Domain maps

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A new way to organize knowledge

Why they are needed

As research in this most fertile of fields appears to be taking off, we are moved to pour out some of our enthusiasm, and make an initial sketch of some of the core themes and resources available to our co-creative dialog.

A domain map is an online representation of a domain of interest. The "domain of interest" can be anything including a traditional field such as physics, a new field such as knowledge federation, or an ancient human interest ready to be understood in a new way and turned into a domain of concerted exploration – such as "pursuit of happiness". Not the least, of course, this will enable concerted exploration of urgent contemporary issues.

To the knowledge workers in its domain, the domain map provides a 'map' – for orientation, for organizing the resources and current and future work etc. To everyone else, the domain map provides a view into the domain. Hence a domain map is a boundary object between a domain of interest and the rest of the world.

Why invest our resources into developing a completely new thing – which presently nobody might care about, except of course the "initiates"? We answer this question, and at the same time point to some corner stones and resources, by first discussing a handful of applications; and then some historical precedents. We conclude with a note about domain map's relevance to universal design (the application that will be the focus of our very next workshop).



If education should become life-long and flexible (tailored to the needs and the interests of the learner) – then how should we organize and provide the orientation to the learners? And the learning resources? The domain map has been developed, through practical application (at the University of Oslo), as an answer to this and a number of other related questions. Such as – how to add to education the agency of creating completely new bodies of knowledge in new domains of interest... The Collaborology prototype is here a case in point.

Transdisciplinary research

Traditional fields of interest have their knowledge resources well structured within departments, textbooks... (Or do they indeed?). But what about completely new and transdisciplinary bodies of knowledge? For example the ones that are of vital contemporary interest (pick your favorite example).

In knowledge federation one of the basic organizational forms is called a transdiscipline. Naturally, the first thing a transdisciplinary group of knowledge workers will do, when they come together, is to download an empty domain map and start organizing it and putting things in.

The paradigm strategy

And then there's this largest and most interesting theme: How shall we handle our contemporary condition? Or even more simply – How should we be? The paradigm strategy is our evolving roadmap to the emerging Enlightenment-like change. What a wonderful showcase domain map application!

Imagine empowering the people to co-create a roadmap to an impending Enlightenment-like change!

This is no wishful thinking! Over the years we have developed both the underlying ideas and the points of reference to a fine level of detail.

Four main views or aspect can be offered (and supported by moving insights, why dramatic shifts are possible, and accompanying vignettes or stories):

  • Epistemology / methodology (analogy with the emergence of science)
  • Information technology (analogy with the printing press)
  • Innovation (analogy with the Industrial Revolution; also with the development of democracy)
  • Cultural renewal (analogy with the Humanism and the Renaissance)

Knowledge federation domain map

And then we have perhaps the most interesting challenge – to introduce and explain knowledge federation itself! We have created this website; but as far as we are aware, nobody has, at the point of this writing, understood what we are really talking about.

Can Knowledge Federation explain itself – and by doing that create a snowball, be a snowball...?

Presently, we are presenting knowledge federation by just using written text. Of course this calls for a domain map!


Object orientation and Simula

The reason why we mention the object orientation first is that it provides us a story, a precedent and a 'philosophy' or approach.

The story may read as follows: At the point when the computers became relatively common, in the 1950s, ambitious software projects were taken up, which as a rule ended up in a chaos. Shall we invest yet another year trying to correct this thing? Or shall we throw it away and start from scratch? The solution – a systemic or general one – was found in the development of high-level programming languages and programming methodologies – the OO being perhaps the most successful and most famous exemplar. The OO / Simula development also in effect created Norwegian computer science, and placed it on the world map.

Let's explore this analogy: Imagine our entire knowledge work, or perhaps even our civilization, as such an ambitious software project. Yes, we've just gotten the new information technology. Do we really know how to use it, quite yet? So imagine if we were just mass-producing stuff just as we used to... The analogy holds up to a point. But there's also a significant difference: When a program is a mess, that is very easy to discover – it simply won't run on the computer. When, however, our knowledge is a mess, and even our civilization – how can we discover this? Could our "global issues" perhaps be a useful sign?

And now a message to be learned from OO / Simula, and from the history of computer programming in general: We can create a functioning program in any sort of way, in principle. But to make programs (i.e. information, or knowledge) easy to understand and use and update – they need to be structured in a certain way. The structuring tools we are providing need to be designed with this goal in mind – they must just about compel us to create well-structured programs. (...)

The book

Yes, that's what we are still stuck with, at the moment. The book and its various variants and derivatives, or written / printed paper, determined how we structure recorded knowledge since the beginning of time.

But certainly not for long!

It is far from granted that the book is the best way to organize the online knowledge...

So think about redesigning the book. We don't mean, of course, just using nice visual design to make a specific book presentable and readable. Here the design object is the structure of the book itself – its title, foreword, chapters, table of contents, index...

How fundamental can a design project ever be?

Dialog mapping and Debategraph

Of course the relationship between the structure of our knowledge (and of our knowledge co-creation) and the structure of contemporary "wicked problems" is not something we discovered. The issue-based information systems are already a half-century old. Debategraph is the leading contemporary representative – changing the way issues are understood and handled.

Faithful to its philosophy, knowledge federation made sure to federate rather than improvise and reinvent. We are developing this project in close collaboration with Debategraph.

So what's new here?

Characteristiclly, an issue mapping project results in a large graph.

While this is of course an immensely useful step in putting our knowledge together, a graph can still make our "information jungle" thicker (see knowledge = mountain).

And then there's also the "Who cares for you – you are nothing but a pack of cares" issue. How can we avoid being stuck in a certain way of looking, or even in discussing conventional issues – and open up the possibility to see them in a completely new way?

Anyhow – the old Simula philosophy applies here. And we find ourselves accountable, if not responsible – for providing the right set of tools, which we want to give to the people to explore the world and organize the knowledge.

But is there such as thing as the right set of tools?

Of course there isn't!

And so our answer is not the solution, but a creative project... And a collection of prototypes.


Polyscopy is our prototype general purpose methodology – for creating and organizing information. It's roughly analogous to object orientation, and also to "the scientific method".

By providing an information model and a knowledge model, three kinds of abstraction, levels and aspects, structuring primitives... polyscopy offers a methodological foundation for organizing knowledge in new ways.

This most basic 'philosophical' idea may be worth mentioning: That "the scope determines the view". The way we look determines what we see. The "philosophy of polyscopy" is to give the user or reader complete control over the scope.

A useful analogy here is inspecting a hand-held cup, to see if it's broken or whole. We may take it further away and look at the whole thing. And then (when something seems suspicious) bring it closer and inspect a detail.

Another useful analogy is the metaphorical mountain. You may look at the world at large, and see the countryside, the forests and the lakes... Or you may focus on a little flower, or an insect... An essential thing here is to always know where you are (in the structure or hierarchy of scopes and views) and what you are looking at – so that you may maintain the perspective (feeling of proportions, of the whole thing, and of what's remained hidden from the view and yet needs to be seen).

Knowledge federation

Knowledge federation is prototype 'social life of information'.

Relevance to universal design

An interesting new barrier to access

Information overload may be seen as a most wonderful barrier to access. Historical dictators had to use censorship, prisons and torture chambers. Contemporary power structures don't need any of that...

Methodology for transdisciplinary research

The second point is that universal design, and architecture in general, are by their nature transdisciplinary. What we are talking about here, and developing, is suitable methodology.