Knowledge Networks and Distributed Cognition

In People Development

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it”. — Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)


This episode from The Engineering Commons podcast considers engineering as a knowledge network. This engaging and expansive discussion incorporates topics such as:


  • The theory of Distributed Cognition contends that knowledge and cognition is distributed across objects, individuals, artefacts, and tools found in the environment. This allows a group of people to perform cognitive tasks that no single person can accomplish alone.
  • Organizational Memory is the information and knowledge that is stored in the individuals, records, and procedures of an organization.
  • Social Objects are physical objects that facilitate social interactions, or which allow us to come together, and which prompt conversations or help create cultures:

“So the reason I bring up the whole bit about social objects is, I’m going to claim, for the purposes of this episode … that we as engineers are involved with social objects. That is, whatever product it is we work on, or whatever device it is we service or attend to, that creates a sort of social object because engineering is a social process. We do spend a lot of time communicating with one another about these objects that we’re trying to design or fix or repair or improve or service”.