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Leading Issues in Knowledge Management Edited by

Charles Despres

This extract consists of the contents pages and the preface only. The book can be purchased from:

Leading Issues in Knowledge Management Volume One. Copyright Š The authors First published April 2011 by Academic Publishing International Ltd, Reading, UK

All rights reserved. Excepted for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of critical review, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISBN: 978-1-906638-87-0

Printed by Ridgeway Press in the UK.


Introduction to Leading Issues in Knowledge Management Research: ........iii The Emergence and Diffusion of the Concept of Knowledge Work ............. 1 Hanna Timonen and Kaija-Stiina Paloheimo Situated, Embodied Human Interaction and its Implications for Context Building in Knowledge Mobilisation Design................................................ 25 Erkki Patokorpi Comparison of Approaches toward Formalising Context: Implementation Characteristics and Capacities .................................................................... 45 William Loyola Effects of Knowledge Representation on Knowledge Acquisition and Problem Solving ......................................................................................... 67 Mohamed Khalifa and Kathy Ning Shen Does Intellectual Capital Management ‘Make a Difference’? A Critical Case Study Application of Structuration Theory ......................... 80 John Tull and John Dumay A Hierarchical Modelling Approach to Intellectual Capital Development ............................................................................................ 101 Eckhard Ammann Folksonomies, Collaborative Filtering and e-Business: is Enterprise 2.0 One Step Forward and Two Steps Back? .................................................. 121 Kevin Johnston Virtual Communities of Practice: Investigating Motivations and Constraints in the Processes of Knowledge Creation and Transfer .......... 136 Ana Maria Ramalho Correia, Anabela Mesquita and Alice Paulos Exploring Knowledge Processes in User-Centred Design ......................... 154 Kaisa Still The Impact of Stories ................................................................................ 175 Joanna Sinclair


Leading Issues in Knowledge Management


Introduction to Leading Issues in Knowledge Management Research: Knowledge Management, 2011

Comparatively few academics have the opportunity to be present at the founding of an academic field and then accompany it through a certain state of maturity. Yet this is probably the case for many of us who work in or around Knowledge Management. It is mine, coming of age as I did in 1995 just when KM was stepping onto the steeper slope of its management fashion wave. Infectious times for a young academic: it was “obvious” that the cognitive sciences, organization theory, symbolic action, enlightened HR, managerial psychology … were all on the cusp of knowledge-intensive organizations and socio-economic systems. Consulting houses were offering research contracts. The world’s first CKO was about to be named. Tom Stewart was pollinating the corporate mind, companies were buying, journals appearing and universities had KM doctoral programs on the drawing boards. There is sometimes an aura around periods like this that somehow projects order from underlying chaos, as characterizes an adolescent’s volition. Auras of this nature tend to dissolve. In an entertaining article that appeared at this time De Long & Seemann (2000, p. 43) wrote, “Knowledge management is an inherently complex and confusing concept.” A more clairvoyant statement is seldom penned. A year earlier I had published a study with my colleague Daniele Chauvel which, with an eye toward the Sociology of Knowledge, was titled Knowledge Management(s), the plural being designed to make a point (Despres & Chauvel, 1999). In this work we applied a (then) state-of-the-art semantic algorithm to a textbase of KM articles to understand what was being discussed, by whom, from which iii

Leading Issues in Knowledge Management perspective, to what end, with what results, and arrived at the visual representation in Figure 1:

Figure 1: A semantic map of Knowledge Management Discourse, 1999 After labouring to develop an orderly taxonomy from the various literatures we wrote, “Knowledge Management is clearly on the slippery slope of being intuitively important but intellectually elusive…”, which was a clairvoyant phrase in its own right. I believe the general frustration lay in the obviousness of dealing directly with knowledge in the “knowledge age” coupled to the difficulty of operationalizing the essential and surrounding factors in an intellectually coherent way. Those concerned with “real” business benefits were also frustrated … as evidenced by this tract from Wilson (2002): “…Some techniques fail, or at least are dropped from the repertoire, because they are Utopian in character … This was the case with business process re-engineering, but businesses quickly realised that the costs of carrying out BPR throughout the organization would be crippling … in fact, two thirds of BPR efforts are said to have failed (Hall, et al., 1994). Knowl-


Charles Despres edge management (whatever it is) also shows signs of being offered as a Utopian ideal and the results are likely to be similar.” Despite this and the underlying conceptual confusions (that were increasingly discussed by authors), KM was clearly surfing the fashion wave at the turn of the Century as indicated by Wilson’s own (2002) search for “Knowledge Management” in article titles listed in the ISI Web of Science from 1981 to 2002 (Figure 2):

Figure 2: Numbers of articles with “Knowledge Management” in their title as listed by the ISI Web of Science, 1981-2002 (from Wilson, 2002) It is my view that the fashion wave crested around 2003-4 and things took on a different hue - still progressive in the main but less euphoric and dampened by the realization that a general theory of knowledge and its management was not just elusive, but absurd. As an example Alvesson & Karreman (2001) published the alluring title, Odd Couple: Making Sense of the Curious Concept of Knowledge Management, which (along with others) injected a critical perspective, reminded us of previous works and suggested, “… caution is called for against the risk of recycling old ideas v

