Knowledge mapping is sensemaking

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 15, 2005
Filed in Employee Engagement

MapI’ve noticed an increased interest in knowledge mapping recently. A couple of tenders have been released, there’s talk about it on ActKM and some of our clients have engaged us to help them with the process. The other thing I’ve noticed is the misguided belief that a knowledge mapping exercise should create a single, one-off, accurate map.

Knowledge mapping should primarily be a sensemaking exercise where people are prompted to discover and consider their knowledge assets, discuss them, argue about them, decide which things or processes are important, and most importantly guide them to a point in order to take some action.  Before starting mapping ensure the intention are clear because the map created will depend on its purpose. Some maps are social network charts, some are yellow-pages, while others are simply a matrix showing knowledge assets and their relationship to business processes. In many cases multiple maps are needed and every case it’s important to repeat knowledge mapping on a regular basis. Just like cartographic maps there is never a single map for every purpose. The world is too rich and varied, to include everything, if that was possible, would result in a noisy and confusing picture.

Denham Grey has created a wiki, which you are welcomed to join and contribute to, which provides an excellent starting point for a discussion of knowledge maps and mapping. I’ve started to contribute some of my perspectives on sensemaking and recognising that the process is just as important as the map. It would be great to see your contributions and perhaps we can create a useful artefact about knowledge mapping for our KM community.

At Anecdote our knowledge mapping process is based on a three papers Dave Snowden wrote in 2000 where he made the following thoughtful observation: asking someone what they know is a cruel question, it lacks context and is virtually impossible to answer meaningfully. Consequently, our first step in knowledge mapping involves collecting evidence for where important knowledge resides. For this job we use narrative techniques because contained within each story of how work gets done are pointers to important knowledge. “Last time we conducted a performance review we had to ask Jessica about how it was done in 2003. She’s our go to person for anything like that.” or “No one actually uses the database to identify folks to work on projects. We tend to chat to people who we’ve worked with in the past and update the database retrospectively. It keeps management happy.”  Once the evidence is collected surveys and interviews can be used to flesh out what the knowledge looks and feels like. The final and vital step involves conducting a workshop of key players to make sense of the collected information. The purpose of the workshop is to identify which knowledge assets support key business process and using this information for the group to identify gaps or points where knowledge is at risk. From here new knowledge initiatives are identified. Knowledge mapping is often the first step in an overall knowledge improvement programme.

Snowden D (2000) Organic Knowledge Management – Part 1. Knowledge Management 3, 14-17.
Snowden D (2000) Organic Knowledge Management – Part 2. Knowledge Management 3, 11-14.
Snowden D (2000) Organic Knowledge Management – Part 3. Knowledge Management 3, 15-19.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

3 Responses to “Knowledge mapping is sensemaking”

  1. Knowledge Jolt with Jack Says:

    Knowledge mapping is sensemaking

    Shawn Callahan at Anecdote says “Knowledge mapping is sensemaking.” A student in the Center for Learning and Organizational Change has asked two of us to put together a simple workshop on this topic, so it is convenient to see this topic arise.

  2. Business Process Mapping Says:

    Business Process Mapping

    Process mapping allows you to analyze the way your you should be looking carefully at your own process mapping efforts are theyIt is at the beginn…

  3. PDFRNY Says:

    I am impressed by your post and the questions you raise. I wonder if you know this type of mapping that we found quite helpfull in your scope and would like to have your comments on them.
    Best regards

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