This chapter will provide an overview of the existing concepts and theories within knowledge network-ing. First the different dimensions of knowledge and the knowledge conversion processes are going to be discussed and then five important facilitating conditions for knowledge networking are being presented. Based on these perspectives the collected empirical material will be analyzed.
In order to be able to understand and reflect on the knowledge sharing process in networks it is important to first have a look at the basic concepts of knowledge and which factors that are playing a role in its creation.
Explicit and Tacit Knowledge
While the definitions of knowledge differ, most researchers agree that two dimensions can be distinguished regarding the type of knowledge. The first epistemological dimension deals with the distinction between two different kinds of knowledge – ‘explicit knowledge’ and ‘tacit knowledge’ (Spender, 1996; Grant, 1996). Nonaka (1994) defines ‘explicit’ or also called ‘codified knowledge’ as “knowledge that is transmittable in formal, systematic language” (p. 16). It has a universal character and can be accessed through consciousness (Nonaka, Takeuchi & Umemoto, 1996). Furthermore, it can be described as “discrete and digital” (No-naka, 1994, p. 17) that is, it is expressed in numbers and words, and therefore can be trans-ported, represented, distributed and recorded for example in archives or databases (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).
On the other hand ‘tacit knowledge’, also referred to as ‘implicit knowledge’ is described by personal experiences and perception, intuition, emotions and unarticulated models. It is highly subjective and thus difficult to formalize and make available to others (Szulanski, 1996). Tacit knowledge involves technical and cognitive elements. Technical elements can be defined as “concrete know-how, crafts and skills that apply to specific contexts” (Nonaka, 1994, p. 16), while the cognitive part refers to how individuals perceive reality and how they envi-sion the future by forming working models of the world in their minds (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Communication in relation to tacit knowledge can be considered an ana-logue process, which is concerned with not only sharing knowledge, but also problem solv-ing and understanding each other. In this context the problem solving process can be seen as simultaneous, that is to say that the different dimensions of an issue, are being discussed parallel to each other, in contrast to explicit knowledge (Nonaka, 1994).
Level of Social Interaction in the Knowledge Creating Process
The second ontological dimension addresses the level of social interaction, when building knowledge. Four different levels can be identified, in regard of the level at which knowledge may be shared: the individual, the group, the organizational, and the inter-organizational level. According to Nonaka (1994) the individual per se creates knowledge and develops an idea at a fundamental level. However in order to be able to develop the initial idea further, exchange with other individuals in so called ‘communities of interaction’ is considered to play a crucial role. That is to say that social interaction and exchange of ideas with peers contributes significantly to the creation of knowledge. In the process of developing and legitimizing knowledge several different levels of social interaction can be identified. When knowledge is created within the company it often happens in more infor-mal ways. This might not only include people within the organization, but shareholders such as customers and suppliers can also be involved in the process. For a firm it is then important to integrate this knowledge into strategic processes in order to be able to absorb the benefits of emerging knowledge. These “informal communities of interaction” (Nonaka, 1994, p. 17) can be transformed into more formal provisions by putting the informal community on a more formal basis, for example by forming an alliance or outsourcing. Knowledge building will then happen at an inter-organizational level and might even in-clude competitors next to customers, suppliers and distributors (Nonaka, 1994).
Transformation of knowledge
The transformation of knowledge is important in order to share and expand knowledge be-yond the mind of an individual (Nonaka & von Krogh, 2009). Nonaka (1991; 1994) identi-fies four processes of knowledge transformation, viewed in the following model.
- Socialization – From tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge
- Combination – From explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge
- Externalization – From tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge
- Internalization – From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge
The first process of knowledge conversion ‘socialization’ enables individuals to exchange tacit knowledge through joint experiences. These shared experiences build the base for sharing tacit knowledge and make it possible to transfer tacit knowledge without the use of language (Nonaka, 1994).
‘Combination’ as the second mode of conversion refers to transforming explicit knowledge into more complex and systematized explicit knowledge through the use of social process-es. Here knowledge is shared and combined through social interaction e.g. via a phone conversation or a meeting. Systematizing and refining the knowledge makes it easier to transfer and increases the practical value of existing knowledge (Nonaka, 1991; 1994). ‘Ex-ternalization’ and ‘internalization’ present the two last processes, involving both the con-version of tacit and explicit knowledge. These transformation processes are based on the idea that tacit and explicit knowledge complement each other and grow with time and mu-tual interaction (Nonaka, 1994).
