Information architecture in the KM context is the structuring and organizing of information (explicit knowledge) so that it can be easily managed and retrieved. It also covers the design of information presentation on an intranet, portal or website. The scope of information architecture therefore covers:
- Categories of content, such as document types. Examples might be reports, news items, articles, proposals, product descriptions, organization charts.
- Information attributes. These are typically associated with specific content types and might include status, format, version number and so on. In technology terms, such attributes are embodied in metadata.
- Location of information. Where should different types of information stored - which hard-copy repositories, which databases, which computer systems and applications?
- Labelling and naming. Selecting the terminology for headings and category labels that will be widely understood throughout the organization. Also file naming conventions for shared computer folders and files
- Taxonomies and thesauri. Building on high level labels, one or more thesauri can be developed as the preferred vocabulary for use within an organization. Generally more useful (since language is ever changing) is a taxonomy - a hierarchical 'tree of knowledge'. This provides a structure for organizing and retrieving content by subject. This is a vast subject by itself with divided opinions on whether taxonomies should be human or computer-generated or whether with powerful search engines they are needed at all!
- Website navigation. Providing menus and submenus on a website (typically an intranet) so that users can find their way around core content easily.
Seeing the Wood from the Trees
Taking on board the above tasks to develop an information architecture may seem a daunting task. As with other aspects of KM, it is often better to take an incremental approach, doing a few things well, rather than trying to address all aspects at the outset. For example, start by focussing just on those content types that are widely used.
One of the challenges is aligning an ideal information architecture with a technological solution. Quite often the technology demands some thinking through all the possibilities before the first stage is implemented. Thus developing a website navigation whose overall structure will stand the test of time is something worth getting right at the outset. One useful technique for developing this in conjunction with users is the card-sorting technique (to be explained in detail elsewhere later).
Practice What You Preach
Since fast information retrieval depends largely on good organization and classification, the documents and content associated with the KM programme should be an exemplar of good practice. Make sure that you develop a logical information architecture for KM project information. For the project itself, you could develop files based on the work packages within your project plan. For information on KM tools and techniques you could adopt a structure similar to that of part of this website.
Last updated: 19th March 2011