The benefits of sketching for knowledge management

Roland A. Pfister (Institute for Media and Communications Management, University of St Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland)
Martin J. Eppler (Institute for Media and Communications Management, University of St Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Publication date: 30 March 2012



In this paper, the authors aim to review the benefits of sketching or ad‐hoc, collaborative hand drawings for knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, and knowledge documentation.


The authors conducted a comprehensive literature review in the fields of design, psychology, and computer science that documents the multiple advantages of sketch‐based approaches for managing knowledge in organizations, especially on the team‐level. The authors argue for the complementary use of this “low‐tech knowledge management” approach with existing digital infrastructures and tools. The literature survey is based on a search for the title term “sketching” on the ISI Web of Knowledge online database. After topic filtering and eliminating all articles where sketching was used in the sense of a project proposal or a theoretical sketch, there were only 48 articles left related to the keyword “sketching”. Based on the authors' awareness of important contributions in the field of sketching, which did not appear in the database search, they extended their inclusion criteria to include grey or conference literature and examined the reference sections of highly cited articles. The article concludes with a set of propositions for practitioners regarding the use of sketching in different knowledge management contexts and with implications for future research in this area.


Knowledge creation contexts, such as innovation management or problem solving sessions, provide participants with the opportunity to jointly devise large scale sketches in order to integrate their views and experiences on joint frameworks. Knowledge sharing situations, such as in team briefings or debriefings, in hand‐over processes, or in strategic alliances, equip all participants with pens and paper tablecloths to augment their knowledge dialogues with visible means that facilitate interaction and turn‐taking, increase vividness and memorability, and allow for an authentic and personal follow‐up documentation.

Research limitations/implications

An implication for research is to study sketching in knowledge management through interdisciplinary research efforts. This could be done by paying attention to the way that digital and hand‐drawn sketches affect interactions differently among professionals and the way that they share, defend, and integrate their knowledge. Specifically researchers with a background in organizational psychology could work jointly with human computer interaction specialists to study differences among analogue and digital sketching activities. In this way one can learn about the respective advantages and risks of hand‐drawn versus computer‐supported sketching for knowledge‐intensive group collaboration tasks.


The literature review resulted in an extended list of benefits which support three relevant tasks in knowledge management, namely knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and knowledge documentation. This compilation shows simple and effective ways in which the use of hand drawings can enhance existing knowledge management practices.



Pfister, R. and Eppler, M. (2012), "The benefits of sketching for knowledge management", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 372-382.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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