Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Cultivating Knowledge Ecosystems

Adapting Visual Arts and Music to Sustain New Patterns of Knowledge Work in Community

(Gardening Knowledge

Information Society Technologies (European Commission DG Information Society)
FET Open Short Proposals

Date: 13-09-99

Project type: FET-RTD (assessment phase)

Proposal number: IST-1999-14062

Research Framework
Research Challenges and Opportunities
Current and Future Relevance|


This project would explore the use of the arts to display, navigate and work with complex knowledge environments. It is especially concerned with the visual arts and music and their relationship with the organisation of knowledge.

The research question is how insights from such arts can be applied to enhance the ability and sensitivity of users interacting with a knowledge structure in a computer-media environment -- both alone or as a community. The concern is with cognitive (rather than decorative) enhancement of interface design and knowledge representation.

The structure of natural sounds (e.g. bird song) and living organisms are potent organising templates for this exploration and considered most likely to offer research payoff relevant to organisation of knowledge for sustainable development. Other systems would be explored were they to prove more promising. Potentially this investigation is also seen as a way to redefine "work" for those for whom music and graphic art is the prime source of coherence.

The research would focus on alternative representational metaphors, moving:



2D (screen confrontation)

3D (wrap-around environment)

The electronic "desktop" evoking document manipulation (a feature of the 1990s)

A biological context evoking "gardening-like" operations consonant with ecosystemic data

"Video-conferencing" as a replication of face-to-face interaction

"Knowledge conferencing" as an encounter of conceptual spaces

Decorative design unrelated to knowledge organisation

Mnemonic design that enhances and suggests comprehension of content

Add-on use of music

Use of melodic cues ("signature tunes") and rhythm to reinforce comprehension of hidden knowledge, deep structures and collective engagement with them

The ideas to be explored in this project are on the frontier of knowledge management and span the disciplines of art, information technology and knowledge organization. It is by no means clear what the precise work activities will be. The workstyle must necessarily be eclectic, unprogrammed and able to follow hunches and breakthroughs. It is intended that at least one of the demonstration products of the research will be a "proof of concept" to justify a structured RTD project. However, even the demonstration versions will be of interest to users over the web and will stimulate further research in this domain.

None of the project partners would be able to embark on this exploration alone. Even as a shared activity, the project partners consider this a "high-risk" venture; however, as a short feasibility assessment it is one to which they are prepared to commit venture funds -- essentially their overhead costs and required outside purchases. This is why a "no-strings" budget of reasonable size, to try out these ideas over a period of months, is so important.


With the importance of making information available electronically, a new set of issues arises. Books have certain standard structures, entry points and rhetorical devices that allow information to be accessed effectively and efficiently. Structures and interfaces for electronic information need to be designed to give anybody a strong cognitive map of the whole as well as a series of maps that create spaces for people to communicate.

At the present moment there are no tried and tested ways to do these things. At the same time, the web is an ever-growing pool of information that is becoming occluded by its own size. Information is no longer simply packaged and available in discrete chunks, it is more often dynamic, fluid and superficially undifferentiated.

Cognitive mapping of information, and the use of cognitive maps as shared spaces, are powerful tools in this domain. It is important that these maps are seen as separate from the information itself. They float above the information, allowing it to remain dynamic, whilst the maps reflect this dynamic. There are many possibilities for the types of map that might be employed and for the range of strategies that might be facilitated by them. Research into this arena is vital for the future use of large data structures and therefore for the whole knowledge economy.

The prime motivation for the consortium is widespread concern with information overload and the need for radical new strategies to enable users of all kinds to represent, grasp, hold and share insights into patterns of information – notably if their preferences and skills lie in use of non-textual information. For the project coordinator, the prime concern of this research is to explore radically different approaches to organising and extracting knowledge from web databases, especially its own. For the other principal contractor, the prime concern in this project is to further develop the cognitive aesthetics of java and virtual reality software. For the associate partners, the respective prime concerns are to identify cognitive dimensions associated with aesthetics and advance their application to practical design of database interfaces and to adapt new technologies to the challenges of transitional economies and to discover ways of making use of the aesthetic skills of those cultures in ordering information in ways hitherto unforeseen in conventional media.


