Why Knowledge Mapping 2? A Worked Example…

Why Knowledge Mapping 2? A Worked Example…

In this series of blog posts, we’ll summarise what this ‘knowledge mapping’ thing is, why we got into it, and how we’re applying it to mapping the ‘national local’ building blocks of Scotland.

In the first post we looked at the ‘paper & pens’ mindmapping process developed by Tony Buzan in 1970’s & 80’s, how it’s widespread popularity (specially in the Education & Business sectors) drove the development of mindmapping software running on desktop computers in the 1990’s & 2000’s, which took the capabilities of the technique beyond that which was originally envisaged in the pre-computer age, and how we managed to harness the many unique capabilities of MindManager, the original mindmapping software but always so much more than that, and turn it into a general information cartography tool, that can be used to ‘knowledge map’ pretty much any ‘space’ of human interest and endeavour (be it physical, virtual, conceptual or whatever), by which we mean not just visually record the ‘things’ that occupy the space and the spatial inter-relashionships between them, but also the multiple public domain knowledge resources about each ‘thing’, and the links to those resource.


In this second post we’re going to expand on that last point about MindManager’s unique ‘information cartography’ capabilities with a worked example that will show how we are going to apply them to the knowledge mapping of as many of the ‘national local’ building blocks of Scotland as we can…

The Building Blocks Of Governance

The governance of a society is a fundamental process, however in Scotland, as in most countries, different  responsibiities and tasks of governance are carried out at different geographic levels by different ‘government bodies’. The more ‘local’ this is, the more different bodies & individuals are involved in delivering the same process across the whole country, and therefore the more difficult it is for the national government – and indeed any of it’s interested citizens – to keep track of…

  • what is going on in any individual local area.
  • how the situation in that local area compares to any other.
  • what the ‘national’ situation – as determined by the sum of ALL the ‘local’ area situations – is.

So ‘governence of Scotland at all levels’ should be the first category of ‘Scottish national local building blocks’ the ScotlandTheMap project knowledge maps. We will go into more detail about exactly we would like to map, and the challenge of mapping it, in another blog post (once we’ve worked it out exactly ourselves ;-).

In the meanwhile though, as we’ve already begun the preliminary work for knowledge mapping Scotland’s 32 Local Councils, we can walk you through what we’ve done as an ilustrated example of how the whole process of knowledge mapping the national local building blocks of Scotland using MindManager software actually works!

Our story begins, as all good stories do, with a Quest…

Seek And Ye Shall Find... Eventually

“Och everything’s online now, all you have to do is Google it…”

There’s no shortage of knowledge resources about Scotland out there in the online, public domain. And sure, if you only need to find out a couple of isolated facts now and again, a Google search will probably do it for you (as long as you know the precise series of words to search on, and can find the answer you need in the 8 million search results returned ;-).

However if you regularly need to find a lot of information out in a sustained, more systematic way, and record the existence of those new knowledge resources so you can return to them again later, as well as build on the newly acquired knowledge they give you now – as is the case in doing desktop research for work and/or personal projects – then you will know what a frustrating & time consuming way of doing things a Google search is. Related knowledge resources not in the same format (some as webpages, some in spreadsheets, some buried in report documents)… or not in the same ‘place’, with no cross-referencing between them… and no ‘central index’ of what resources exist and where they all are…

In our experience much time & energy is wasted by individuals, organisations & communities hunting for the knowledge resources they need about individual ‘national local’ building blocks of Scotland, with 1000’s of ‘person hours’ lost to disappearance down online search ‘rabbit holes’ every year. Or worse still they give up the hunt in frustration and recreate what they need themselves because they don’t know it already existed (introducing their own errors & assumptions along the way that get perpetuated for ever after).

In our opinion the time & energy lost to this thankless activity would be far better spent by the bodies concerned on actually using the knowledge contained in the resources to progress themselves (and therefore the nation) at all levels. So what can we do about that?

Well in our humble opinion, any technique that makes the knowledge gathering, assimilation & onward transmission process quicker, easier and less stressful – such as knowledge mapping with MindManger – can only be welcomed…

PHASE 1 - Hunt Down & Capture Definitive Registers Of National Building Blocks As A Visual Framework Of 'Seed Branches' In Knowledge Maps Using MindManager Software

So the starting point of the whole process is the initial capture of all the individual ‘national building blocks’ of a particular type – as taken from definitive, online registers – as ‘seed branches’ in visually structured knowledge maps using MindManager, the market leading information mapping software, and our ‘information cartography’ skills. We want a single map to contain a ‘knowledge seed branch’ for every building block of a particular type in Scotland, which will run into 100’s and possibly 1000’s of branches.

This is where MindManager information mapping software comes into it’s own – working visually in a drag and drop process to build the initual framework, and then cartograhic tools to visually encode and embed a diverse range of associated knowledge in a way that makes it easier to be understand and assimilated by users.

There are also ever increasing ways of automating the initial knowledge capture process, such as importing spreadsheets directly into MindManager with the new Excel Mapping Tool, or linking to databases. Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are also becoming possible. However as with mindmapping, there’s nothing like the physical process of making a knowledge map to really improve your understanding of the subject (especially from a base knowledge of zero).

