The Knowledge Visualization Framework

In this section you will learn about a simple framework to facilitate your choice of methods when attempting to visualize knowledge. This framework can be depicted as follows:


Using the power of visualization requires that one pays careful attention to the context in which it is use. To systematically examine the application scope of a visualization method, we have developed this simple framework that structures key parameters into four streams of seven options per stream.

These four perspectives can provide an overview and serve as check questions when visualizing complex issues. The perspectives are based on the following four questions:

1. What is the purpose of using a visualization method?
2. What type of knowledge needs to be visualized?
3. Who is being addressed?
4. What is consequently the most appropriate visualization type?

Possible answers to these questions lead to the Knowledge Visualization Framework that is illustrated above. This framework is based on previous works (Burkhard, 2005, Burkhard, 2004c, Eppler and Burkhard, 2005) .

The benefit perspective points to the fact that visual representations support different functions. These are cognitive, emotional, and social functions. The seven key benefits of visualizations can be defined as:

Attention : the ability of a visualization to attract, direct, and keep the attention of the participants.

Recall : the ability of a visualization to convey content in a memorable way.

Overview : the ability of a visualization to synthesize detail and provide a macro structure that organizes many elements into a coherent whole.

Comprehension : the ability of visualization to foster understanding, learning, and sense making activities by showing relationships.

Discovery : the potential of a visualization to trigger new insights for its users/participants by highlithing meaningful, interesting patterns.

Emotion : the ability of a visualization to trigger functional emotional responses to it.

Coordination : the ability of a visualization to guide a group of people and provide common points of reference.

The contents perspective points to the fact that the key for the creation and communication of knowledge is the content and that there are different types of knowledge. The seven main types of knowledge can be defined as:

1. Know-what is factual or declarative knowledge about the state of affairs. It is knowledge about quantities or numbers, concepts or products. An example of this type of knowledge is my knowledge of the exchange rate of the dollar to the Swiss Franc or my knowledge about the components of a car.

2. Know-how is procedural knowledge of how to do or achieve something. When this type of knowledge is represented it should illustrate the steps to take to complete a certain task or acquire a certain skill. An example of this type of knowledge is my knowledge on how to plan a project or how to cook a meal.

3. Know-why is knowledge about causes and effects or why a leads to b. This type of konwledge is often basesed on (personal) experience on what works and what doesn‘t. An example of know-why is my experience that if I prepare thirty overhead slides for a ten minute management presentation, I will run out of time or confuse my audience.

4. Know-where is orientational knowledge about where to find things, either geographically or conceptually. An example of know-where is my knowledge of where my books on project management are stored or my knowledge of how to find the cafeteria in the building.

5. Know-who is knowledge about people. This type of knowledge relates to the people you know and what you know about them. In social network analysis, for example, you can visualize your network of peers based on their relationships to others.

6. Know-when is the temporal knowledge about sequences in time. It is knowledge relating to time conditions, for example when it‘s a good time to hold a meeting. Know-when is often an element of know-how. It is, however, strictly limited to your assessment of time-related aspects.

7. Know-what-if is the knowledge about hypothetical events or situations. It is knowledge about the implications of certain imagined scenarios. In this sense know-what-if is close to know-why, but it doesn‘t have to rely on past experiences. An example of this type of knowledge is the insight you gain from a sensitivity analysis in a cash-flow spreadsheet.

The participants perspective points to the key successfactor in the process of communicating and creating role – the involved participants. Knowing the context and background of them is essential for the effective use of one or complementary visualizations. The participants can be divided into seven types:

1. Oneself : Visualization starts with the individual, wheter you‘re imagining giving your next presentation or doodle while on the phone with somebody else. Visualization is a powerful way to discover for yourself what you are thinking.

2. Two people : This communicative situation is best represented by a conversation: two people talking to one another either face to face, on the telephone or online through a chat or instant messaging system.

3. Small group : a small group setting is one where you could still comfortably hold a meeting. Small groups may range anywhere from three to 12 people. Examples of small groups are sub-project teams or executive management teams.

4. Large group by contrast assemble a number of participants that can no longer interact freely in a regular meeting context: a high school or college class is made up of a large group, as are departmental meetings or town hall meetings.

5. Organization : an organization is any kind of goal-directed social system that has clear boundaries and an internal structure. Examples are of course corporations, non-profit organizations such as a foundation, or public institutions or government agencies.

6. A consortium is an inter-organizational entity that co-ordinates the activities or interests of a group of individuals, groups or organizations. Examples of consortia are corporate joint ventures, industry associations, consumer clubs, or political action groups.

7. Public : With the term public we refer to the sum of all external stakeholders of an organization, for example the clients, the media, the government, citizens in general, etc.

Finally, the method perspective points to the key activities in the process of communicating and creating knowledge. Knowing about the different methods helps to use it benefitially. The seven generic methodological concepts are:

1. Envisioning is the focused creation, elaboration of a clear mental picture of a real-life or fictitious entity or process. An example of this form may be envisioning your self giving a presentation.

2. Sketching is the personal, real-time, ad-hoc, provisionary drawing by hand of concepts or things by one or several people on paper or on a tablet PC/interactive whiteboard. An example of sketching are Leonardo da Vinci’s hand drawings of machines or Sigmund Freud‘s sketches of models of the subconscious.

3. Expressing is the concrete, vivid and illustrative representation of a real-life or imagined entity or process (object, person, place, idea). An example of such a format is a photo, the 3D rendering of a product prototype, or the visual metaphor of a temple to structure the main components of an IT-architecture.

4. Diagramming is the precise, abstract and focused representation of numeric or non-numeric relationships at times using pre-defined graphic formats and/or categories. An example of a diagram is a Cartesian coordinate system, a management matrix, or a network diagram.

5. Mapping is the positioning of many elements in one or many related layers on a common graphic structure. An example is a geographic map for bikers, a mind map, or a knowledge map giving an overview on visualization experts.

6. Materializing is the physical, three-dimensional symbolic representation of content in one or several artefacts. An example of such an artefact is a cube or a medal.

7. Exploring is the use of computer-based interaction and simulation to disover new relationships and patterns. An example of such a visualization activity is the game SimCity, the statistics package SPSS or Google Earth.

Last modified: Wednesday, 24 January 2007, 2:44 PM