Leading Issues in Knowledge Management through relabeling key terms.” (p. 1015). Indeed: the marketplace was then aptly and mysteriously transmuted any given organizational process into a knowledge process in the space of a billing cycle. The field was also clearly divided with ICT-KM on one side and a potpourri of socio-economic thinking on the other. An interesting paper by Subramani, Nerur & Mahapatra (2003) identified 8 schools of thought at the intersection that KM had become at this point, as displayed in this multidimensional scaling map in Figure 3, and my reading of the field indicates that this is conservative:

Figure 3: A multidimensional scaling map of intellectual positions in Knowledge Management, 1990-2002 (from Subramani, Nerur & Mahapatra, 2003) It was into this potpourri that I reached to present the following title to a colloquium some 3 years ago: “KM is a nice idea. Unfortunately, the field hasn’t met expectations.” This unsympathetic pronouncement was the product of frustrations and concerns I had with the academic rigor of the field of Knowledge Management: in my view it was neither posing influential questions, nor inciting serious institutional change, but rather reacting to events in patchwork fashion via an impressive / depressive collage of intellectual traditions. I therefore launched a polemic: “…due its lack of theoretical foundations and disciplinary mechanisms, the “field” of Knowledge Management (KM) now qualifies as a multidisciplivi

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nary intersection of rather disparate interests, intellects and applications. This is disappointing to the academics and practitioners who expected more when the idea first surfaced some 25 years ago ... more in terms of post-modern organizations and enlightened human interaction, more in terms of knowledge economics, more in terms of knowledge-centric societies. More, in short, of a new field that would institutionalize convergence so as to set new research agendas, define new problematics and identify new practices for the new millennium. KM has not distinguished itself from its tributary disciplines (20 or more), all of which approach “knowledge” and “management” in their own peculiar ways. There is no theory of economics, organization, systems or human interaction specific to KM. There are no technologies, applications, practices or prescriptions specific to KM. There are, however, abundant signs of multi-disciplinarity: when convenient we find individuals, theories and practices from various perspectives disembarking to discuss organizational schemes and human interaction contingent on the wicked problem of knowledge in the postmodern age …” The thinking observer will conclude that the actor and his/her knowledge have always been at the center of work, management and organization in contemporary social science. That fundamental constructs began to change in the mid-20th Century is clear; how they have been refined and focused by KM is less clear. We are now some 40 years forward from Bell’s clarion call (The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, 1968), and 25 years out from Zuboff’s map of the intellectual landscape (In the Age of the Smart Machine, 1984). The deeper currents of Modernity and Postmodernity have underlain these and related works from the 1950’s onward. From this perspective the general observation is that KM surfaced in academic arenas circa 1990 as the offspring of endogenous developments in kindred areas (ICT, economics, sociology, organization theory, communication, management …), and its twenty years of interdisciplinary discussion is little more than a blip on the academic clock. Is it unreasonable to expect more from a young and applied field of study? Perhaps, but there are encouraging signs on the horizon. 1

It is perhaps useful to note that multidisciplinarity implies the melding of multiple perspectives focused on a problem / issue in the search of practical results, and is by definition anathema to a discrete and reigning paradigm. Multidiscipliarity is not interdisciplinarity, though the distinctions are primarily in terms of requisite (disciplinary) variety.


Leading Issues in Knowledge Management To begin with the obvious, the Sociology of Knowledge teaches that changes in disciplinary frameworks occur over decades, if not centuries, and the Kuhnian view is that transition periods are messy, confusing affairs. Given the fact that Karl Wiig first uttered the meme Knowledge Management in 1986 (Wiig, 1997), we should perhaps forgive the multidisciplinary messiness and focus on the bigger picture: irreversible change is obviously underway (as usual) and despite its oxymoronic label KM is in a position to sensemake and perhaps guide the transformations of increasing st scope and rapidity that grip life in the 21 Century. After all, the Academy institutionalized Management as a “science” despite the considerable undergrowth encountered along the way (Koontz, 1961; 1980). Secondly, it is clear to me that technology continues to pull us forward. The managerial and organizational sciences have scurried behind to make sense of the forward thrust, as is perhaps proper in our areas of study. Just as Knowledge Management followed inescapably from Information Management, and before that Data Management, and before that the circa1946 advent of the electronic computer, so are we today entering a 2.0 era that is pregnant with both positive and dimly-perceived consequences. As I write the world’s media agree that Tunisia’s popular revolt sparked Egypt’s and Libya’s popular revolts, that these events have set the Middle East ablaze with popular aspirations, and that none of this would have occurred absent Twitter, or Facebook, or Google. Who could have predicted this a year ago? Within our academic fields the Web 2.0 technologies are similarly hinting at Enterprise 2.0 designs, where the fit with existing disciplinary foundations – in particular with organizational authority structures – is achieved only through intellectual gymnastics, if at all. Should the Cluetrain Manifesto (1999) be right, a brave new world is being announced at this very moment, opening vistas that may suit KM very well indeed. For evidence, and as a popular sign of things to come, consider the trends announced in 2 Figure 4 : 2

This data was obtained from Google Trends on 22 February 2011: According to Google, “Google Trends analyzes a portion of Google web searches to compute how many searches have been done for the terms you enter, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. We then show you a graph with the results – our Search Volume Index graph.”


