How Your Taxonomy Can Support Your Knowledge Management
Digital information and content have grown within organizations, and so has the need for taxonomies to make it possible actually to find the information you want. Taxonomies have moved beyond their library origins for use across the enterprise and in all industries, including for managing website content, technical document management, research literature search services, publication and presentation content management and reuse, digital asset management, product information management, and intranet search. It’s not just designated “taxonomists” who develop and maintain taxonomies: information architects, content strategists, digital asset managers, data architects, data librarians and knowledge managers all take part in the work.
Taxonomies are a part of knowledge management (KM). That can be seen in how taxonomies are managed in organizations that have a KM function, how taxonomies are included in KM as a sub-practice area in consulting firms, and how taxonomies are often discussed in conferences and professional discussion groups within KM. Taxonomies are not merely a part of KM, but also support KM in various ways.
What Is Knowledge Management?
KM emerged in the early 1990s as an area of focus within management consulting firms. The first quoted definition came in 1994 from business management professor, consulting advisor, and author Tom Davenport: “Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” Gartner Group analyst Bryant Duhon added to the definition in 1998, writing, “Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise's information assets.” While knowledge management is clearly centered on the organization or enterprise, the field now largely accepts that externally created information of relevance and value may also be included.
KM considers two main kinds of knowledge:
- Explicit knowledge, contained in an organization’s documents that can be codified.
- Tacit knowledge, the knowledge people in an organization build up based on their skills and expertise, which is difficult to capture.
The core components of KM include people, processes and technology, as well as information, organizational structure and corporate culture. In practical operations, KM may also comprise such functions or services as content management, expertise location, lessons learned and communities of practice.
Finally, KM is often discussed as a lifecycle of processes. There is quite some variation among the published KM lifecycle processes, depending on the approach or theory, but most include creating, capturing, codifying, sharing, acquiring and applying knowledge.
What Are Taxonomies?
Taxonomies are structured sets of terms or concepts primarily used to tag and retrieve content, to make that content more easily managed and findable. Taxonomies are a kind of controlled vocabulary, enabling accurate and comprehensive tagging to support high precision and recall of retrieval of content such as pages, documents, document section components or digital assets. Controlled vocabularies are used to tag what content is about, rather than relying on merely matching words in the text, which could have varying meanings. Controlled vocabularies also bring together synonyms (alternative labels), making sure no content is missed just because it contains a different synonym in the text. Thus, information retrieval is more comprehensive than with search alone.
In addition, taxonomies are a kind of controlled vocabulary that is structured into hierarchies and/or, categories, or aspect-based groups called facets. This structure brings added benefits to users by allowing them to browse, discover, and select concepts of interest to broaden or narrow their search by navigating the hierarchies or combining search terms and by filtering or limiting search results based on taxonomy relevant taxonomy terms users select from the various facets. In fact, when users interact with a displayed taxonomy, they are already taking the first step from information retrieval to knowledge gathering, a component of KM.
Taxonomy as a Part of KM
Meanwhile as KM has itself evolved as a discipline, taxonomy has become a greater focus in more recent years The first stage of KM, according to Michael E.D. Koenig, focused on taking advantage of technology. The second focused on drawing in HR and corporate culture. And the third, our current stage, focuses on taxonomy and content management.
How McDonald’s Drove Productivity Through an Elevated Employee Experience
In the new remote/hybrid workplace, work/life boundaries are blurred and workplace stress is a top driver of mental health needs.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
Challenges to Efficiency in 2023: Your Employees Need the Digital Workplace of the Future
The era of asking employees to do more with less is upon us
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
Taxonomies, controlled vocabularies, classification systems, thesauri, terminologies, ontologies and other schemes are all considered to be types of “knowledge organization systems,” which, as the name implies, are for organizing information and promoting KM. The role of taxonomies in KM, though, goes far beyond that.
Although taxonomies have their origins in library science, the current field of taxonomy development and management has become, more appropriately, a part of KM in many enterprises. Over the past two decades, the majority of taxonomy implementations have shifted from serving external users — as done by library database vendors, news publishers, ecommerce businesses and media providers — to serving internal enterprise users. As such, the management of the majority of taxonomies has shifted from the roles and departments of product management or marketing to corporate KM.
Taxonomy Support for KM
Taxonomies — or, more broadly, controlled vocabularies — are valuable for making information findable and discoverable. Once the desired information is retrieved and compiled, it can be interpreted, compared, analyzed and integrated with other information or data to create new knowledge.
Taxonomies are great for managing explicit knowledge. They also have potential to help capture and manage tacit knowledge, but it is more limited. But having a taxonomy in place can facilitate the task of identifying and then documenting tacit knowledge.
Taxonomies also support KM through its various components:
- People – Taxonomies are a good way to involve people in KM. Creating taxonomies engages stakeholders, who contribute to the taxonomy through activities of brainstorming, card sorting and answering interview questions.
- Processes – Building and updating taxonomies involves certain processes of research, testing, feedback and approval.
- Technology – Taxonomy management, automated tagging and user-interface implementations all require technology, which connects to the other systems involved in KM.
- Information/content – The main purpose of taxonomies is to make information or content findable.
- Culture – The choice of taxonomy concepts and their labels reflect corporate culture. Taxonomy creation can reaffirm or challenge the choices.
Taxonomies may support, to varying degree, most processes or stages of the KM lifecycle:
- Identify and capture knowledge – Pre-existing tagging of taxonomy/controlled vocabulary can facilitate identification and capture of explicit knowledge, especially from external sources.
- Create knowledge – The creation of an enterprise taxonomy or another knowledge organization system is also a form of knowledge creation.
- Compile, store or archive knowledge – Typically, some metadata is applied to facilitate archiving.
- Filter or select knowledge – If knowledge assets have metadata from controlled vocabularies, they can be filtered by metadata terms to facilitate selection.
- Curate, transform, codify or refine knowledge – This is where comprehensive enrichment of the knowledge assets by tagging with taxonomy terms and other metadata make them more accessible.
- Share, distribute or disseminate knowledge – Taxonomies that are linked to each other enable the sharing of knowledge more broadly, from different sources and into different end-user applications.
- Access, find and retrieve knowledge – This is where taxonomies are utilized to their fullest and are most clearly beneficial in supporting various methods for findability and retrieval with search matches, hierarchical browse and faceted browse/search.
- Use, apply, integrate or implement knowledge – While taxonomies are primarily used for information retrieval, they can also play a role in the analysis and comparison of information.
Learn how you can join our contributor community.
About the Author