3.6 Knowledge Artifacts

3.6 Knowledge Artifacts

            Knowledge Artifacts are what we deal with everyday and they include just about any piece of documentation, memos, notes, emails, directories, articles, white papers, case studies, etc. which exists within an organization since they either refer to or incorporate different kinds of tacit and explicit knowledge.  For instance, a video that records how group members carry out their tasks, could be considered as a shared knowledge artifact which the group could annotate (with free text or with respect to an ontology), analyze and further discuss (e.g. for capturing tacit group knowledge). Talking about the emergence of knowledge artifact Bandini, et. al. (2003) say “It is a common practice that people… identify structures that make their cooperation and problem solving activities more effective. When these structures are sufficiently worked out and put at work, they are usually materialized in artifacts (conceptual, linguistic and/or modeling tools, whose structure is strictly shared by the members of a well defined community), which incorporate a language that is collectively understood and provides sufficient information to be useful for sake of mutual understanding and cooperative problem solving.” So a knowledge artifact can be one of many kinds of tangible byproducts produced by individuals or organizations such as the case of documents (e.g. a survey paper), conceptualizations (e.g. a data/knowledge base), or even software code exchanged within a group.

            The concept of Active Knowledge Artifact has also been discussed in literature. An Active Knowledge Artifact is an electronically augmented (i.e., active) artifact that puts together the archival functions of artifacts belonging to organizational Information Systems with context- and content-aware functionalities to promote collaboration awareness and support knowledge management (). 

            The term “knowledge artifact” has been proposed in (Seiner, 2001) as one of the basic components characterizing knowledge flows within an organization or a community. In his article Seiner(2001) comments “Just like data and information (probably more so with knowledge), knowledge needs to be managed as a shared corporate asset. Shared company assets require that someone is accountable for quality, timeliness, and delivery”. He further explains: “A knowledge artifact is a defined piece of recorded knowledge that exists in a format that can be retrieved to be used by others. A process drawn on a napkin at lunch can become a knowledge artifact if it can be recorded for someone else to use. Typically artifacts are something more tangible – i.e. a document, a picture or graphic, a video, an audio, a project plan, a presentation, a template … to name several. “

            The role of artifacts in coordination is well recognized (e.g. see Heath and Luff, 1996). They are informational structures describing the current state of affairs in terms of responsibilities, current activities, plans for future actions and so on, and support the coordination in a group of cooperating actors. Let us call them coordinative artifacts. They can also play the role of boundary objects (Bowker et al., 1997) living at the border between different groups (CoPs) and supporting the coordination of the activities performed by the actors constituting them.

            Creating knowledge artifacts with “next use” in mind is not easy especially when individuals are used to keeping knowledge (potentially documents) to themselves. Part of the knowledge development process includes giving each artifact a name. The artifact name is an important piece of meta data about an artifact. It is important to create an artifact naming convention much like a data naming convention that contains a context, modifiers, and class words. For example, artifacts may be created by a business unit and for specific business functions. The artifact may be of a certain type and will typically exist in one or more formats. Using just this high level description of how an artifact is created, one can derive a simple artifact naming convention that includes just this information.

            Knowledge artifacts can be personal and shared. The notion of knowledge artifact has rapidly gained popularity in the fields of general knowledge management and more recently knowledge-based systems. A Knowledge Artifact doesn’t necessarily have to be physical – thoughts, conversations, recollections, stories, metaphors can all also be considered to be a Knowledge Artifact. All Knowledge Artifacts then fall somewhere in the spectrum between tacit, implicit and explicit and in fact depending upon their usage may actually be a combination of these three forms. And the degree to which an artifact falls into one of those categories will have a direct impact upon how the artifact can or cannot be used (knowledge utilization), how it moves (knowledge flow and diffusion) or otherwise reutilized (Newman & Kurt, 1999).

            Knowledge artifacts can differ from one another in several ways: their form of codification, the way in which they are rendered, their degree of abstraction and their ability to enable actions and decisions. Knowledge artifacts also vary in their degree of articulation; simple knowledge artifacts can be explicit, implicit or tacit. Most artifacts, however, are not simple but complex, and contain a combination of explicit, implicit and tacit components. It is important to note that, for the most part, artifacts are passive. They can’t act, while they can be changed (Newman & Kurt, 1999).

            The challenge in successful KM implementation is to understand what must be done within the organization to identify knowledge artifacts, as well as how to utilize not only the artifact but the other knowledge which went into creating the artifact.