This project concept has arisen from intuitions suggested by existing patterns of knowledge work, graphical and musical artistic expressions and the challenges they address. The innovative leap required is the embedding of isomorphic patterns within media provided by computer-based technology. The R&D leap is to do this in practical, profitable ways. For these reasons, it is important that the partners come from an unusually diverse range of perspectives and competencies. An integral challenge, then, is how the partners can work effectively together. Assuming it is fruitful, together we intend to design and undertake a full-blown RTD project.

Specifically the figurative possibilities to be explored might include:

The research will also attempt to demonstrate the possibilities for radical adaptation of emerging technology that is expected to be widely used, even in the home, and includes:


In the organization and representation of knowledge relatively little attention is currently given to the aesthetic dimensions other than in the packaging of any product for presentation. This is seen as a major reason for the alienation of wider publics from such knowledge. The concern is to use aesthetics to provide a "human face" to knowledge organization – in contrast to the conventional more "bureaucratic" face – as a means of engaging people in the knowledge process, whether as learners or as cultivators of bodies of knowledge.

By exploring radical new uses of the arts in relation to policy-relevant information, the research seeks to respond to the following dilemmas of governance in society:

The Gaps Between

Endemic public apathy

Individual engagement

Socio-economic preoccupations of institutions

Cultural enthusiasm of peoples

Artificiality of programs ("spreadsheet mentality")

Experiential reality

Simplistic structure of information on biodiversity

Actual complexity of the environment

Experience of the electronic environment

Experience of natural reality

The range of issues relating to pattern navigation and management therefore includes: conceptual enhancement, comprehension, memorability, attractiveness, accessibility, richness, aesthetic preferences, and incorporation of non-linear aesthetic insights. The field of application is issue-oriented database maintenance and use.

This research is potentially important to the needs of four distinct application areas:


Feasibility study: The research would give rise to a report indicating the possibilities, opportunities and constraints of developing this approach in practice, with particular reference to what could be achieved in anticipation of later technological and resource opportunities. The report would be supplemented by:

RTD phase: If appropriate, a proposal to continue this work as a shared-cost RTD project will be prepared as part of this assessment contract.

Associated meeting: Consideration will be given to organization of an associated workshop event to comment and build on these results (to be proposed under a separate budget)



One purpose of this proposed assessment study is to determine the viability of the following consortium of partners in response to the research challenges (outlined in Part B of this proposal) in anticipation of preparing a proposal for an RTD phase.

Further general and more detailed information on each of the project partners can be found at the relevant websites.

The coordinating partner for this proposal is the Union of International Associations (UIA – http://www.uia.org/), a Brussels-based research institute, with proven competence in the handling, management and dissemination of information relating to activities and preoccupations of international organisations. Various editorial teams (mixing skills and languages) maintain a variety of very extensively hyperlinked databases (currently containing over 30,000 international bodies, 25,000 international meetings, 30,000 world problems, 30,000 global strategies, and other types of information: concepts of human development, human values, etc). Data is used to generate major reference publications (with CD-Rom and web page versions). These include: Yearbook of International Organizations (35rd ed. 1998-9); Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (4th ed. 1994-5).

The UIA has a strong history of research and development in knowledge organisation and informatics1. In its role as an SME, it employs around 20 people and functions both a publishing house and a research institute. The UIA has been experimenting with visual interfaces using virtual reality and Java-based relationship-mapping techniques (the latter together with another partner in this project, Beautiful Code).

