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  • studying the role of narrative across aerospace knowledge management systems

    Paper number



    Mr. Nathan Eng, University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, United Kingdom


    Dr. Rob Bracewell, United Kingdom


    Prof. John Clarkson, University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, United Kingdom




    The realisation of aerospace systems mobilizes a collective imagination far beyond what can be reflected in CAD files, reports, emails or any other documents from modern engineering practice. These are necessary, however, for distributing understanding of complex systems across organizations of people. These “cognitive technologies” bridge the gap between human cognitive limits and the requirements of complex, asynchronous and information-intense cooperative work. This paper examines the particular role of narrative in contrast with emerging graph-based tools when constructing this understanding at the human level.

    This research is situated within the emergence of a new breed of tools which offer unique forms of expression through graph-based representations of concepts (1). These tools for visualization and navigation have been studied and even adopted by some aerospace organizations. In some cases, these aim to replace more traditional narrative forms of representation like textual documents because graphs reflect better the hyperlinked, non-linear structures within both engineered systems and information repositories. The old forms of representation, however, possessed certain characteristics that are important for enabling effective knowledge capture and transfer. It is critical to determine what is lost and what is gained in the transition.

    A literature survey was used to synthesize an understanding of narratives from diverse fields, including engineering design, knowledge management and human-computer interaction. The cognitive dimensions of information artefacts framework was used to highlight the effect of narrative among the other aspects of cognitive technologies being studied. Research suggested that it is the narrative structure which is key: a chain of meaningful elements delimited by a clear beginning and end. This structure, which is very closely tied to the nature of human thinking, is valuable for maintaining a closeness of mapping between user experience and the representation used to capture it. Similarly, where narrative structure is not immediately appropriate, it may provide a critical type of secondary notation within and between representations.

    Current case studies across different complex engineering applications aim to retrieve narratives which may already be captured in document repositories without being clearly understood. Interviews and participant observation will help examine how users construct knowledge from the experience of disparate information artefacts and to evaluate how concepts of narrative structure can augment design work.


    (1) Examples include the Florida Institute for Human-Machine Cognition’s “Cmap Tools”, the Compendium Institute’s “Compendium” and the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre’s “Design Rationale editor” (DRed).

    Abstract document


    Manuscript document

    IAC-08.D5.2.10.pdf (🔒 authorized access only).

    To get the manuscript, please contact IAF Secretariat.