dragons we must find and slay.

Maps were long used in military battles as well to show the routes and possible dangers of the way to the enemies' strongholds. Military maps were more than geographical maps as they were used to plan and strategize how to overcome the enemy and win the war. Later the armies also used these after battle as means of analyzing and deriving lessons learned.

The one often called the most perfect example of military mapping for debriefing purposes was that of M. Charles Minard (1781-1870), a retired civil engineer. His map showed the path of the 1812 march of 422,000 of Napoleon's troops leaving Paris for Moscow and the retreat of the decimated ranks. On this map Minard shows the temperatures and other challenges affecting the dwindling size.

This visualization captured the lessons learned in one image rather than volumes of text. The original map and modern revisions for clarity can be found at Michael Friendly's website (http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/reminard.html). Sunny McClendon's version appears to be one of the closest to the original while showing the more minute aspects more clearly. See Figure 2: Minard's Map of Napoleon's Invasion of Russia.

The military continued the use of maps for pre-battle strategy and post-battle debriefings. However, it wasn't until the twentieth century that educators and sociologists began to use knowledge mapping as a way of facilitating learning and understanding social groupings. …

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