Collaborative Knowledge Visualisation for Cross-Community Knowledge Exchange

The notion of communities as informal social networks based on shared interests or common practices has been increasingly used as an important unit of analysis when considering the processes of cooperative creation and sharing of knowledge. While knowledge exchange within communities has been extensively researched, different studies observed the importance of cross-community knowledge exchange for the creation of new knowledge and innovation in knowledge-intensive organizations. Especially in knowledge management a critical problem has become the need to support the cooperation and exchange of knowledge between different communities with highly specialized expertise and activities. Though several studies discuss the importance and difficulties of knowledge sharing across community boundaries, the development of technological support incorporating these findings has been little addressed. This work presents an approach to supporting cross-community knowledge exchange based on using knowledge visualisation for facilitating information access in unfamiliar community domains. The theoretical grounding and practical relevance of the proposed approach are ensured by defining a requirements model that integrates theoretical frameworks for cross-community knowledge exchange with practical needs of typical knowledge management processes and sensemaking tasks in information access in unfamiliar domains. This synthesis suggests that visualising knowledge structures of communities and supporting the discovery of relationships between them during access to community spaces, could provide valuable support for cross-community discovery and sharing of knowledge. This is the main hypothesis investigated in this thesis. Accordingly, a novel method is developed for eliciting and visualising implicit knowledge structures of individuals and communities in form of dynamic knowledge maps that make the elicited knowledge usable for semantic exploration and navigation of community spaces. The method allows unobtrusive construction of personal and community knowledge maps based on user interaction with information and their use for dynamic classification of information from a specific point of view. The visualisation model combines Document Maps presenting main topics, document clusters and relationships between knowledge reflected in community spaces with Concept Maps visualising personal and shared conceptual structures of community members. The technical realization integrates Kohonen’s self-organizing maps with extraction of word categories from texts, collaborative indexing and personalised classification based on user-induced templates. This is accompanied by intuitive visualisation and interaction with complex information spaces based on multi-view navigation of document landscapes and concept networks. The developed method is prototypically implemented in form of an application framework, a concrete system and a visual information interface for multi-perspective access to community information spaces, the Knowledge Explorer. The application framework implements services for generating and using personal and community knowledge maps to support explicit and implicit knowledge exchange between members of different communities. The Knowledge Explorer allows simultaneous visualisation of different personal and community knowledge structures and enables their use for structuring, exploring and navigating community information spaces from different points of view. The empirical evaluation in a comparative laboratory study confirms the adequacy of the developed solutions with respect to specific requirements of the cross-community problem and demonstrates much better quality of knowledge access compared to a standard information seeking reference system. The developed evaluation framework and operative measures for quality of knowledge access in cross-community contexts also provide a theoretically grounded and practically feasible method for further developing and evaluating new solutions addressing this important but little investigated problem.


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