STEP 1) Capture Each Building Block As A Branch In The Map

National building blocks do not exisit in a vacuum, there will be bodies charged with their creation and maintenance, and making their existance known about as a definitive list on an official website somewhere, even if it’s in a downloadable file (such as a spreadsheet) rather than on a web page…

  1. Find the moast definitive, preferrably official, register of the real world building blocks. This is often a spreadsheet downloadable from a public body website. Note this is often the only knowledge source with the official unique identifiers codes for each building block. In this instance we have found the Scottish Government’s Standard Geographic Codes Register – Scotland, a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

  2. Find the relevant worksheet (often there’s more than one). If you are lucky there will be a metadata sheet explaining the general contents of each sheet, and hopefully what the data fields are (often the column heading are abbreviated so it may not be that obvious).
  3. Decide what data fields need to be harvested to make up the branch text in the map seed points, and rearrange column order if required. If you have the Excel skills – such as adding and merging columns – then this may help minimise the ‘tidying up’ required in MindManager.

  4. Copy & Paste’ the desired cells into the MindManager map at the appropriate place.

  5. Sort alphabetically and then do any tidying up of the text required (eg. removing rogue spaces) using the ‘find & replace’ function.

  6. Et voila! You’ve now got a visually structured, ‘definitive’ list of building blocks. 

i) Observant viewers may have noticed from the contents sheet at the front of the workbook in the video that, by Jove, the Scottish Government appear to have captured just about all the ‘national local’ building blocks we are interested in – well certainly the governence ones anyway – in the one downloadable Excel file. RESULT! We’ll keep that one in our ”back pocket’ for future use 🙂

ii) There are also ever increasing ways of automating the initial knowledge capture process, such as importing spreadsheets directly into MindManager with the new Excel Mapping Tool, or linking to databases. Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are also becoming possible. However as with ‘old school’ analog mindmapping, there’s nothing like the physical process of making a knowledge map to really improve your understanding of the subject (especially from a base knowledge of zero).

Play Video

Creating the main branches of our knowledge map from the cource spreadsheet [2:35]

STEP 2) Cartographically Enhance The 'Bare' Branches With Visual Formatting & Additional Embedded Knowledge

Cartography is the art and science of capturing and encoding information in a way that can effectively communicate it to viewers visually, instead of relying on an intellectual understanding of words – usually arranged to form a linear narrative of sentences and paragaraphs and chapters – on their own. Traditionally it is thought of in terms of geographic maps – visually structured knowledge about real things in the real world – but cartographic principles can equally be applied to any visually structured information, such as our knowledge maps.

i) Usually the whole cartographic process is an iterative one, with enhancements incrementally added as more knowledge resources are tapped. It may be revisited entirely if the map is repurposed.

1) Visually Format The 'Bare' Branches

Begin the cartographic process by introducing visual styling, such as variable text formatting to emphasise the most important elements. Shapes can also be used to encode information about the subject. For instance the shapes of a geographic area branch in our maps can indicate the nature of it’s boundaries with adjacent areas – all land (ie. ‘land-locked’), all coastal (ie. ‘island’), or mixed..

2) Add Further Conextual Text If Available

Add further contextual text to help the user, such as additional identifying codes if appropriate and available. However these may be added incrementally as more knowledge resources are tapped.

3) Visually Format The 'Bare' Branches

Add a visual element (or combination) that is unique to that block such as a logo and / or thumbnail location maps. These engage a different part of the brain from plain text, and so greatly enhance user understanding of what the map is about, and provide signposts to navigate around it.

4) Begin Visually Embedding Additional Contextual Knowledge

Visually embed additional knowledge, especially ‘facts & figures’ data, for handy reference and to add context. This could be in the form of a spreadsheet or a chart, or single data fields. Such data is often to be found in the same official statistics sources as the register. Obviously what data you choose to embed will be depend on the intended use of the map, but a starting point for us is general geo-statistics like physical size, area, population etc. Visual formatting of elements of the map, such as shape and text or fill colour, can be done automatically according to data values.

STEP 3) Arrange Seed Branches In Most Appropriate Layout To Create The Visually Structured, 'Base' Knowledge Framework

So now we have our cartographically enhanced seed branches arranged in a simple A-Z list, we need to re-arrange them to form the main knowledge framework of the map. With MindManager we have a range of possible layouts to choose from, as the image above shows.

As discussed in the first post MindManager has moved on a lot since the initial concept of mindmapping software. The main aspect of these eclusive features that is relevant to our knowledge maps is that…

  • Several layout choices – MindManager supports other radiating tree layouts in addition to the ‘radiating from the centre in all directions’ of ‘traditional’ mindmaps –  right / left only, up / down ‘Org Charts’,  single / double sided downward trees, horizontal / vertical timelines – as well as other visual diagram structures like organisational diagrams, process maps, concept maps, swim lanes etc.
  • Even at individual branch level – This flexibility extends to individual map branches, where the layout of sub-branches can be varied to suit the particular contents (to make every map a unique combination of branch layouts).
  • Designed for ease of lookup – With our knowledge maps the map is being used as a static, reference look up in the first instance rather than an iterative thinking tool, so the dynamics of the information flow between the visual map and viewer is different (but the idea of hierarchical structure is still fundamentally integral to the process).

