Bresciani, S. (2011) Visualizing Knowledge for Organizational Communication Within and Across Cultures. Ph.D. Thesis. Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland.
This thesis focuses on understanding and assessing the effects of visualizing knowledge as a way to capture and communicate meaning in the context of organizations. The main finding is that knowledge visualization, compared to textual and verbal communication, has a positive impact on the effectiveness of knowledge sharing in groups, and leads to a more positive attitude toward the content.
The large majority of communications in organizations is in verbal or textual form. This research builds upon evidence that conceptual visual representations can support cognitive and communicative tasks, overcoming the limitations of textual communication by drawing on both the verbal and the visual abilities of the brain (Dual Coding Theory). Knowledge visualization refers to mapping text graphically, meaning that visual representations are used in combination with text to convey knowledge. With the increasing internationalization of the (business) world, visualization, often regarded as a universal language, should be particularly valuable to assist organizations in communicating across cultures. The recent development of Information and Communication Technology offers new modes of communication, including highly usable graphical software, which are increasingly adopted by individuals and organizations. Reflecting this trend in society, we witness a growing number of case studies and theoretical analysis, and the emergence of Knowledge Visualization as a new discipline. Yet, the academic community has so far somewhat shied away from rigorously measuring the effects of visualizing knowledge.
This thesis aims to offer a contribution to theory by providing a theoretical framing and by measuring the impact of knowledge visualization on communication effectiveness. A further aim of the thesis is to assess the effects of knowledge visualization in different cultural contexts, namely Europe and East Asia.
Method and results:
The research is conducted with a mixed methods approach. A framework is proposed to capture the major dimensions relevant when using visualization in collaborative contexts. The assumption is that visualizations can carry not only benefits, but perils as well: a classification of potential disadvantages of visualization is offered. The empirical investigation is conducted through a survey and two controlled experiments where the effects of knowledge visualization, compared to text only, are measured. In a first experiment, groups of experienced professionals were asked to share their knowledge on strategy implementation problems using either traditional textual support or interactive knowledge visualization support. Findings, analyzed with a multilevel approach, show that visualizing knowledge has a significant positive effect on productivity and recall. In a second experimental study, professionals in Europe and East Asia were exposed either to a textual or a visual representation of the organization’s strategy. The results show that communicating with knowledge visualization strengthen the positive attitude toward the content and the commitment to implement it. There is evidence of a significant mediated moderation of culture.
The findings contribute to the establishment of a theoretical base for the emergent field of knowledge visualization, by providing evidence of the positive effects of conceptual visual representations on communication. The results also suggest the vast – and yet unexploited – potential benefits of visualizing knowledge for communicating to employees in different cultures and for facilitating meetings in organizations.