Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is Knowledge Architecture (the Short Version)

In one of the industry mailing lists, a member asked if anyone else had the title of knowledge architect and, if so, what do they define it as. Since that is the title I go by, I thought it might be useful to explain how I define the role and what separates it from others.

(I was somewhat surprised to find that I hadn't answered this before -- in writing. I do it a lot in person. My opening posts define Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, but skipped the synergy between them that is where I live and work today...)

I tend to keep my definitions simple. So to me Knowledge Architecture is the application of information architecture to knowledge management. That is, using the skills for defining and designing information spaces to establish an environment conducive to managing knowledge.

Borrowing a metaphor from physics, you can think of the difference between information architecture and knowledge architecture in terms of energy. Information architecture tends to focus on designing spaces for existing or predefined information. What might be called kinetic information. For example, one branch of information architecture focuses on findability, with little or no concern about how the content itself comes into being.

Knowledge architecture, on the other hand, deals with potential information. So, rather than determining the best way to use existing content, the knowledge architect is designing "spaces" that encourage knowledge to be created, captured, and shared. In this respect, the actual content doesn't matter as much as the life cycle -- how and when it gets created and how best to get it to the right people quickly. For example, collaboration strategies may focus on the structure and set up of team spaces or discussion forums -- how they get created, how they operate, how people find them and vice versa. But the actual tasks and topics discussed in those spaces are up to the teams that use them and may not be determined to long after the strategy is completed and in place.

That is not to say that knowledge architects don't have plenty of traditional information architecture/content management responsibilities as well -- such as taxonomies, web site structures, search interfaces, etc. But what sets them apart from other information architects is their focus on the design of spaces and the processes that support knowledge being exchanged, rather than on the knowledge itself.


chris said...
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chris said...


Love your description of Knowledge Architecture. I hadn't heard anyone use the term for a job description before and I liked the way "Knowledge Architect" sounded so I started using it to describe what I did a few years ago. It was exactly how you described it, living in the seam between Information Architecture and Knowledge Management. I liked the job title so much, that when I launched my company last spring I named it Knowledge Architecture.

I also happen to believe that Knowledge Architecture can be "pre-fabricated" by distilling key "Knowledge Management Patterns" into building blocks. For example, in our industry, Architecture and Engineering, most firms try to capture similar things (design processes, quality control checklists, skills databases, images and renderings, etc.) in VERY similar ways. Our company has built a library of common web parts, integrations, and dashboards that take a lot of the guesswork out of figuring out how to effectively capture knowledge.

I've added your blog to my Google Reader feed. Here's a link to ours in case you are interested in following us: blog.knowledge-architecture.com


Christopher Parsons
Founder, Knowledge Architecture

UsrX said...

Your reference to information architecture may be Web design related (vs. enterprise information architecture). Nonetheless, any good IA will factor on usability principles and design for the *context* of the site/tool. KM is just one of many design contexts for an information space. Although the title advertises your area of interest (KM), there isn't really any difference between a good IA and a knowledge architect. You can't architect knowledge, anyway, so that title is also a misnomer.

Andrew Gent said...

Hi UsrX,

I'm not sure I get your point. I am an Information Architect, so of course I think an IA can fulfill this role. I am not implying that knowledge architecture is a different beast as much as a variant of IA, with its own unique challenges and requirements. It was those unique aspects I was trying to call out in the post.

As for your claim that you can't architect knowledge... that is, as Americans say, baloney. That's exactly what instructional designers do. This is what curriculum development is about. Knowledge architecture tries to take a more dynamic and holistic approach to the subject than designing individual fixed training modules. Just as IAs take a more dynamic and holistic approach to the information space than designing individual, static web pages.

Having said that, you can't force someone to learn or "know" something. Any more than you can force someone to understand and use information effectively. But there are design techniques and strategies that make that more likely to happen.