New Thoughtpiece: Why Taxonomy Projects are Graceless and What To Do About It
Why do many enterprise taxonomy projects fail? In this thoughtpiece I explain why taxonomy projects are extraordinarily fragile in relation to the quality of the initial evidence gathering stage. I outline a methodology for improving the robustness and effectiveness of an enterprise taxonomy design, through a systematic knowledge audit at the project’s outset.
Latest Knowledge Organisation Posts from the IKO Conference Blog
Here’s a roundup of recent posts on knowledge organisation from the IKO Conference blog:
Data Analytics, Expert Intuition and the Role of Taxonomy
The Role of Taxonomy Work in Extracting Insight from Big Data
Brief History of Information Architecture
Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Organisation
Deep learning: Knowledge Organisation beyond textual content
Learn First: Label Later: How Deep Learning Works
Breaking Down Silos to Tackle Cyber Threats
The Singapore Government is setting up a new agency to monitor and counter threats to cyber security. See news reports here and here. Based on these reports, the Cyber Security Agency or CSA will bring together a few existing entities from different parts of the public sector. It will assimilate the Cyber-Watch Centre and the Threat Analysis Centre from the Infocomm Development Authority (iDA). It will also assimilate the Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority and the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team from the Ministry of Home Affairs. It looks like the Monitoring and Operations Command Centre (MOCC) will remain with iDA.
One can only imagine the extent of overlap in the activities of the different entities, so the establishment of CSA is an important first step to harmonising activities and to arrive at a coherent appreciation of cyber threats to our country. What’s not so clear from the reports is whether the staff of these different entities will be housed together, which is important for conversations to happen and weak signals to be pick up and investigated. This is not to say that knowledge sharing cannot happen if the staff are housed in different office locations – it will just be more challenging.
From an IM perspective, it will be interesting to know what kind of data ought to be shared between the centres/departments and iDA’s MOCC, and whether efforts will need to be channeled towards harmonising the data collected by the different entities. It will also be interesting to know what kind of technologies they will use to make sense of what I can only imagine to be a prodigious amount of data.
IKO Conference Blog is Up!
We have just launched the conference blog for our “Innovations in Knowledge Organisation” conference in June this year. In the first three posts we announce our Advisory Board, and give links to two useful applications of knowledge organisation and taxonomy work in big data analytics.
The Limits of Structured Taxonomies
Dave Snowden has a nice, pithy post on the “dangers of categorisation” which I read more as a very useful guide on the “limits” of categorization and formal taxonomy work. I found Dave’s Cynefin Framework incredibly useful in my book to explain the differing taxonomy strategies that are required depending on whether your environment is simple, complicated or complex. What’s useful about Dave’s post is his use of a narrative landscape from a SenseMaker® project to discern exactly where the boundaries between those different approaches might lie. This gives us an evidence base to make decisions instead of individual judgments.
Innovations in Knowledge Organisation
This is going to be fun….
In Defence of Discovery
So when we work on taxonomy and search in projects for clients, one of the most common over-simplifications we encounter (and there are many) is the assumption that the sole user problem to solve is a problem of “finding” or retrieving information against a clearly defined need. But if we pause even for a moment to consider our own working patterns, this is only one of several information scenarios. We might have an inkling of something and be looking for similar or connected things, which is where classifications help. We may not know specifically what there is to look for, we might be browsing to discover something that might be interesting or useful to our need. We might be indulging in “idle” curiosity (though I tend to think of curiosity as more active than idle).
Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova has a passionate piece on the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, and how important it is to foster and support open curiosity. It reminds me of a story about Robert Falcon Scott, on one of his Antarctic expeditions. While out sledding with his team, a crevasse opened up and he fell into it. Crevasses in the melting season are dangerous, they can shift and move unpredictably. But Scott frustrated his team mates by not climbing up the rope immediately they lowered it to them. He was busy examining the inner structure of the crevasse. He wanted to see how it was structured, and observe how it behaved.
This was characteristic of Scott, his team mates later observed. He questioned everything, explored everything, even if there didn’t seem to be an immediate need or payoff for doing so. This made him extremely alert to small signals in a shifting, complex and unpredictable environment. He guessed accurately when it was unsafe to cross an ice sheet. He knew how to treat the dogs when they were uneasy. Curiosity pays off in many small ways. And when we organise our knowledge systems, we need to provide for curiosity too.
Hat tip to my colleague Ari for picking up this article.
Transverse Lies and the Fusion of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
Mikhail Bulgakov spent his first couple of years (1916-1917) after graduating as a doctor in the depths of rural Russia. He wrote a number of semi-autobiographical short stories about the experience. In one of them, he is called out in the middle of the night to deal with a difficult and dangerous pregnancy, a transverse lie, in which the baby is lying horizontally with its shoulder nearest to the birth canal. His two experienced midwives looking on, Bulgakov tries to give an impression of competence, but while he aced his obstetrics paper, he knows the task of turning the baby – called a version – in the womb is hazardous, and all his book knowledge flies from him. On the pretext of getting his cigarettes while the midwives prep the mother, he rushes to his room and goes through his obstetrics textbook. Then as he scrubbed up for the procedure, his midwife “described to me how my predecessor, an experienced surgeon, had performed versions. I listened avidly to her, trying not to miss a single word. Those ten minutes told me more than everything I had read on obstetrics for my qualifying exams…”
After the procedure, which was successful, he returns to his room and starts flipping through his obstetrics manual again. “And an interesting thing happened: all the previously obscure passages became entirely comprehensible, as though they had been flooded with light; and there, at night, under the lamplight in the depth of the countryside I realised what real knowledge was.”
We sometimes think of explicit technical knowledge and tacit experiential knowledge as distinct things, because they come in different forms. In knowledge management we certainly manage them in different ways. But Bulgakov’s story reminds us of how intimately connected they are. The knowledge in the obstetrics manual is codified for reading no doubt. But it is itself a hardening and crystallisation of centuries of experiential knowledge. And getting the words into your head gets some knowledge into your head, for sure, but the experience of working with bodies is what brings that technical knowledge to fruition. What Bulgakov describes is a process of reciprocal enrichment and fusion between outer and inner knowledge, making the outer knowledge more accessible than before. So now I’m thinking, how do we manage for that kind of process?
ISKO UK Conference 2015 - Call for Papers
I’m honoured to be associated with the ISKO UK biennial conference on knowledge organisation. This is a small, highly focused conference, and one of the best around in bringing practical and theoretical perspectives to bear on issues and methods in knowledge organisation. They have just issued a call for papers for their 2015 conference, which will be held 13-14 July 2015. Consider putting in a proposal! See under the fold for the call for papers details.
Knowledge Retention: Beyond Guidelines and Rhetoric
Shortly after my mom turned 50, she decided to retire. Soon after that, I began to notice oddities in our conversations. She would tell me things that didn’t make sense. When I pressed her for context, she seemed disoriented. She had been watching a lot of TV programmes, and I wondered if her reality had somehow been distorted because of that. It was worrying. We decided that she should go back to work. She did, and these days conversations tend to be about her peeves with her colleagues or customers. In other words, things are back to normal.