Through the process of externalization, which describes the process of converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, knowledge loses some of its ‘tacitness’ and is thus easi-er and less costly to share. Internalization on the other hand deals with the conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge, making knowledge less explicit and hence easier for the individual to act on (Nonaka 1994; Nonaka & von Krogh, 2009).
Facilitating Conditions in the Knowledge Sharing Process
The environment of the network is determined by facilitating conditions, that is to say both structural and cultural dimensions, influencing the processes, which take place within the network and can either be supportive, or counterproductive (von Krogh & Grand, 1999). Supportive facilitating conditions, also called enablers provide a positive climate for net-working activities such as knowledge sharing, while counterproductive conditions have a negative effect. These conditions can be divided in several categories and define the sup-porting or restricting environmental factors such as the network’s culture (i.e., norms and values or communication), but also the organizational structure and management system (Beerli, et al., 2003). The next section deals with the most important facilitating conditions that influence the knowledge sharing process within a network or as it happens in our case in the focus groups.
The composition and the time to build a group is a critical matter for the organization and attention should be paid to the aspect of self-organization. The size of the group also has influence on the knowledge sharing process (Nonaka, 1994). Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) argues that in order to develop intimacy and feelings of mutuality the num-ber of participants in a community of practice is limited. Kochen (1989) also states that even if a person might know a 1000 people he/she would only be able to maintain a certain amount of close relationships.
According to Nonaka (1994) the appropriate group size lies in the range from 10 to 30 people and should not exceed an upper limit due to decreasing interaction between group members as size increases. Within a team four to five ‘core members’ can usually be identi-fied that play an important role and guarantee an appropriate ‘redundancy’ of information within the group. Other factors that play a role in influencing the performance of a group are for example formal position, age, or gender (Nonaka, 1994).
The Knowledge Base
The individual plays the most significant part in the process of organizational knowledge creation. Through experiences it collects tacit knowledge over time. In this process two factors that determine the quality of the accumulated tacit knowledge play an important role. The first factor is the ‘variety’ of the experiences an individual makes. If not being challenged and only facing monotonous, repetitive tasks, the level of tacit knowledge of the individual decreases over time. However also a high variation in tasks and experiences might not necessarily have a positive influence on knowledge creation, if the individual is not able to connect the experiences and integrate them into a new perspective. That is to say a high quality, of the experiences made, is essential in order for the individual being able to create new perspectives and maybe even completely redefine the nature of a ‘job’ (No-naka, 1994).
‘Knowledge of experience’ can be seen as the second factor playing a role in the determina-tion of quality of tacit knowledge. This term describes how deeply the individual is in-volved in the object and situation and the process of embodying the knowledge through a deep personal commitment into bodily experience (Nonaka, 1994). In the process of creat-ing organizational knowledge the constant interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge plays a significant role. It can be said that tacit knowledge provides a background necessary for developing and interpreting explicit knowledge (Polanyi, 1975). If tacit knowledge is requisite for the understanding of explicit knowledge, then subsequently two individuals willing to exchange knowledge require some sort of overlap in their knowledge bases (Ivari & Linger, 1999; Tuomi, 1999).
Teigland (2003) shows that the relationship between participation and increasing individual performance is not only dependent on the strength of the social tie, but also on the redun-dancy of the knowledge in the network. As a member of a network of practice the individ-ual has to be willing to share knowledge in order to access knowledge in return. Although the presence of many participants that share the same functional expertise may actually lead to a lower degree of creative performance.
Davenport (2002) points out that with an increasing level of trust in a community the will-ingness to share knowledge rises, which subsequently has a positive effect on the knowledge level. Generally trust, defined as the ”positive psychological expectation that another will not act opportunistically when an individual agrees to make himself or herself vulnerable to another” (Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt & Camerer, 1998, p. 395) presents the essential component of a so-cial exchange relationship. While information sharing, that is to say explicit knowledge, can be accomplished through so called ‘weak ties’, the sharing of tacit knowledge requires denser ties with other members of the network (Dyer & Nobeoka, 1998).
