A new book has just come out as part of the Human-Centred Informatics series (Morgan Claypool), edited by Jack Carroll.
As many of you will know, Al Selvin is a close colleague and friend in New York, whose PhD research with me is the heart of the book’s story. Al is passionate about understanding the ability that some people have (including himself), of being able to add value to a group’s deliberations, by evolving the right representation at the right time, in a way that those present can then ‘own’ as a picture of their dilemma, and co-develop further.
This book is essentially about Sensemaking, arguably the No.1 capability needed for the future workforce. While a companion book Knowledge Cartography surveys the affordances of many forms of visualisation for sensemaking, in this new book, we go deep into the proposition that the ability to craft visual representations in this way is a new kind of literacy, central to the practice of Participatory Design. What we document as the constituent elements of Participatory Representational Practice can, on occasion, rise to the level of Knowledge Art:
Little work examines PD facilitation at the move-by-move level or provides close analysis of the interactions of participants and practitioners with representations. Many PD researchers have called for increased emphasis on PD facilitation as a professional practice, requiring reflective and experiential approaches, as we’ll explore in more depth in the following chapter. It is here we propose that Knowledge Art, as a normative ideal, gives us a unique viewpoint by which to understand and evaluate instances of participatory rep- resentational practice. Rather than treating such practice as the rational application of tools and methods, we look at it as the attempt of people to create meaningful representations of the ways they have connected ideas together. The experience of doing this in groups is better treated from an experiential than a techno-rational perspective. At its best, such practice can result in highly evocative representations of designs, processes, and strategies, that serve not only as references, but also as touchstones of meaning. We use that ideal as a way to look at instances of practice and see where they do, or don’t, rise to that level of meaning and integration. (p. 10)
In a UTS context, it is a form of Creative Intelligence, a strategic focus here. The language we developed to describe the experience, skills and dispositions of such Knowledge Artists is reflected in the transdisciplinarity of the framework developed to describe Knowledge Art:
The core of the work was through detailed video analysis at several scales, of the use of the Compendium visual hypermedia software developed by Al and my team at the Knowledge Media Institute, Open University . Detailed analysis, at several levels, of video data from expert mappers in the heat of real meetings, and less experienced mappers in simulated but stressful practice sessions, led to the construction of a framework to describe the experience of a mapper. However, this book is not about Compendium per se, but about the ways in which a knowledge medium is used in collective sensemaking, whether software, pen+paper, or as one example shows, badges on the kitchen table…
This book doesn’t go into depth on complex systems or educational theory and practice — but in the introduction we set this work in the context of the need for people to grapple with unprecedented complexity:
As we navigate the second decade of the 21st century, humanity confronts the challenge of man- aging complexity at many scales, from the personal, to community, regional, national, and global. Finance, health, energy, education, urbanization, terrorism, etc. are the dilemmas we face that stretch us to the very limit of our cognitive and interpersonal capacities. The challenge, then, is to grow our collective capacity for sensemaking: to make sense of overwhelming amounts of data; to assess conflicting judgments about its trustworthiness; to resolve polarized interpretations about the implications; and to negotiate effective courses of action that all parties can commit to.
Better data and information/communication technologies (ICT) are not only drivers of these challenges, but also have key roles to play in managing them. However:
more data + more processing technology ≠ more insight or wisdom.
In the conclusion, we reflect on how the concept of Knowledge Art relates to the growing impetus to nurture 21st century skills and dispositions in schools and higher education:
What we are proposing, therefore, is a convergence between two important strands. We have on the one hand this growing body of work into 21st century competencies, and specifically into learning dispositions—not just from academic researchers, but many practitioners in the trenches— arguing that young people (and indeed citizens at large, and specifically workforces) need a new transferable set of qualities that equips them for the novel challenges and complexity of society. These qualities can be seen to come together in what we have called Knowledge Art in this book. Knowledge Art is quite an advanced mix of dispositions and skills, which we have sought to artic- ulate here for the first time. The resonances between the two strands are, we suggest, striking. The educational work on 21st century competencies already shows that these can be nurtured intention- ally by schools in primary age children. Just as this book has sought to provide a missing language for an important professional practice, a language for dispositions such as “learning power” provides a vocabulary which was missing for students and teachers to talk about dispositions (Claxton, 1999; Deakin Crick, 2006, 2007). (p. 76)
The final connection to the work that CIC will be driving forward is that the appendix details a range of Knowledge Art Analytics: the methods by which we are able to describe qualitatively and quantitatively, the ways in which representations were used in a meeting. This seeds the further development of approaches to develop analytics for higher order competencies, which could enable us to track and coach such abilities in a more rigorous way.
 The Compendium Institute is the virtual hub we created to support our global Compendium user community. When our research interests at the Open University shifted to the web and larger scale collective intelligence, we passed ownership of Compendium to the user+developer community — who couldn’t bear to lose it. The creation of CompendiumNG (Next Generation!) is the strongest possible evidence a research team could hope for that we had created something of lasting value.