What is Knowledge?

The collaborative process integrates different knowledge types. This chapter defines what knowledge is and how to best understand it. It lays out the different types and how knowledge is generated, understood and passed on. The types are categorized as foundational, artistic, general and practical and this chapter describes how these utilizing all of these types can be beneficial and challenging in collaboration. Knowledge can be defined as facts, information, and skills that an individual has gained through experience and education. A person’s knowledge grows upon itself and bridges information together to create a greater understanding of the world and environment around them. Every person come from different areas of the world, received varying educations, and experienced random events and interactions to draw on to build their knowledge. Knowledge continues to grow within a person as they continue through life furthering their experiences and education. These experiences come together in totality through our 5 senses; sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Through these experiences we learn about the world around us and gain knowledge that could be later applied to action. Through individually accumulated judgement, each person must gauge his/her perception of the world and the acceptance of any perceived notion as being reliable. The variations in background, education, and experiences create a broad range of different types of knowledge within communities. When working in a problem-solving team, each member is expected to bring different types of knowledge to the group, and trusting your collaborative sources are key to success. Although each member does not share the same level of understanding of each subject, if there is strong bonds of trust between them, the group can be successful. Knowledge can be categorized into two broad groups: Tacit and Explicit. Explicit knowledge can be directly transferred from person to person through written or verbal communication. Knowing that Washington DC is the capital of the United States, for example, is a piece of explicit information that can be easily passed on. Tacit knowledge involves something innate to each individual, such as a skill, idea or experience. This form of knowledge cannot be easily transferred from person to person without extensive contact.

Each constituents knowledge varies, and can be broadly be categorized by either local of global knowledge.Local Knowledge is specific to a geographic area and allows the participant to access specialized knowledge. Local variations in climate, geography, politics, and community allow abroad range of space for participants to develop local knowledge and apply it thoughtfully to site specific issues. Global Knowledge is general information that can be applied across a broad scope. Sustainability issues span globally, and general principles and practices apply, but each issue is site specific and requires real time data. Globalized knowledge can help aid a teams scope and in defining the problem, but in order to solve theses site specific issues.

Normative Knowledge comes from an underlying idea of how the world ‘should’ be. This existing judgement influences the frame work of the knowledge at hand, analyzing what is logical. Subjective knowledge is derived directly from cognition. The understanding ok knowledge is a result of action. Both of these forms come into play in knowledge generation because not only does the assessor learn from doing(subjective knowledge), he/she also determines the extent to which that knowledge agrees with accepted information about the world (normative knowledge).

Types of Knowledge

To effectively define problems and use knowledge to create sustainability solutions, a variety of knowledge generation should be considered. The kinds of knowing are often categorized in many different ways, one way being Foundational, , artistic, generalized and practical.

Foundational Knowledge

Foundational Knowledge encompasses how one views and interprets the world around them. This includes personal experiences as well as cultural and circumstantial influences and how they affect how we know. Within foundational knowledge, experiential knowledge is knowledge accumulated from a person’s life experiences. This could include years of experience in a specific geographic area or field of work. Farmers, for example, have a very specific set of experiences that have developed into a unique knowledge base.

Normative Knowledge comes from an underlying idea of how the world ‘should’ be. This existing judgement influences the frame work of the knowledge at hand, analyzing what is logical. Subjective knowledge is derived directly from cognition. The understanding ok knowledge is a result of action. Both of these forms come into play in knowledge generation because not only does the assessor learn from doing(subjective knowledge), he/she also determines the extent to which that knowledge agrees with accepted information about the world (normative knowledge).

Citizen knowledge is a broad term encompassing the knowledge of individuals or communities as a whole that stems from citizen’s daily lives. This is a trustworthy source of information because it stems from experiential knowledge and morals, values, incentives widely common among a relevant group of people. It is usually a source of tacit knowledge and can be made explicit with a large amount of trust. This can convey values and suggest the normative viewpoint of a group of people. The challenges to using a lot of citizen knowledge in sustainability practices is that it requires a high level of trust and within citizen knowledge there can be skewed knowledge based on rumor and context-specific closed-mindedness.

