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What is a “knowledge encounter”?

I was recently challenged by my supervisor to explain why I use the term “knowledge encounter” in my work. The story of how I arrived at it was actually one of frustration perhaps 12-18 months ago as I searched for terms in the literature that would best describe the experiences clinicians have of discovering new knowledge. Here is a draft of my explanation that will in due course find its way into my thesis. It may also help those who participate in the study to understand what it is I am trying to get them to capture.


The word encounter is used throughout this thesis as a means to describe the occasions when clinicians happen upon or discover new information or experience something new or in a new way. The intention is to reflect the way in which mindlines [1] appear to be formed, with experiences and information often happened upon in non-linear and unexpected ways, in various contexts, as well as through so-called “knowledge transfer” attempts.

The more familiar terms in the literature around knowledge transfer, translation, exchange and sharing were not sufficient to allow description of the totality of the experiences clinicians were reported to have in coming across new information and experiences [unpublished systematic review]. Elements of these may surface in some of the occasions when clinicians come across new information e.g. as a part of a “knowledge translation” project they may read some guidelines; they may happen across information or an experience as someone shares it with them; they may indeed exchange information or experiences with a colleague. But none of these terms alone were able to incorporate the multitude of ways in which clinicians come across new information and experiences that were identified in the systematic review. Encounter was a word that kept surfacing in my mind to describe what I was seeing.

Encounter is defined as “An unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something” in the Oxford Dictionaries [2]. The Random House Dictionary (accessed via the word is defined as “To come upon or meet with, especially unexpectedly” [3]. Merriam-Webster defines an encounter as “a usually brief experience with another person” or “an occasion when you deal with or experience something” [4]. Although these suggest that the encounter is an unexpected event the second definition does not suggest that it is always unexpected. And although it may usually be brief it isn’t always. Furthermore an encounter may be with a person or something allowing for that thing to be a journal article, a procedure or internal thought process.

The word encounter also has numerous synonyms or related words that help to clarify what I intend in using the word. Gathered from Roget’s print and online thesauri [5, 6] these include:

  • discover
  • meet
  • meeting
  • experience
  • find
  • detect
  • bump into (happen upon)
  • come upon
  • stumble (happen upon)
  • detect
  • feel
  • find
  • talk (discussion)
  • turn up (be discovered)

Encounter is of course commonly used in the context of a medical encounter [7-9], which is often a planned event even if the actual content of the event is perhaps uncertain. Thus encounter seems appropriate as a way to describe the many ways in which clinicians come across, happen upon, or plan to discover new information or experiences. This is, I believe, in keeping with the type of learning that Gabbay and Le May suggest is taking place as clinicians form their mindlines.

“Knowledge” versus “information or experience” encounter

But why “knowledge” rather than “information or experience” encounters?

Quoting Bell, Tsoukas and Vladimouri give the following distinction between information and knowledge:

“Information is a context-based arrangement of items whereby relations between them are shown (e.g. the subject index of a book). And knowledge is the judgement of the significance of events and items, which comes from a particular context and/or theory (e.g. the construction of a thematic index by a reader of a book).” [10]

I recognise that clinicians will encounter information or their own experiences by this definition. But within the encounter they will make a judgement of the significance of the information or experience and therein turn the encounter into one of knowledge. Thus “knowledge” does not refer to the object of the encounter but to what happens to the object within the encounter.

I would therefore define a knowledge encounter as: an expected or unexpected circumstance in which an individual comes across new information, or experiences something new, and in doing so makes a judgement (consciously or not) about the significance of that information or experience.


  1. Gabbay J, Le May Ae. Practice-based evidence for healthcare : clinical mindlines. Abingdon: Routledge; 2011.
  2. Oxford Dictionaries. Encounter. 2015. Accessed 07/02/2015 2015.
  3. Random House Inc. Encounter. 2015. Accessed 07/02/2015 2015.
  4. Merriam-Webster. Encounter. 2015. Accessed 07/02/2015 2015.
  5. Roget PM, Kirkpatrick EM, Roget PMRstoEw, phrases. Roget’s thesaurus. New ed. / prepared by Betty Kirkpatrick. ed. London: Penguin; 1998.
  6. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus. Encounter. 2009.
  7. Greene MG, Adelman RD, Charon R, Friedmann E. Concordance between physicians and their older and younger patients in the primary care medical encounter. The Gerontologist. 1989;29(6):808-13.
  8. Moumjid N, Gafni A, Bremond A, Carrere M-O. Shared decision making in the medical encounter: are we all talking about the same thing? Medical Decision Making. 2007.
  9. Lazare A. Shame and humiliation in the medical encounter. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1987;147(9):1653-8.
  10. Tsoukas H, Vladimirou E. What is organizational knowledge? Journal of management studies. 2001;38(7):973-93.


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  3. […] by participants, and the narrative interview that follows it, that the process of recording knowledge encounters encourages dentists to reflect on what they are doing, ask further questions and seek answers to […]


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