Knowledge Art

One of the advantages of a long term technology R&D programme is that you get to ask questions that can’t possibly be answered with very early prototypes, which while demonstrate exciting concepts, never really have time to be embedded in real practice.

We are now beginning to construct answers to what I consider to be a foundational question about knowledge media literacy:

What does it mean to be literate in crafting representations that help a group make sense of the world?

Arguably, this is a literacy of first order importance as we confront novel challenges of overwhelming complexity, which will always (and increasingly) require external representations as extensions and augmentations of personal and collective cognition. However smart our  technologies are, people must then engage in sensemaking activity around them to decide how to act. If a group is building a model of the world in some medium (paper +/or digital) what is the skillset to orchestrate effective interaction around and via that representation?

Al Selvin unpacks this question much more richly, in what he evocatively calls Knowledge Art. In the latest paper to emerge from Al’s research, we present a language for talking about the practice, and experience, of Knowledge Art. This draws on work from sensemaking, narrative, aesthetics, ethics, and improvisation. It’s based on studying novice and expert use of our Compendium visual hypermedia tool, and is discussed in the context of a specific application to design teams, but the work is intentionally framed in terms designed to apply to many other tools and applications. It provides a way to “make sense of a sensemaking session”, such as the heatmap visualization shown here.

Selvin, A., Buckingham Shum, S.J. & Aakhus, M. (2010). The Practice Level in Participatory Design Rationale: Studying Practitioner Moves and Choices. Human Technology: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Humans in ICT Environments (Special Issue on Creativity and Rationale, Ed. Jack Carroll), To appear May 2010. []. Preprint:

Abstract. Most research in design rationale focuses on specific tools, methods, models, or artifacts. There has been relatively little attention to the practice level of design rationale work: the human experience of working with the tools and methods to create rationale artifacts. This paper explores a particular juncture of creativity and design rationale that is found in the special case of helping groups of people construct representations of rationale in live meetings. Doing such work poses challenges and requires skills different than those of individuals working alone. We describe the role of practitioners, who perform caretaking and facilitative functions in collaborative or participatory design rationale sessions, and present a set of analytical tools aimed at making the practice level more visible. We locate the analysis in a theoretical framework aimed at understanding the experiential dimensions of such practice, including sensemaking, narrative, aesthetics, ethics, and improvisation.

3 Responses to “Knowledge Art”

  1. […] includes an article led by KMi’s Al Selvin, as blogged earlier under the broader heading of Knowledge […]

  2. […] an earlier post on Knowledge Art, a term coined by friend and colleague Al Selvin, I opened with this […]

  3. […] an earlier post on Knowledge Art, a term coined by friend and colleague Al Selvin, I opened with this […]

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