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Knowledge visualization: a brief introduction

By: Jill Huettich

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Interestingly enough, you don’t often hear the term “knowledge visualization” in the corporate world—which is unusual when you consider just how valuable knowledge visualization is to decision-making, productivity, and strategic planning. That isn’t just idle speculation either–the benefits of knowledge visualization are backed by science. In fact, research shows that knowledge visualization enables meaningful learning, aids with memory retention, simplifies complex issues, ignites creativity, and even improves writing skills.

Knowledge Visualization 101

Knowledge visualization is the use of visual representation to improve the creation and transfer of knowledge.

What is knowledge visualization?

Knowledge visualization is defined as “the use of visual representations to improve the creation and transfer of knowledge between at least two people.” If you’ve ever sketched something out on a napkin to better explain a concept to a friend, you’ve practiced knowledge visualization.

However, visualizing knowledge encompasses more than just sketches. Knowledge can be transferred using a variety of visual formats, including: diagrams, images, objects, interactive visualizations, information visualization applications, and even imaginary visualizations, as in stories.

Additionally, knowledge visualization doesn’t just refer to the transfer of facts. It’s also used for transferring insights, experiences, attitudes, values, expectations, perspectives, opinions, and predictions.

What are the benefits of knowledge visualization?

The benefits of knowledge visualization are myriad. We briefly highlighted them earlier in this article, but in this section, we’ll go into greater depth. This will help you have a better understanding of why you might want to incorporate more opportunities for visualizing information into your own organization.

For instance, knowledge visualization benefits include such things as:

  1. Better Understanding – Visualizing knowledge is useful for identifying patterns, outliers, and trends. And of course with this information, companies can better predict where their organization, industry, or market is headed, strategically planning for the future.
  2. Improved Recall – You’re probably familiar with the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That definitely applies to knowledge visualization. When concepts are presented to people in a visual way, memory retention increases. As a result, knowledge visualization has been proven to facilitate learning.
  3. More Engaging – Imagine you’ve been presented with two options—either to read a manual explaining a process flow or to actually see that same process presented visually. If you’re like most people, you’d probably opt for the diagram. Diagrams are usually interesting and fun to look at. Long, boring manuals, on the other hand? Not so much.
  4. Deeper Insights – Knowledge visualization shows details in context, as well as the relationships among various objects. Because these relationships are so clearly mapped out in graphic format, more opportunities exist for “a-ha” moments.
  5. Faster Knowledge Transfer – When non-experts need to learn new information fast, diagrams can be especially useful. Say, for instance, that a marketing department manager needs to explain to the IT department exactly what tasks his team performs, because he wants marketing software to streamline their operations. Sometimes, this can be overwhelming to try to communicate orally or even in writing. With knowledge visualization, however, the marketing team’s processes and workflows can be documented in such a way that the entire IT team can quickly get up-to-speed.

Now that we’ve defined knowledge visualization, and looked at some benefits, let’s explore some examples.

Examples of knowledge visualization

There are a number of different ways that knowledge visualization can be used in the workplace. For instance, many companies rely on knowledge visualization for such things as:

  1. Project ManagementProjects have a lot of moving pieces. Who’s going to do what? When does it need to be done by? Which objectives need to be accomplished for a project to be completed on time and under budget? For complex projects, it’s much easier to track this information visually, rather than to write out every single detail. This allows stakeholders to see the project’s status at a glance, without having to sift through piles of papers.
  2. BrainstormingSome of the most important ideas emerge from brainstorming sessions. By documenting brainstorming sessions visually, teams have an easy way to track ideas, so they can reference them again in the future.
  3. Process MappingBusiness process mapping is a way of visually defining what a business does, who in an organization is responsible for doing it, to what standard the process should be completed, and how to evaluate whether the process was performed successfully. For instance, an organization might choose to map out from start-to-finish what occurs when a customer places an order i.e. which department processes the order, when does the order get sent to the warehouse, what occurs if the desired product isn’t in stock, and so on.
  4. Budgeting – Most people don’t enjoy the thought of reading through long columns of numbers. Fortunately, when companies take advantage of knowledge visualization, they don’t have to. Budgets can be represented by pie charts (i.e. using percentages to show how revenue is spent), bar charts (i.e. illustrating differences between the current and previous years), or as line graphs (i.e. showing the increase of a budget over time).  In each of these instances, budgeting information is presented in such a way that business executives can quickly see how money is being spent or allocated– enabling faster decision making.

These are just some of the ways an organization might use knowledge visualization to improve performance. Of course, to get the best results with knowledge visualization, you’ll want to make sure you have the right software.

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