Charles Despres

Figure 4: Google Trends average worldwide traffic 2004 – 2010: Knowledge Management, Web 2.0, and Enterprise 2.0 (unequal scales – searches conducted independently) hirdly, the consulting hype and “silver bullet” mantras that draped themselves over KM so conspicuously at the turn of the Century have faded with the arrival of new management fashions (apparently … a loose cloud of internal / external networks (social, task, project, innovative…) and images of an omni-connected future). This is a particular relief to me, from this important perspective: “…Emotionally charged and largely uncritical discourse vaunting the quasi-magical potency of a management technique characterizes the upswing of a fashion wave in its popularity, and a more thoughtful and critical attitude toward this technique characterizes the downswing ...” (Abrahamson & Fairchild, 1999: 735) Most actors agree that for 5 years or more KM has been on the downswing of the management fashion wave and entering a new period (consider Figure 4 once again). Changes in the tone of practitioner publications are palix

Leading Issues in Knowledge Management pable (less euphoria, more deliberation, results-oriented). Changes in the quality of academic publications are similarly unmistakable (more depth, more co-authors, fewer gurus, improved methodologies). I am encouraged that the field is increasingly conscious of itself – a sign of impending wisdom – as evidenced by internal debates (e.g., Zhu, 2006; Swan, 2004), the appearance of Sientometrics (e.g., Serenko, Bontis & Grant, 2009), cocitation analyses (e.g., Subramani, M., Nerur, S.P., and Mahapatra 2002) and critical reviews of its academic journals (e.g., Serenko & Bontis, 2009). These developments point naturally toward the selections for this book. My intent was to feature works that are on the cutting edge of the field, that deepen the thinking in KM, and that do so in a scholarly, critical sort of way. As an example of how this plays out: the impact, the import, the foundational nature of context in any discussion of knowledge has been cruelly lacking in this field – and three papers in the book are devoted to the subject. This is not to say that works discussing situated action, Structuration or enactment are elsewhere absent; it simply reflects my considered opinion that their impact on the field’s overall research agenda is faint, and lacking. And so it is with the other selections – each an important statement in its own right, each hopefully a contribution to the ongoing maturation of Knowledge Management. Charles Despres Research Professor SKEMA Business School Sophia Antipolis, France March 2011

References Abrahamson, E. and Fairchild, G. “Management Fashion: Lifecycles, Triggers, and Collective Learning Processes”. Administrative Science Quarterly. 1999, 44(4): 708-740. Alvesson, M. and Karreman, D. “Odd Couple: Making Sense of the Curious Concept of Knowledge Management”. Journal of Management Studies, 2001. 38(7): 995-1018. Davenport, E. “Mundane Knowledge Management and Microlevel Organizational Learning: An Ethological Approach”. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 2002, 53(12): 1038– 1046.


Charles Despres De Long, D. & Seemann, P. “Confronting Conceptual Confusion and Conflict in Knowledge Management”. Organizational Dynamics. 2000, 29(1): 33–44. Despres, C. & Chauvel, D. “Knowledge Management(s)”. Journal of Knowledge Management, 1999, 3(2): 110-120. Koontz, H. “The Management Theory Jungle”. Academy of Management Journal. 1961, 4(3): 174-188. Koontz, H. “The Management Theory Jungle Revisited”. Academy of Management Review. 1980, 5(2): 175-187. Levine, F., Locke, C., Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (1999). The Cluetrain Manifesto. The End of Business as Usual. New York: Cluetrain. Serenko, A. & Bontis, N. “Global Ranking of Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Academic Journals”. Journal of Knowledge Management. 2009, 13(1): 4-15. Serenko, A., Bontis, N. & Grant, J. “A scientometric analysis of the Proceedings of the McMaster World Congress on the Management of Intellectual Capital and Innovation for the 1996-2008 Period”. Journal of Intellectual Capital. 2009, 10(1): 8-21. Subramani, M., Nerur, S.P., and Mahapatra, R. “Examining the Intellectual Structure of Knowledge Management”, 1990-2002: An Author Cocitation Analysis. University of Minnesota Management Information Systems Research Center Study. MISRC Working Paper #03-23, 2003. Swan, J. Knowledge Management in Action? (2002) In Holsapple, C. (Ed.), Handbook on Knowledge Management 1: Knowledge Matters. New York: Springer-Verlag. 271-296. Wiig, K., Knowledge Management: “Where Did It Come from, and Where Will It Go”? Journal of Expert Systems with Applications. 1997, 13(1): 114. Wilson, T.D. “The nonsense of 'knowledge management”. Information Research. 2002, 8(1), paper no. 144 [Available at Kuhn, T. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. Zhu, Z. “Nonaka Meets Giddens: A Critique. Knowledge Management”. Research & Practice. 2006, 4: 106–115.


Leading Issues in Knowledge Management Research