Knowledge mapping

Exploring the benefits, practice, tools and standards.

What is knowledge mapping?

An ongoing joint quest to help discover the constraints, assumptions, location, ownership, value and use of knowledge assets, artifacts, people and their expertise, uncover blocks to knowledge creation, and find opportunities to leverage existing knowledge.

Knowledge mapping may involve developing an ontology, conducting social network analysis, executing a survey, engaging a group of people in sensemaking, action research or ethnography.

The process of making the knowledge map is as important as the final product because its impossible to create a single map which will meet the needs of every situation. Agreement is required by decision-makers regarding the purpose of the knowledge mapping exercise and a map or maps created to meet those objectives.

A key distinction

Knowledge mapping is data gathering, survey, exploring, discovery, conversation, disagreement, gap analysis, education and synthesis. It aims to track the loss and acquisition of information & knowledge, personal and group competencies and proficiencies, show knowledge flows, appreciate the influence on intellectual capital due to staff loss, assist with team selection and technology matching.

Contrast this with a knowledge audit which tracks deviations from policy or established process, checks for compliance with standards and procedures, seeks to measure and value knowledge assets and marketable intangibles.

Knowledge audits
A knowledge audit focusses on finding, itemizing and putting values to knowledge assets and checking compliance with approved processes. The key activity is determining the worth and market value of intellectual property and capital and spotting policy and practice deviations. Mostly this activity is concerned with portfolio management and tangible (hard) assets.

"A knowledge audit covers, legal and security (protection) issues, ownership, market value, portfolio dynamics and synergies, potential for realising capital gains and enhancing revenue streams. The k. audit looks at conformance and compliance, concentrates on objects which are marketable or nearly so, rather than the enviroment for new knowledge creation. Every audit attempts to locate, measure and evaluate assets with some potential market value and checks for deviations from accepted processes."

Finding deviations

KM audit takes place after your organizational knowledge policies and processes are put in place and practices have been established. The audit meaures how faithfully the organization is following these authorized practices, lists departures, suggests revisions, controls and reviews to bring things back in-line.

Using audits vs. mapping
KM mapping is often done at the start of a major project to collect baseline data, although I think mapping is useful as an on-going exercise. The emphasis is on exploration, discovery and opportunity finding.

Knowledge audits are scheduled to value intangibles (intellectual property, social and intellectual capital) and mostly are done on an annual basis, before mergers and acquistions and as part of 'accounting' reviews or strategic due diligence exercises.

What exactly is a knowledge map?

A knowledge map portrays a perspective of the players, sources, flows, constraints and sinks of knowledge within an organization. It is a navigation aid to both explicit (codified) information and tacit knowledge, showing the importance and the relationships between knowledge stores and the dynamics. The final 'map' can take multiple forms, from a pictorial display to yellowpages directory, to linked topic or concept map, to inventory lists or a matrix of assets against key business processes.

Rationale, or why should I bother to map knowledge?

  • to find key sources, opportunities and constraints to knowledge creation and flows.
  • to encourage re-use and prevent re-invention, saving search time and acquisition costs
  • to highlight islands of expertise and suggest ways to build bridges to increase knowledge sharing and exchange
  • to discover effective and emergent communities of practice where informal learning is happening
  • to provide baseline data for measuring progress with KM projects and justifying expenditures
  • to reduce the burden on experts by helping staff to find critical solutions & information quickly
  • to improve customer response, decision making and problem solving by providing access to applicable information, internal and external experts
  • to highlight opportunities for learning and leverage of knowledge through distinguishing the unique meaning of 'knowledge' within that organization
  • to provide an inventory and evaluation of intellectual and intangible assets and assess competitive advantage
  • to supply research for designing a knowledge architecture, making key strategic choices, selecting suitable software or a building corporate memory
  • to garner support for new knowledge initiatives designed to improve the knowledge assets.

OK then what do I need to map?

  • Location, ownership, validity, timeliness, domain, sensitivity, access rights, storage medium, use statistics, medium and channels used
  • Documents, files, systems, policies, directories, competencies, relationships, authorities
  • Boundary objects, knowledge artifacts, stories, heuristics, patterns, events, practices, activities and flows
  • Explicit and tacit knowledge which is closely linked to strategic drivers, core competencies and market intelligence
  • Portray both the codified and the informal stuff, highlight constraints, assumptions, policies, culture, bottlenecks, brokers, repositories and boundary spanners.

It can be very difficult sometimes to quickly identify important knowledge assets because people forget about what they know until they need to know it. Consequently it can be useful to collect stories of how people work to remind others of the knowledge they rely on. This story base provides evidence which helps the knowledge mapper know where to look and what to include in the map.

What should I be looking for?

This depends on the mapping brief and may vary from recording existing explicit information sources, to understanding complex knowledge flows or evaluating industry competitiveness and innovation. Here is a checklist:

  • Newsfeeds, contact addresses, network transactions, helpdesk cheat sheets, patent registers, corporate libraries & HR databases, warrantee claims, LAN directory structures, record & document archives, process descriptions, push profiles, meta-data directory, social network patterns, customer notes, informal communities.
  • Locate 'mavens', boundary spanners, go-to contacts, off the radar databases on individual harddrives, check for coporate membership of industry SIGs and thinktanks.


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