Ask Us Answered: Why Is Creating Taxonomy So Challenging?

Christine Kelley's picture

What’s on the minds of other process and knowledge practioners? Ask Us Answered is an APQC blog series that shares a sample of the questions members submit to APQC’s Ask Us service along with the resources and expertise provided.  If you’re an APQC member and have a question you’d like us to answer please Ask Us!

You can also follow us on Twitter @APQC  

Question: A member from a US government agency requested resources to support the creation of a taxonomy for aiding content search, specifically for SharePoint.  

Answer: It’s hard to create hard-and-fast rules for taxonomy development since every organization’s needs are different.

In some fields, the terms and topics don’t change much from year to year, which makes it easier to create a (relatively) stable term list. In these situations, it’s important to get the taxonomy right the first time and ensure it reflects how end-users (the employees who will be storing and retrieving content based on the taxonomy) think. We recommend gathering input from a series of representative focus groups, instead of relying exclusively on expert feedback. Experts often think, talk, and categorize differently than people with less knowledge in an area, and you need your taxonomy to be usable by people in a variety of roles and levels.

If you’re working in a fast-moving field where the relevant topics change quickly, you may want to look more seriously at folksonomies or user-generated tagging structures. These can be used instead of a formal taxonomy, but more often we see them used side-by-side to supplement the official term list. This is also a good way to validate the formal taxonomy and determine where updates may be needed. For example, if you’re seeing a lot of content being tagged to a new term in the folksonomy, it may be an indication that it should be added to the formal structure.

Some people feel that taxonomies are becoming less relevant as machine learning and natural language processing technology makes it easier for computers to identify relationships among topics and documents. This is probably true in the long term (check out How Cognitive Computing Supports Content Curation for more details), but most organizations are still a while away from that. Furthermore, having a robust taxonomy in place to begin with can speed up and simplify the work of training and tweaking a cognitive system.

Recommended reads:

Create Taxonomies and Organizing Frameworks That Reflect How Users Think About Content
In APQC’s Connecting People to Content study, APQC noticed several common characteristics of taxonomies in place at the featured best-practice organizations. These include the extent to which taxonomies extend across the business entity and enterprise; how the best-practice organizations involve the people who create and consume content in taxonomy development, and; the frequency of taxonomy updates.

Making Content Findable: A Conversation with EY, Nalco, and ConocoPhillips
Representatives from three organizations—EY, Nalco, and ConocoPhillips—involved in APQC’s Connecting People to Content Best Practices Study engaged in a panel discussion about making enterprise content more findable through taxonomy and search. This article summarizes their responses to the following questions:

  • What is the toolkit for taxonomy and search at EY, Nalco, and ConocoPhillips?
  • What search capability features are most important?
  • What are your most important lessons learned with respect to developing, implementing, and getting people to use taxonomy?
  • How do you provide access to a wide range of content without people getting overwhelmed by it?
     
  • In the future, how might predictive analytics play a role in pushing relevant content to people?

Successfully Implementing a Taxonomy at Accenture

During a session at APQC’s KM Conference, Susan Batkis of Accenture explained why taxonomies are important to use, reviewed characteristics and goals of a corporate taxonomy, and perhaps most importantly, shared best practices and lessons learned including:

  • Identify key stakeholders early
  • Inventory as much of the current taxonomy model as possible
  • Define governance
  • Taxonomies are not the end, they are a means
  • And more!

Taxonomy and Metadata: Drivers of Content Management Effectiveness

Often referred to as “data about data,” metadata is structured information about an information resource that makes it easier to find, use, and manage. APQC research suggests that the effective use of metadata and taxonomy plays a role in the overall success of an organization’s content management effort. Well over 50 percent of those who ranked metadata, separate taxonomy, or enterprise taxonomy as effective also rated their firms’ overall content management strategy and processes as effective.

Resources provided by APQC expert, Lauren Trees, Principal Research Lead, Knowledge Management. You can follow Lauren on Twitter @LTrees_KM.

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