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New Book: Knowledge Art

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A new book has just been published, as part of the Human-Centred Informatics series (Morgan Claypool), edited by Jack Carroll.

Constructing Knowledge Art 
An Experiential Perspective on Crafting Participatory Representations

PreviewScreenSnapz078This book is about how people (we refer to them as practitioners) can help guide participants in creating representations of issues or ideas, such as collaborative diagrams, especially in the context of Participatory Design (PD). At its best, such representations can reach a very high level of ex- pressiveness and usefulness, an ideal we refer to as Knowledge Art. Achieving that level requires effective engagement, often aided by facilitators or other practitioners. Most PD research focuses on tools and methods, or on participant experience. The next source of advantage is to better illuminate the role of practitioners—the people working with participants, tools, and methods in service of a project’s larger goals. Just like participants, practitioners experience challenges, interactions, and setbacks, and come up with creative ways to address them while maintaining their stance of service to participants and stakeholders. Our research interest is in understanding what moves and choices practitioners make that either help or hinder participants’ engagement with representations. We present a theoretical framework that looks at these choices from the experiential perspectives of narrative, aesthetics, ethics, sensemaking and improvisation and apply it to five diverse case studies of actual practice.

The book is led by Al Selvin, a close colleague and friend in New York, whose PhD research with me, is the core 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. Specifically, we propose that the ability to craft visual representations in this way is a new kind of literacy in the age of complexity, 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 [1]. 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…

Kitchen Sensemaking from Simon Buckingham Shum on Vimeo.

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.

Buy the e-book from the publisher’s page, and find us on Facebook.

[1] 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.


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