Research Papers & Presentations

Working Papers

Knowledge Art

Introduction and Background

Defining Knowledge Art

Knowledge Art and Compendium

Case Studies

Related Material

Compendium and Knowledge Art

Can Compendium be called Knowledge Art? That is as yet an unanswered question. But Knowledge Art as a concept encourages us to see Compendium as a medium involving art, mastery, discipline and experience. It provides us with a new lens to view what we’d already been doing.

How can Compendium be seen as Knowledge Art?

Conventional approaches to developing, capturing, manipulating, and reusing organizational knowledge, while still valuable, don’t provide enough support, especially at the pressure points – those points where everyday sensemaking fails. Compendium started in 1993 with the seemingly counterintuitive juxtaposition of “modeling” (disciplined, formally logical ways of seeing, rule-governed analytical representational strategies) with “conversation” (free-flowing, exploratory, informal exchange); creating visual representations of conversation that provided seeds for analysis and reuse; formal activities providing seeds for conversation and exploration. Not situated vs. abstract, but situated informing abstract and vice versa.

Compendium allows participants to focus on one facet of a situation at a time, but provides ways to make sure all the facets are there and related to each other. Any facet or any focus can be valuable at a certain moment. At each moment it’s simple, but the cumulative effect isn’t. Compendium aspires to provide a resource for knowledge representations of great depth and breadth over time, allowing bits of the big picture to be created and manipulated on the fly, with nothing forgotten. It is an accessible, task-friendly, flexible resource employing both ‘small’ and ‘large’ techniques. Compendium provides a set of mechanisms to capture and relate the bits of organizational life and knowledge streaming by. Using the mechanisms can create and manipulate a wide variety of relationships over time. Statements and ideas become relational hypertext objects of appropriate granularity. Techniques like granular reuse of knowledge elements and representational morphing extend and multiply the use and life of ideas far beyond their original context.

To some, Compendium may seem like a bizarre or unfamiliar set of techniques, but in aggregate it’s uniquely flexible, effective, and sustainable. The same base of related objects yields multiple insights to multiple groups over time. Compendium allows small incremental gains, like performing a single task (e.g. building a model), facilitating a single meeting (e.g. a strategy discussion), or producing a single artifact (e.g. a set of web pages), but it also preserves everything as a continuously interrelatable and manipulable whole.

The basic set of techniques are simple and can be taught in two days – but practicing and combining them to attain some level of mastery takes either discipline or innate talent (e.g. one of the core skills is being able to play close enough attention (and working fast enough) during a meeting to capture, interpret, represent, and inter-relate on the fly). Although Compendium rose out of and was thought of as research, drawing on and knitting together many pre-existing ideas and techniques, it was always practiced in actual organizational settings where it had to show immediate benefit. Unlike art for art’s sake, we had to show results right away. Our mantras were “First Be Useful” (before claiming breakthrough, show that it provides tangible benefits in practice); and “Value Now, Value Later (the “now” is better meetings, better communication, and immediate output; the “later” is that material is already and always available in a form that can be reworked and reshaped to provide new benefits to other groups at other times) -- providing the ‘right away’ benefit but also aggregate over time.

Being software, and making the ideas and relationships available in electronic form, Compendium is also connected and connectable to all other software-enabled activities, artifacts, and processes, expanding the dimensionality, reach, and effectiveness of group work.

We’re just beginning to explore the potential of these connections. In some ways Compendium can be thought of as a KM approach, in some ways it’s more in the realm of art, but it really seems to be a kind of fusion – something that approaches Knowledge Art. In subsequent drafts of this paper I will try to go further to explicate and provide examples of how Compendium, or perhaps more accurately a particular way of practicing Compendium, can fulfill this promise.


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Copyright © 2003 Albert M. Selvin

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