Indigenous knowledge reflects the history of the indigenous people, whose stories can give insight to historical perspectives and past natural events. The knowledge is typically passed down through generations orally or through artistic channels. Indigenous groups exist around the globe and whose perspectives are systematically undervalued. The natural environment is a central figure in the indigenous culture, with a deep knowledge of sustainability in everyday life. Indigenous groups have deep community connections and insight, with local historical knowledge. Incorporating Indigenous knowledge can incorporate relevant local knowledge into to build on our communal understanding of sustainability. Many of the earth’s citizens are spiritual and believe in something bigger than life itself, a higher being that they must focus on and listen to. People build spiritual knowledge through dedicated prayer and study focused on stronger community, a sense of purpose, and values. Spiritual knowledge guides many people through their lives and supports decision making. The sense of purpose spirituality provides citizens can motivates them to participate and engage further in the community.

Generalized Knowledge

Scientific knowledge, experimentation, and theories are Generalized Knowledge which are typically widely accepted by the scientific community and can be repeated. Generalized knowledge has been compiled through the years, as scientists build on the work of their colleagues to build a universal understanding.

While general knowledge encompasses all knowledge generated through experimentation, Accepted Knowledge is, more specifically, knowledge that is assumed to be true based on the credibility of the source. For instance, a fact found in a text book is assumed credible and, therefore, becomes accepted knowledge.

Research-Based Knowledge encompass the expertise of different disciplines to source knowledge through research practices.This information is trustworthy due to its objectivity and repeatability. The observed outcomes can in many cases be indisputable. This is the main source of explicit knowledge that can be recorded and communicated verbally and in written word. That being said, tacit understandings and judgements are part of the process and come with time and experience in the specific domain. Knowledge gained through research is often portrayed instrumentally in a normative fashion when trying to produce evidence toward an idea. A challenge that comes from research based knowledge is that scientists often over- rely on it and disregard experiential knowledge.

Artistic Knowledge

Artistic Knowledge creates representations of experiences and knowledge to share with others and build a level of understanding. Incorporating creative minds, with a deep connection to a specific culture, allows a third party to share and convey general knowledge to a broad range of stakeholders. Artistic representations can come in many forms, ranging from very direct methods of visual communication to abstract interpretations of problems and solutions through movement or music. Artistic knowledge is a great way to express and generate citizen knowledge. This can trigger innate understanding among many people.

Practical Knowledge

Practical knowledge takes general knowledge and applies it to action. This accumulated knowledge grows from our surrounding environment and is the accumulation of our generalized observations. Our future decisions stem from our past experiences, observations, and interactions, to make informed decision which hopefully lead to a positive outcome. Practical knowledge derives from self taught experiential knowledge through repeated practice. Individuals cannot gain practical knowledge overnight, but through repeated skills and patterns for success. .

Application of Knowledge

Ways of Knowing in Collaboration

In a collaborative setting, it is crucial to incorporate multiple types of knowing in every step.

Defining the team

Each stakeholder in the process is selected to bring to the table their own individual views. The stakeholders, therefore, have differing experiential knowledge spanning from their unique backgrounds. Cultural differences can also bring into play different ancestral knowing. This is the inclusion of citizen knowledge both at the individual and community level. Spanning these different backgrounds can help ensure legitimacy in co-production because each member will provide their specific knowledge database to the problem at hand. Various expertise is also needed in different areas to supply the scientific basis for any project. For example, economists, engineers and biologists need to bring their separate general, research-based knowledge together to produce a new tidal power system.

A frequent challenge in inclusive teams is the ability to appreciate different perspectives of their collaborative counterparts. Artistic knowledge is especially useful in conveying knowledge not universally understood with words. Seeing or experiencing something can tap into a more innate sense of knowing. The use of boundary spanners, organizations and objects (see Chapter _) are included to help the transfer and understanding of different knowledge types. Boundary objects

Within practical knowledge is practice-informed knowledge. This comes from learning from past implementation successes and failures. After evaluating past practices, individuals can change how they appraise, monitor and evaluate their next project. Past cost effectiveness or social or environmental impacts are examples of factors affecting practice informed knowledge. This source of knowledge takes from both explicit and tacit knowledge from written evaluation as well as personal memory


can also be used as a means of artistic knowledge by providing visual representation of generated knowledge.

Defining the problem

The different ways of knowing affect how people view the problem. A local in a town, for example, would see the relevance and importance in a local issue that others may not understand because they don’t live there. This is why it is crucial to create a joint understanding of the problem through the passing of knowledge among team members. Once all perspectives have been considered and the problem has been defined, research questions can be jointly developed.