For the UIA as project coordinator, this research is to explore radically different approaches to organising and extracting knowledge from web databases, especially its own. The prime motivation is widespread concern with information overload and the need for radical new strategies to enable users of all kinds to represent, grasp, hold and share insights into patterns of information – notably if their preferences and skills lie in use of non-textual information. UIA papers on these topics are accessible via http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/aadocndx.htm

This proposal builds on the extensive expertise of the UIA in database maintenance and design, both in intranet, teleworking, and web variants (static and dynamic). This experience has been gained within several multi-partner project frameworks, notably as:

Work described in this proposal would also be supportive of a new project, recently accepted by the infoDev programme of the World Bank for funding in the near future. That focuses on innovative approaches for interfacing electronic communication modalities in a developing country context, where connectivity, ability to pay and infrastructure are constraining.

Beautiful Code BV (Netherlands – http://www.beautifulcode.nl/), is a small consulting firm in the information technology industry, specialising in the application of Java, Web and XML technologies. By offering consulting, mentoring and training services to various companies, large and small, in the Netherlands, Beautiful Code has acquired a reputation for creating and motivating the creation of particularly clearly-written and understandable software source code, which is exceptionally future-safe. Larger clients include Sun Microsystems, Origin IT, Randstad Automatisering, Philips Medical Systems and Foxboro. Since 1997, the company has been sponsoring the Fluidiom project, which represents a research and community-building effort focused on the effective exploration of natural spatial geometry and its employment for the purpose of facilitating communication and organisation of ideas. Though it currently does not represent a major revenue stream, largely due to its extremely innovative approach, this project remains at the core of the company's purpose and long-term vision.

As a principal partner, Beautiful Code has considerable expertise in development of highly innovative software to enable users to design and develop unusual 2D and 3D structures, in isolation or in virtual worlds. Its prime concern in this project is to radically develop possibilities brainstormed by the consortium for the cognitive aesthetics of software using UIA data as a web laboratory, notably with regard to the implications for generation of virtual worlds based on that data.

Art of Memory (Interactive) Ltd (UK - http://www.artofmemory.co.uk), is a design and production company specializing in the creation of innovative interactive products. The company specializes in the design of cognitive interfaces for clear effective communication and navigation of large bodies of information. It acts as consultant to those who are contemplating the implementation of new technologies for communication, business or education. It helps to devise methods and solutions that are most appropriate for the communication of knowledge between people in any particular circumstances.

The company has worked with major information providers from large corporations to high profile museums, creating new approaches and distillations of their knowledge. It has been involved in a number of EU-funded projects focussing upon the use of the new technology, including the HALCION project in partnership with the Open University. Personnel of the company also run training courses that inform others about the possibilities and opportunities of the effective use of the new technology. These training courses run internationally, especially in Eastern Europe, and have occurred as far away as Mongolia.

As an associate partner in this project, Art of Memory has the role to identify cognitive dimensions associated with aesthetics and advance their application to practical design of database interfaces. It will also supervise CD production.

Center for Advanced Media – Prague (Czech Republic - http://www.mdlf.cz/camp/), was established in 1998 with the aim of introducing new media concepts and solutions to independent media and non-governmental organisations in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, through training, technical and content-building consulting, and project-oriented product development. The centre also functions as an interface between the developed and developing countries and offers opportunities for technological collaboration between the two worlds. CAMP combines research with instruction in an environment of dynamic exchange of ideas. The centre is gradually becoming a hub for a community of creative people interested in the interaction between new and traditional media.

As an associate partner in this project, CAMP's prime concern is to adapt new technologies to the meet the challenges of transitional economies and to discover ways of making use of the aesthetic skills of those cultures in ordering information in ways hitherto unforeseen in conventional media.



Anthony Judge (UIA)

Anthony Judge is Director of Communications and Research at the UIA, where he is also Assistant Secretary-General, a position he has held since 1969. He is responsible for research on current and future uses of the information held in computer databases and on the implications of the development of the network of international organisations, especially in terms of the future challenges to knowledge dissemination, visualisation of knowledge structures from different cultural and linguistic perspectives, and the design of organisational forms more appropriate to the complexity of the network of world problems.

