Creating a Knowledge Map: The Basics

This is a guest post by Manel Heredero, MEng. Manel is the founder of Evoca, a London-based consultancy firm helping organisations improve knowledge management and collaboration. Connect with Manel on LinkedIn. This post is part of our knowledge mapping series.

As I explained in the first article of this knowledge mapping series, knowledge maps are a powerful tool for communities and organisations to capture and share their most valuable asset: intellectual capital.

In this article I will share why and how to build a Knowledge Map and some concepts to consider when doing so.

Do not search for knowledge, access it

In every meeting and workshop about knowledge management, I get the following question: “Shouldn’t we have a search field?”.

We are so used to searching for information that it comes as a surprise when searching for knowledge is discouraged. The premise for the argument is that knowledge should be accessed, not searched for. When we search for knowledge and if we are lucky, the best thing that can happen is that we find what we are looking for. When we access knowledge by navigating the knowledge map, we discover things we did not know existed. We also gain a quick understanding of what we know as a group, what we have available to us and what we would like to have available to us, but do not yet possess.

Many of us have experienced varying levels of frustration when we complete a search in a database and the computer returns lists of 20 items or more with vaguely similar titles, forcing us to open file after file and leaving us wondering what the ‘good stuff’ really is. I can assure you, searching is not faster than accessing.

How knowledge mapping can help

Organisations can curate an experience for their members when accessing their collective intelligence – the intellectual capital of the company – by organising the knowledge assets in a knowledge map.

The image below belongs to the knowledge map for the preparation of the annual OuiShare Festival held in Barcelona. Knowledge maps are extremely intuitive and they provide great platforms to showcase our knowledge assets. Members of the team can navigate the different branches of the map, leading them to groups of assets and to new maps. Most assets can be reached following different paths, as different people follow different thought processes.

knowledge map to plan event


Knowledge vs Information

The key to building a good knowledge map is to avoid unnecessary noise. And the best way to avoid cluttering is to have a clear mind about what qualifies as a knowledge asset and what does not. I like the definition from Davenport and Prusak: “Knowledge is a high value form of information that is ready to apply to decisions and actions” and that “knowledge derives from information as information derives from data”. This is extremely important, as I’ve often seen knowledge-sharing platforms suffering from an excess of information. This is damaging for the Knowledge Mapping initiative, as too much information becomes noise and noise prevents people from accessing the most important content. Here is where the ‘knowledge asset’ concept becomes important.

For me, knowledge assets are minimum common denominators of knowledge, an atom if you like. They are actionable productive units. I normally expect over 90% of knowledge assets to be produced as part of the normal team workflow. I like assets to be small and actionable. Those atoms are then added to the knowledge map for users to navigate and grab at will, so they become the building material of their projects.

Examples of Knowledge Assets

To help with the differentiation between Information and Knowledge, the following list shows a handful of assets we identified at OuiShare during the preparations of the OuiShare Fest.

Sponsorship Policy

Call for Volunteers

OuiShare Logo

Use of Fonts

Track Template (the conference is composed of four or five different tracks each year)

How to apply these theories to create a Knowledge Map

Let’s now imagine we’re part of the team who will prepare the OuiShare Fest in Barcelona next year. It’s a lot of work, which will keep the whole team of around 30 people fairly busy over the next few months.

You have chosen to work on the ‘Sponsors’ team and your objective is to engage as many companies as possible. The nature of this engagement is not only to obtain funding, but also to establish links between those companies and the experts, participants and entrepreneurs that will attend the conference. Ultimately, the goal of OuiShare is to help those companies start initiatives and projects related to the sharing economy.

Exercise: Try to list any knowledge assets you can think of related to ‘Sponsors’. Keep in mind that those assets are meant to be useful and actionable pieces of information, which will help you and your colleagues carry out your work, engage companies, achieve record funding and kick off exciting collaborative projects with those sponsors. Please list those assets in the comments section, so we can discuss them. One key asset that comes to mind is: ‘Presentation Email’.

How to organise your Knowledge Assets around Knowledge Domains

There are hundreds of knowledge assets in every community and every organisation. The first piece of advice when building the knowledge map for your organisation is to not try and capture all of your knowledge assets into one single mind map.

When you and your colleagues start creating your common brain, you should be thinking of domains of knowledge and dedicate one mind map to each domain. A domain is just a group of assets that share a particular area. Note that one given asset could be present in a number of domains. This is a key characteristic of an ontology when compared to a taxonomy, as we discussed in the first article.

In the OuiShare example I am using for this article, one domain is called ‘Sponsors’ and has its own dedicated map. Other domains include ‘Branding’, ‘Production’, ‘Programme’ or ‘Volunteers’. Different members of the organisation will specialise in one or two domains, and they will get a feeling of ownership (this being more important than it sounds, since company culture is the main obstacle for any knowledge management initiative).

Exercise: Let’s focus on one single domain – Sponsors. Create a new mind map and call it ‘Sponsors’. This is the domain where we should be able to access all knowledge relevant to working with sponsors. Please add to the map all the knowledge assets you have thought of in the previous exercise.

While you do this, keep in mind that anyone in your organisation may come to this domain in search of useful and actionable information, so try to create an experience for those visitors. I strongly recommend that if you start getting a long list of nodes, you may consider grouping them in branches. We humans feel more comfortable with groups of no more than six or seven elements.

With the following link you can explore some of the initial assets we identified at OuiShare for the Sponsors domain. In the next articles we will explain how this knowledge map evolved and why it matters so much.


Next Steps

We have seen the difference between information and knowledge and we have started building our first knowledge map. Please use the comments to share your views on what ‘knowledge assets’ we should have in the ‘sponsors’ section. If you’re making your own sponsors mind map, please do make it public and share the link in the comments below, so I’m able to take a look and let you know what my feedback would be.

In the next article I will share how the ‘Sponsors’ team mind map evolved and show how to build the connections between the different domains, which is the basis behind building the common brain, or collective intelligence, of your company, organisation or team.


If you enjoyed this article, check out our MindMeister for Business page, to see how you could get started on your own company knowledge map.