Knowledge production

Research based knowledge is generated in the coproductive phase. The scientific, general knowledge is the backbone to this step in the collaborative process. Practical knowledge and practice-informed knowledge also play a role in choosing research methods. Practice-informed knowledge, however, also requires evaluation and input from more than one discipline to properly determine the successes and failures of past projects across social, economic and environmental factors. Once that is collaboratively applied to the situation at hand, the most effective research methods can be selected. During the collaborative process, new knowledge gained can add a new level of knowledge that spans a diverse group of disciplines.

Knowledge to Action

The knowledge to action portion of a transdisciplinary collaboration involves a lot of citizen knowledge and artistic knowledge. Once a solution is made and put into place, it needs to be effectively portrayed to the public. Artistic knowledge is very useful to convey messages to people who may not understand the science behind it. The importance of the project can be conveyed through sensory stimulation which can be innate in a lot of people rather than through words or writing. This could be considered a form of communicating tacit knowledge. Citizen knowledge is very useful in this case as well because they understand what motivates and interests the public and that knowledge can predict effectiveness of solutions as well as properly educate those impacted.

Although it is important to include many different ways of knowing in these collaborations, it comes with challenges. For example, it is harder to establish a basis of trust between people who do not have a history of working together. Willingness to believe the knowledge presented by diverse stakeholders in the process is essential to moving forward in the project. There is also a layer of mutual understanding needed to comprehend specific knowledge that may be culturally or experientially based.

Integrating Different Types of Knowledge for Digital Soil Mapping

Digital Soil Mapping is typically done by combining analyses from dozens of site specific soil samples. This case study seeks to develop a new process to improve the reliability of soil mapping and reduce the costs by combining local, research-based knowledge with generalized global knowledge. The soil patterns across northern New England are typically consistent across the map, with no outlying landscape features. By combining multiple types of generalized knowledge with the practice informed knowledge from past GIS soil mapping exercises, the GIS team was able to leverage a software system to accurately map soils reflecting the geographic landscape. Through this procedure, GIS specialists and soil scientists collaborate to create digital maps for comparison to existing methods and results.

  1. GIS Specialists apply global knowledge of soil mapping to draft maps Utilizing software to formulize rules and cases
  2. The scientists review the global rule-based reasoning maps applying their generalized knowledge
  3. Scientists adds elements of local case-based reasoning, applying research-based knowledge & tests parameters with multiple possible scenarios.

This new process of Digital Soil Mapping combines multiple types of knowledge to analyze larger sample areas with reliability and efficiency. Utilizing the analytical knowledge from the numerous manual studies, software can quickly analyze large map areas with global research-based knowledge by following preset parameters. Scientists give each map a careful review, in addition to applying local case-based reasoning to natural irregularities in the map. The new Soil Interference Engine software package leverages the generalized knowledge of the landscape against the localized knowledge of scientists regarding natural irregularities in the landscape.The researchers culminate their scientific knowledge with the tacit knowledge that has been accumulated from years of location based, experiential knowledge. The experiential knowledge is the source of a culmination of years performing research based data samples in the area. The scientist has studied northern Vermont soil samples throughout their professional careers and were previously knowledgeable of soil layers in the area. They were able to bring these skills to GIS mappers who retained practice informed knowledge from accumulated experience using the software. By combining multiple types of knowledge in the mapping process, the scientist was able to create transferable knowledge that could be used in a decision-making process Digital Soil Maps can be used to educate others and influence decisions regarding future development within the specific study area. Collaborating with multiple types of knowledge increases the impact of a project, and leads to results with tangible results that can be used to transfer knowledge to decision makers.


Chapter Summary

Knowledge is generated in various ways. It comes from experiential knowledge using particular experiences, general knowledge using scientific research, artistic knowledge using sensory representations and practical knowledge built from past general knowledge. Combining diverse stakeholders in sustainability projects allows for multiple knowledge types to be incorporated. Since sustainability problems span across both localized and widespread sectors, local and global knowledge needs to be taken into account. The best sustainability solutions come to be when the problem, research generation and solution are each based off of a variety of different perspectives and ways of knowing. This is all possible when a level of trust is created between the team, allowing information to flow easily between all members.


Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge?
  2. What is the difference between normative and subjective knowledge?
  3. In what way can citizen knowledge contribute to a sustainability project?
  4. How can artistic knowledge be used in the application of a sustainability solution?


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