Riding The Elephant


We don’t think much any more about why collections of knowledge are called knowledge “bases“…

OF course, we remember that it is a derivative of “Data Base”, and it has the great sense of being something that is someplace — a specified location that you stand on in order to do something else.

In fact, having “a sense of place” is one of the most important features of a knowledge-base.

The most straightforward way to define a place is to provide a combination of coordinates and boundaries. By doing that we get to say “the place is centered here and extends from there to these limits.”

The discipline to make those defining decisions is what domain experts most often get to bring. We tend to think of their job as being to bring the content. But because more and more content is produced every day, there is a more important job: the domain itself is always needing to be cultivated. Either the domain is carefully accepting new and better content, or it is keeping content out to avoid the risk of spoiling the quality it has already attained.


Something that really brings this point into sharp focus is conferences. Most conferences are prepared in one or both of two ways: as a choreographed exhibit of some parts of a knowledge-base; and as a programmed group development of some parts of a knowledge-base. It’s all about selectivity.

Everyone involved knows that a conference can present only some of what might actually be available. There is a limited amount of time available, and when you get to the conference you can be in only one place at a time as you cover what is being revealed. You need to decide what to hit and what to miss, where to be and where not to be.

In short, you need a map, one in which the boundaries are really clear, to help you realize where everything is. and to realize what isn’t included so that you don’t waste effort looking for it there.

Special Interests

Some knowledge domains are so huge that the most helpful way to think about using them is strictly in terms of your own purpose. That is, you don’t worry about being an expert in all of the content subjects. You don’t even worry about how much content there is. Instead, you worry only about being an expert at shopping for what you need.

At least once a year, the world of IT Service Management goes to conference to take advantage of what may be its largest and most prestigious knowledge-base — the Pink Elephant content collection.

Unfortunately, only some of the world can get there at the appointed time. Fortunately, the agenda is very well publicized and becomes a type of map itself, suggesting what issues the ITSM knowledge-seeker should go on to research anyway, in absentia.

Unfortunately, conference agenda often skew heavily towards a special sensitivity that is the main draw for “this conference this time”. Fortunately, that is usually a predisposition that most ITSM people probably need to take seriously.

Unfortunately, it may not be the most important predisposition for the person at the time. The timing and specialty of an interest may also mean that certain other knowledge is simply left out. However, this provides a reason for maintaining a more generalized set of coordinates of the domain, ones which will still allow specialization to be pursued as appropriate.

That task is generally accomplished with a Framework. A framework is a collection of related issues and important things about those issues. The related issues are like the points on an x-axis. The perspectives on those issues are like the points on a y-axis. Each combination of an issue and a perspective has a spot in the overall framework.

Riding the Big One

Archestra Research took the Pink Elephant Pink15 Conference agenda and analyzed it to develop a more generic framework.

For issues, we decided to look at the major ways that ITSM has influence on Business Performance:

– creating the business capability (Leadership, Strategy and Projects)

– achieving and sustaining effectiveness (best practices, operations)

– maximizing resources (processes, tools)

For perspectives, we decided to identify the major modes of IT management’s enabling activities:

– Change (transform, plan)

– Employ (implement, run)

– Improve (optimize)

The resulting framework provided all of the coordinates needed to harness the content being advertised in the Pink15 Conference Agenda. From this point, the task was to begin collecting and “placing” the appropriate conference materials at the positions logically indicated by the framework (as seen here in progress).


The framework also offers the additional and powerful guidance of pointing out areas where content should be commissioned or discovered if it is not already being provided.

Further, the framework is equally applicable to proprietary content (a private collection) and public content (such as the endless supply of items freely available on the web).

Lastly, by offering the conceptual organization as a frame of reference, there is no barrier to growing an ongoing guided collection indefinitely within the stable, persistent framework. Timing will not determine the utility of the content, and special interest is simply an accommodated subset of a visible general interest.

Guided Knowledge

This “always on” arrangement helps to understand the enormity of the Pink Elephant content collection as something that can be selectively exploited in self-guided mode, to get from an open personal concern onto a tailored knowledge path.

Likewise, any large collection of content can be cataloged in a logical frame of reference that clarifies the utility value of the included content.

And finally, domain expertise serves strongly to propose and refine the dimensions of the frame of reference — the choice of issues and perspectives that propose a practical scope of the available knowledge. The framework itself can have variations and can evolve, as well as having partner frameworks that map out other conceptually complementary domains or domains that share parts in common with the first framework.

Information about Pink Elephant and the Pink15 Conference is readily available here.