Mutual trust builds the base for concept creation, which involves converting tacit knowledge into an explicit concept through a difficult process of externalization. This type of collaboration requires repeated and time-consuming interaction between members. Sharing one’s experience offers one way to build trust – the basic source for tacit knowledge (Nonaka, 1994; Schrader, 1991). This is important since know-how or tacit knowledge is more likely to have sustainable advantages compared to just information. Consequently it can be said that a smaller network or group size holds advantages over a larger network (Dyer & Nobeoka, 1998).
The main purpose of a network of practice is to increase the level of shared knowledge among the participating individuals. Communication in a network hence plays an important role by facilitating the knowledge sharing process (Rosengren, 2000).
A lot of problems hindering the communication process can be traced back to so call ‘noise’. According to Fiske “Noise is anything that is added to the signal between its transmission and reception that is not intended by the source” (1990, p. 8). This noise or interference may have a negative impact on the quality of the communicated signal, which may lead to unwanted changes in the message perceived by the receiver (McQuail & Windahl, 1993).
Dimbleby and Burton (2007) state three kinds of noise or as they call it barriers: mechani-cal, semantic, and psychological. Deafness, a lisp, and breakdowns in equipment involved in communication are all examples of mechanical barriers. Semantics refers to how differ-ent individuals interpret different words and phrases. The most common noise of communication is the psychological barriers. These refer to individual’s different values and beliefs, “communication may be filtered or blocked by attitudes, beliefs and values” (Dimbleby & Burton, 2007, p. 81).
The use of information and communication tools can improve and should build the foun-dation for the processes and knowledge network building. These tools can be used within social interaction and can be described as an architectural design combining Information and Communication Technology, as well as organizational tools and methods. These espe-cially show potential in the area of management support; an IT-supported environment with computer-oriented rather than person-oriented knowledge processing. IT should not be the main driver of knowledge sharing processes, but technology should always be con-sidered to be one of the enables of knowledge sharing processes. Beerli et al. (2003) suggest that an organization should always provide a common technology platform in order to fa-cilitate efficient knowledge sharing. This is especially important for organizations where the units are not geographically centralized and that have a wider business scope. How effec-tive these tools are depends on the knowledge processes and their perception as continu-ously expanding and changing configurations weighted against the structural background of the network (Beerli et al., 2003).
Top Management Support
Knowledge sharing efforts require the vision and support of top management, in order to be successful. Managers should create incentives and provide the right resources, enabling employees to participate in knowledge networking. If the company is able to develop the right incentives for its employees to work with others and share knowledge they will be able to benefit from the results of successful knowledge transfer. It is important that top managers pay attention to clearly communicating the benefits of knowledge networking, in order to avoid a lack of understanding and motivate the employee (Beerli et al., 2003).
Clear definitions of intellectual capital and intellectual assets do not exist. This fact poses a problem, since it may be hard for the management of a company to calculate the return on investment for knowledge facilitating programmes, such as knowledge networking. Fur-thermore it is important to consider that the lack of nonfinancial measures might lead to the misconception that the program was a failure, although it actually improved perfor-mance. These facts lead to an underinvestment in programs, that improve employee per-formance and competencies, which is dangerous, since intellectual capital and intellectual assets gain more and more recognition as the drivers of a business’ future performance (Beerli et al., 2003).
1.2 Problem discussion
2 Theoretical Framework
2.2 Transformation of knowledge
2.3 Facilitating Conditions in the Knowledge Sharing Process
3.1 Trustworthiness of the Collected Material
3.2 Secondary Data Collection
3.3 Primary Data Collection
4 Empirical Study
4.1 Pre-Study: Qualitative Interview with SAPSA Employees
4.2 Pre-Study Discussion
4.3 Main Study
5.1 Benefits of Knowledge Networking
5.2 The Paradox of Low Activity
5.4 Facilitating Conditions for Knowledge Sharing in the Focus Groups
6.1 Limitations and Further Research
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Knowledge Exchange in Inter-Organizational Networks An Evaluation of the Knowledge Sharing Processes in the SAPSA Network