1) Physical Structure Of Main Branch Framework

Through a lot of experimentation over the years we have settled on an ‘org-tree’ layout for our knowledge maps – a combination of an organisation chart for the main framework, and vertical trees for sub-branches. This has the advantage of…

  • Filling the whole screen with visually rich knowledge branches – The ‘traditional’ mindmap layout leaves a lot of ‘white space’ between branches.
  • Branches expanding in a vertically downwards direction only – In the ‘traditional’ mindmap layout branches move horizontally as well as vertically up and down on the screen when they are expanded, and all that sudden shifting around can be disorientatating to the user.
  • Near familiar ‘pseudo grid’ layout – At first glance the ‘org-tree’ layout resembles a grid, silmilar to the interface of the online task management & collaboration tools that now have become a standard way of working for many (eg. Basecamp, Trello etc.), so it’s a bit of a ‘half way house’ compared to the traditional mindmap layout, which can be disorientating and a bit of a barrier to entry for visual working for many if presented with it out of the blue.

2) Logical Structure Of Main Branch Framework

So the main branch framework determines the physical structure of the map layout, but what of the logic of the arrangement of the seed branches within it? This needs to fit in with the ways we humans structure the world in our heads in order to break it down into manageable chunks so we can make sense of it…

  • Alphabetically – The simplest logic, but at the mercy of the semantics of naming the branches in the first place. For example there is a Scottish Local Council that calls itself ‘The City of Edinburgh Council’ – should it be listed under ‘T’, or ‘C’ (‘City of Edinburgh Council, The’) or ‘E’ (Edinburgh Council, The City of’)?
  • Geographically – The hierarchical nature of administrative / electoral geographic areas lends itself well to our hierarchical branch structure, especially if thumbnail images of geographic maps are embedded in the seed branches at the different levels.
  • Chronologically – Again the hierarchical subdivisions of time into days, weeks, months and years lends itself well to our maps. It works well for published resources where arranging by publication date is often the quickest way to map them inititally until a more subject specific layout suggests itself.
  • Combination – More than one logical structure can be used at a time, such as A-Z within geographic hierarchical areas.

3) The ‘Ideal’ Layout

So the aim is to fill the width of the screen with visual knowledge, whilst minimising the amount of horizontal / vertical scrolling required by the user. In an ideal world we would aim for 6 – 8 ‘columns’ of branches in total, which includes 2 for the ‘Map Legend’ and ‘Contributing Online Knowledge-bases’ branches. However it’s not an exact science as we are dealing with mapping the real world, which is not under our control. It all depends on the total number of building blocks that have to be included in the map, and how neatly they break down to fit the logical categorisation we are imposing on them.

For example there are quite a few Local Council names that start with the letter ‘E’ so it gets it’s own branch in our alphabetically arranged Local Councils map (and any other maps which use it as a base).

4) Map Filtering & Layout

The ability to filter maps – ie. hide or show branches – using index marker tags attached to them makes the initial choice of logical layout less crucial. Indeed the simpler the logic, the more flexible the map. For example there is no single, commonly used, but completely unambiguous, way of grouping Scottish Local Councils by geographic area eg. Dundee City Council is in the North East Electoral Region of the Scottish Parliament, but the ‘Eastern Scotland’ NUTS2 (European Union statistical) region. Thus we have chosen the simple A-Z layout which can then be filtered using geographic tags (a process called ‘geo’ filtering, commonly done in dedicated Geographic Information Systems).

Anyway this gives you some idea of how we go about building our knowledge maps of national local building blocks from the ground up, and then take it to the next level!

To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.
Nicolaus Copernicus
16th Century Mathematician & Astronomer
Tae ken that we ken whit we ken, and tae ken that we dinnae ken whit we dinnae ken, that's whit it's aw aboot, ye ken?
Rab C. Nesbitt
Contemporary Scottish Philosopher
And whilst we're aboot it, tae ken where the hell ye get haud of whit ye need to ken, when ye need to ken it, if ye dinnae ken it awready?
Rab C. Nesbitt
Contemporary Scottish Philosopher
These knowledge maps show the 'national local' building blocks of Scotland as they exist today, but they can also be used to strategically think about what could be in the future, and operationally plan the delivery of what will be tomorrow.
Angus McDonald
Scotland The Map Project Director and Knowledge Mappers Founder & CEO
Do not only go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Philosopher and Transcendentalist
The task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
Erwin Schrodinger
Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist & Cat Owner (Part-time)
A map is the greatest of all epic poems. It's lines and colours show the realisation of great dreams.
Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor
'Father of Photo-Journalism' & 1st Full-Time Editor Of National Geographic Magazine


We are continually striving to improve our Scottish knowlegde maps and value your feedback, suggestions & comments.

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