What is a Framework of Project Knowledge?

Image of framework of knowledgePost by Ray Poynter, 10 July 2017


On 19 July I am running a workshop on finding and communicating the story in the data for the Japanese Market Research Association (and a similar one in London for the MRS on 5 October 2018). One of the concepts I will be covering is how a Framework of Project Knowledge should be utilised. Below I have set out the basics of this way of thinking and working.

As the image above shows, the Framework is divided into four segments.

Known Unknowns
In most well run research projects this segment is usually covered effectively. This is what market research has traditionally focused on. The researcher asks the client what the business questions are, what success would look like, and what actions they plan to take after receiving the insights from the study. From these elements the researcher can define what needs to be discovered through the research process.

Known Knowns
This element has two key aspects. Firstly, finding out what relevant knowledge already exists. This includes things like previous research projects and published information, but also includes the assumptions that the business is operating under and predictions about the results of the research. The second aspect is to design the research so that it will investigate the assumptions and predictions and either support or challenge them. As the famous quote says β€œIt ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (note the quote is so famous that it is attributed to many people, including Mark Twain and Artemus Ward).

Unknown Unknowns
When I am sharing my project framework with researchers there are two empty boxes on the scoping form that stay empty until the project starts. The first of these is the Unknown Unknowns box. In every research project you should discover things that you did not know that you did not know, i.e. surprises. Discovering these often requires a flexibility of mind, i.e. one that is expecting to be surprised and one that does not fit all new information to existing patterns and boxes. The blank box is a mental check, it should be blank at the start, but if it is blank at the end, you are probably missing something.

Unkown Knowns
The second box that is initially empty is the Unknown Knowns box. As the findings start to emerge from the research, and as you have discussions with your client and stakeholders, you will very often find that somebody already knew some of the material you are discovering. By identifying and documenting this process you can help ensure that the list of Unknown Knowns reduces over time – enabling knowledge to flow more easily around the organisation. Two classic forms of Unknown Knowns are a) where an earlier project has not been shared widely enough (or documented well enough) and b) cases where people had seen the evidence but had not joined the dots.

Using the Framework of Knowledge
By explicitly using this framework projects can deliver more value and are more likely to move an organisation forward. The Known Unknowns segment deals with ensuring creating a good research design. The Known Knowns segment helps design effective research, i.e. research that leverages existing knowledge and challenges assumptions. The Unknown Unknowns and Unknown Knowns segments help avoid the risk of producing research that simply repeats past habits and mistakes and pushes the organisation to expand and validate its knowledge.

One thought on “What is a Framework of Project Knowledge?

  1. I really like this framework. You’re providing a means to break entrenched mindsets & ensure integrative thinking as well as capturing truly new insights.

    Could you share an example of how you’ve applied this? The details of a real case would help me better understand how to introduce this model & use it on a project.

    Thanks so much!

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