Orna, Elisabeth. Making knowledge visible: communicating knowledge through information products.. Aldershot: Gower, 2005. 212 p. ISBN 0-566-08562-3. £29.95
I always like books authored by Elisabeth Orna as it always seems that the author has not only written the text but also has supervised closely every step of publishing and especially design of her books. Usually the text is illustrated by a number of figures occupying vast spaces of the page, not crammed into a corner or turned into a thumbnail that one has to explore through a magnifying glass. The chapters have clear structures and each part is visibly separated from the others. Each chapter starts with a short contents listing of it and ends with a concise summary. The different font features (like bold or italics) are used cleverly and sparingly. Even the footnote font is large enough to read without straining one's eyes. Of course, many of these features most probably are a realization of the ideas of a clever designer - and in this particular book the designer's name is Graham Stevens. I am not a judge of the artistic or specific design merits, but can acknowledge and emphasize the contribution of the make-up to 'user-friendliness' of a book.
On the other hand, in this case, it is inevitable to note the relationship of the design to the central theme and the title of the book Making knowledge visible as the author allocates a significant role and space in the book to the design of the information products. Clearly, it is one of her leading ideas suggested for practice and implemented in the books (information products) produced by her.
The whole book is oriented towards practice and, though based on some research evidence, mainly draws on the consultancy projects carried out by the author and practical examples or experience of a wide range of organizations mainly in the UK. Each example is presented very exhaustively and different aspects are revealed in relevant chapters of the book. This approach makes the text lively and vivid. I have thought that the book would gain more in user-friendliness if also available in e-format, as the links between the partial descriptions of the same example could make this aspect of the book even more useful. As it is, the fragmentation of the cases and the necessity to go back to the previous descriptions makes the process of reading somewhat tedious. However, the cases are memorable and not very numerous, so I managed to memorize the most interesting ones quite quickly.
The central concept of the book is 'information product' (IP) that includes any possible tangible or intangible, published or unpublished (not made public) recorded information for use. During my study years this notion went under the term 'document in the wide sense'. However, the concept of 'information product' is well justified as it focuses the attention on the processes of production (mainly and explicitly) and use (less evidently) of these products. The author makes a clear division and at the same time draws a clever link between the notions of knowledge and information. The process of transformation of personal knowledge into information and information to knowledge is nicely illustrated in several figures. Even the boundaries between knowledge and information management are much more convincing than drawn by other writers (Figure 1.3), though in this text, as well as in many others, KM includes obscure elements like 'K exchange/market' (according to the author herself any knowledge exchange is possible only through transformation to information, i.e., only information exchange and market are possible, aren't they?) or 'K obligations' (?). But as the author's main focus points to the information and information products, we shall put these minor inconsistencies aside.
Further she turns to discuss a variety of issues related to information products: IPs and their value in organizational contexts, stakeholders (producers, users, interest groups) in IPs' production and use, technological infrastructure and managerial support for production, access, and use of IPs, design issues, and finally information auditing approach. The idea to introduce the concept of information products as a central one proved to be fruitful. It allows the author to bring together different types, sorts, and forms of documents together and to examine the processes of their production on a common and abstract level. She immediately turns the abstract into concrete by referring to the examples. The author also uses this concept as a meeting point for various professionals dealing with production of IPs. Thus, the relations between the functions of those professionals become obvious and the collaboration between them is proved to be inevitable. The IPs are also immersed in the organizational settings and described as both, the result and support, of organizational activities.
The style of writing is easy to follow; the architecture of the book supports the possibility of fragmented reading. Therefore, the book may be used as a handbook as well as a textbook or a teaching aid. However, I would like to draw the attention of those teachers who will use the book for educational purposes to one shortcoming (which can be disregarded in other contexts). There is a clear lack of historical connections of the reviewed text with the earlier related texts. The author refers to very selective range of works that are of interest to her, but this cannot be taken for an exhaustive literature list or review. Clearly, the latter was not an intention of the author and, therefore, cannot be regarded as a fault. However, in educational context we should draw the attention to the predecessors, the development of and connections between the ideas, concepts, and approaches, otherwise, each generation will start 'discovering bicycles' and never will go further than the databases allow.
I have no doubt that this book has already attracted and will attract the attention of a wide public interested in information and knowledge in organizations.
Prof. Elena Maceviciute