Anthony Judge has produced numerous research papers relevant to the strategic position of international organisations and the organised response to world problems. This includes work on transformative conferencing, information system design, relevance of metaphor for governance and communication, transdisciplinarity, and concepts of human development. An extensive bibliography, as well as copies of a number of these papers, is available on the UIA website: http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/aadocndx.htm. His consulting and related activities have included: UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); UN Environment Programme (UNEP); UN University (Tokyo); Commonwealth Science Council. His educational background is in chemical engineering (University of London) and business administration (University of Cape Town).

Nadia McLaren (UIA)

Nadia McLaren is an applied ecologist and consultant to UIA since 1993, editing the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential and managing various information projects concerning the strategies of international organisations, particularly relating to sustainable development. For ten years she was Director of Social and Ecological Assessment, an environmental planning company in Australia. She has managed numerous projects, including major environmental impact studies, and is the author of over 40 reports and papers.

Nadia McLaren is concerned with improving dialogue and participation around social and environmental issues and has produced interactive bulletins for several conferences, including Intersectoral Dialogue Meeting, (Global Forum, Rio de Janeiro 1992) and the Parliament of the World Religions (Chicago, 1993). Nadia McLaren is a Director of Global Action Plan International, an international educational organisation for sustainable lifestyles built on empowerment principles. She holds an Honours degree in Science (Zoology) and Masters degree in Environmental Studies, both from The University of Adelaide.

Gerald de Jong (beautiful Code)

Gerald de Jong is the Director of Beautiful Code BV, which he founded in 1996 in order to facilitate consulting and training activities in the domain of Java Technology. He has led regular Advanced Java training sessions and consulted with many different companies in the Netherlands. He has recently designed and built an educational software system for primary schools on contract to Sun Microsystems. Other projects include the development of real-time software for PC-based handling of SmartCards, a SmartCard management database system and other SmartCard-related applications; a record keeping system for the specific needs of agricultural enterprises; a "Postcode Database" compressed postal code data and software system. He writes in many computer languages and has written applications for DOS, Unix and Macintosh operating systems.

Gerald de Jong created Struck (http:// www.beautifulcode.nl/struck/), a software package for the exploration of tension/compression geometries in 3D, and developed an active community of enthusiasts on the internet who gather on a mailing list and during regular weekly chat sessions, notably relating to virtual world construction. He has an Honours degree in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo, Canada.

Graham Jonathan Howard (Art Of Memory)

Graham Howard is an artist, trainer, lecturer (since 1971) and educational supervisor. Since 1989, he has also designed and produced interactive products for conferences and businesses and has undertaken educational consultancies for Apple Computer Europe and the Soros Foundation. His exhibitions have included Art and Language (Paris, Zurich, Oxford), Art and Computers (Cleveland and Utrecht) and Multimedia Art (Hakone Museum, Japan).

Graham Howard holds a Diploma in Art and Design (Fine Art) from the Lancaster Polytechnic. He has made numerous lectures and presentations on art, in recent years particularly on the subjects of multimedia and its role in design and education. He currently holds the positions of Course Director, Computer Related Design, Royal College of Art, London, UK; Director, Art of Memory (Interactive) Ltd, Multimedia Design and Production; and External Examiner, MA Multimedia Arts, Liverpool John Moores University.

Sava Tati.. (CAMP)

Sava Tati.. is Managing Director of the Center for Advanced Media - Prague (CAMP). In 1997 and 1998, he worked as web editor and associate editor at Transitions magazine, a leading monthly covering the post-communist world. From 1996 to 1997, he was associate editor at the Prague-based Open Media Research Institute (OMRI). He was a foreign correspondent for

Belgrade-based newsmagazine Vreme between 1992 and 1998. He holds a Graduate Diploma in International Studies from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a Graduate Diploma in European Studies from the Central European University (CEU), and a BA in economics from University of