Knowledge technologies in context
Knowledge technologies in context

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Knowledge technologies in context

4.11 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued

4.11.1 Debating and negotiating meaning

The two briefings in Boxes 4.10 and 4.11 illustrate other technological approaches to supporting socially based forms of knowledge generation, with the common theme of facilitating negotiation and debate among stakeholders. These are examples of tools which can assist communication between communities of practice as they seek to understand each other's perspectives.

Box 4.10 Technology briefing: enriching documents with annotations and discourse

Since knowledge will exist in multiple degrees of explicitness and formality, computers need to support this. A ubiquitous phenomenon is the informalisation of formal representations of knowledge, as mentioned in Section 3.1. This is the natural result of interpreting and contextualising a static document to your particular requirements. The tangible result often takes the form of annotations all over a formal document, and discussions about that document, either online or face-to-face. Many office and intranet products now provide annotation and discussion facilities as sharing documents over networks becomes the norm. The widespread availability of pen-based computing such as Tablet PCs takes us a step closer to the kind of highlighting and scribbling practices that we are used to with paper and pen.

Adding personal annotations is one thing, but different kinds of tools are needed to have an online discussion about a document. An example of a system designed to enable web document discussion is The Open University's Digital Document Discourse Environment [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (D3E; see Screen 6, below). A toolkit converts a standard web document into the environment shown, making it easy to navigate online between sections, follow references and comment on or discuss with others any specific section or theme in the document.

Screen 6, above, shows how the D3E system ( generates a document-discussion interface from a conventional HTML document (as used for document review in a journal). On the left is the Article Window, on the right the Commentaries Window showing the top level outline view of discussion about the document.

Key: 1. Comment icon embedded in each section heading: clicking displays section-specific comments; 2. active contents list extracted from the section headings; 3. print versions as HTML and PDF; 4. numeric or author/date citation automatically linked to corresponding reference in footnote window; 5. a reverse hyperlink is inserted for each citation of a reference; 6. an editorial note to draw attention to a controversial issue in the author-reviewer debate that ‘made it’ into the published version; 7. section-specific review comment; 8. an editorial comment summarising the review discussion and specifying change requirements. (Note that there are two versions of the user interface: one as shown, and, for smaller displays, the document and discussion are placed in separate browser windows)

Box 4.11 Capturing group memory as a hypertextual web of concepts

‘Wicked problems’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) have a number of characteristics that you will no doubt recognise from your own work. Such problems:

  • cannot be easily defined, making it difficult for all stakeholders to agree on the problem to solve

  • require complex judgements about the level of abstraction at which to define the problem

  • have no clear stopping rules (usually when resources run out)

  • have better or worse solutions, not right and wrong ones

  • have no objective measure of success

  • have no given alternative solutions – these must be discovered

  • often have strong moral, political or professional dimensions (you may lose your job if you get it wrong).

These are the typical challenges faced in strategic planning, upstream design and government or social policy formulation.

Knowledge management tool requirements. Knowledge technologies to assist in the analysis of such problems have to take seriously a number of issues that have been emphasised in this unit: the complexities of trying to bring together diverse communities of practice (negotiating different agendas and language), poorly understood domains (making concepts hard to organise) and tacit factors that again may be hard to represent (for example, decision criteria that may range from technical to political in nature).

Compendium. One promising approach is the Compendium methodology and suite of tools. This has emerged from over a decade's joint research and development at the intersection of collaborative modelling, organisational memory, computer-supported argumentation and meeting facilitation. It takes as its starting point the face-to-face meeting, which is the most pervasive knowledge-based activity in working life, but also one of the hardest to do well. Compendium's developers report that the combination of facilitation with visual hypertext tools can improve potentially unproductive or explosive meetings between multiple stakeholders with competing priorities (Selvin et al., 2001). Diverse perspectives can be captured, structured and integrated in a way that all participants collectively own as a trace of their discussions. In the process this constructs a structured, group memory which shows where the same concepts have been discussed in different contexts, why decisions were made, and allows one to harvest related concepts from multiple meetings (see Screen 2 for an example from Box 4.4: NASA collaboration tools).

Integration with other tools and work processes. These ‘conversational maps’ often need to be integrated with pre/post-meeting activities and documents. For instance, written documents can be converted into concept maps, so that their contents can be analysed in new ways and integrated with other maps. Conversely, organisational documents (conforming to the requirements and expectations of other stakeholders) can be generated directly from concept maps.

For details of this approach and a business case study, see below for the article entitled ‘Rapid knowledge construction: a case study in corporate planning using collaborative hypermedia’ by A. Selvin and S. Buckingham Shum.

Click the link below to open 'Rapid Knowledge Construction'.

Rapid knowledge construction: a case study in corporate planning using collaborative hypermedia.


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