Add structure to Notion: this is how you make information in your company easy to find

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Mark Vletter

10 Oct 2022 Clock 7 min

In this final instalment of a three-part series, Voys founder Mark Vletter concludes his reflection upon our adoption of Notion as our knowledge and project management tool. Part 1 deals with why we chose Notion as our knowledge base and how we created our culture of knowledge management; Part 2 is a practical guide on how to get started using Notion. In this article, he explains how to logically structure information in your company’s knowledge base to make it easy for colleagues to find.


Ontology, taxonomy and choreography

There is an academic discipline called library and information science. This discipline is concerned with the organization, access, collection and protection of information. Within this field there is something called information architecture and I would like to go into that in more detail.

Three elements are important in information architecture: ontology, taxonomy and choreography. Those terms sound complicated and that’s why you can forget them right away. The value is in its meaning. If you can process the meaning of these concepts in your knowledge base, you have already come a long way.

  • Ontology refers to the specific meaning of information. But for us, this term goes beyond just meaning. Because in order to make information understandable and useful, it must be accessible, clear and up-to-date.
  • Taxonomy is the ordering of the parts, you can also see this as the structure.
  • Choreography is how meaning and structure fit together and provides a logical flow through all information.

Ontology: understandable and useful information

By giving everyone the opportunity to change information, you ensure that it is current and understandable for colleagues. Is something not quite clear? Then you can add questions. And do you want to give some more context? Then insert an extra piece of text, paste a link behind a passage or add a comment somewhere.

Taxonomy: the structure of information

There are two ways to structure information: a topic and a time breakdown.

Bringing structure to subject

The most common way to structure information is by subject. You have a main topic and you put the information that falls under it together. Do you delve deeper into the matter? Then you divide the information into sub-themes of the main topic.

Apply structure on time

Another option is to structure on time. That can be the time when you need the information or the frequency at which the information changes.

  • Long-term information: This is information that rarely changes. At Voys, for example, this is information about how we work.
  • Medium-term information: This is information that is relevant now and in the near future, but which later changes and becomes irrelevant. An example of this is project information.
  • Short-term information : this is information about the ‘ordinary work’. Think of to-do items and notes from meetings.
Applied information architecture

Default hierarchy, polyhierarchy and multi-hierarchy

Organizing both subject and time is useful, so there are standard ways of structuring these options.

  • default hierarchy has one parent and multiple children. 
    An example: the category of means of transport (parent) includes boats, cars and airplanes (children).
  • In a polyhierarchy , a child can have more than one parent.
    An example: educational software (child) arises from software and educational products (parents).
  • Then there is the multi-hierarchy in which several standard hierarchies are next to each other.

Just pouring your knowledge base into one of these models is not that easy. But they can help you determine your basic structure.

Choreography: the flow of information

Earlier the terms ontology and taxonomy were mentioned, now the last term is discussed: choreography. This is the most interesting of the three and shows the power of Notion as a knowledge management tool.

The internet is the most successful knowledge base, because it is there that you can link to other sources. A hyperlink refers to an entire page or to a specific element within a page. Those referrals are crucial for successful knowledge management. Notion lets you do the same thing: you can create blocks of information and display them on multiple pages. You can also easily link to other pages within the knowledge base. This is useful for breaking away from structure and letting information live across multiple pages in the knowledge base.

The Power of Notion

Notion offers the possibility to link from one place to another via a hyperlink, just like on the internet. In this way you create a multi-hierarchical system of the different standard hierarchies. Because Notion has database elements, sometimes there is also some polyhierarchy in it.

For example, the notes of a meeting can be linked to a project, to a team, to the person who takes the notes or to someone who attended the meeting. Notion also adds the ability to structure information by subject as well as by time.

Determining where information fits best is sometimes difficult. Sometimes two or even more spots are the best solution. The great thing is that in Notion you can choose the page that you think fits just a little better and you can then link to that page on other pages that you think the information is relevant. This way you break through the hierarchy and create flow.

Separating information from communication

Now that you know more about structuring your knowledge base, it has become a lot easier to find and add information. That leaves me with one last point to emphasize: separate information and communication from each other.

“You have to separate information from communication”

Information often begins to live in means of communication. Chat tool Slack is the best example of this. Slack is meant to communicate effectively with each other. The tool isn’t great for finding information, especially if it’s outdated. You see the same at meetings. A recording of an online meeting is useful, but a written summary is much easier to scan. In addition, recording the output of a meeting gives you the opportunity to read it again later and share it with others. This makes information useful for everyone.

Do you want to build a valuable second brain for your organization? Then you have to move information from means of communication to the means of information. You can encourage this by removing all communication in a chat system such as Slack after two months. If you know that information is no longer available at some point, you are much more likely to move it. We haven’t done this at Voys yet, but we do see that colleagues are increasingly sharing links to Notion in Slack. They then first put the information in Notion, and then share it via Slack.

A second brain for your organization

At Voys, we have learned a lot about knowledge sharing and knowledge management over the past 15 years. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but our organization will not function and grow without the knowledge base.

Notion turned out to be the perfect tool for us to collect all knowledge within the organization. And if you look at what the tool can do, chances are that this also applies to your company. Notion solves the problems of ontology, taxonomy and choreography like no other. But, like our knowledge base, Notion is not perfect. The tool could work even better if the search function gets an upgrade.

I hope you can get started with my knowledge management and Notion blog series and have gained enough knowledge to build a knowledge base for your business. Are you working on it? Please let me know what you learn and what your experiences are, I’m curious about that. You can find me on Twitter as @MarkV . Good luck!

Follow our Notion blog series

Part 1: How to choose the best tool for successful and scalable knowledge management

Part 2: Getting started with Notion: this is what our knowledge base looks like


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