Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology The Significance of Formal and Informal Structures

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1 Licentiate Thesis Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology The Significance of Formal and Informal Structures KARIN DESSNE Information Technology Studies from the School of Science and Technology at Örebro University 25 ÖREBRO 2012

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3 Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology The Significance of Formal and Informal Structures

4 To all my cats of the past, the present, and the future, and to my husband

5 Örebro Studies in Information Technology KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology The Significance of Formal and Informal Structures

6 Karin Dessne, 2012 Title: Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology: The Significance of Formal and Informal Structures Publisher: Örebro University 2012 Studies from the School of Science and Technology at Örebro University, no. 25

7 Abstract Knowledge Management (KM) is a relatively young field of research. It has traditionally aimed at managing knowledge work in organisations often by the assistance of supporting Information Technology (IT). In this thesis, the definition of KM is expressed as facilitating the intertwined process of learning and knowing in an organisation. In order to support this process by IT KM needs to be based on an understanding of the significance of the formal and informal structures that organisations are built on. Using the word knowing rather than knowledge assists in approaching the issue of how to facilitate learning and knowing, since it declares knowing as a process or as a state of mind. This process feeds on what is available in the form of nourishment, which is supplied in the form of information. KM then has two ways of supporting learning and knowing: by nourishing and by encouraging this process. Two analysis frameworks were constructed from two subsequent literature reviews of KM, Computer Supported Collaborative Work/Learning (CSCW/CSCL), and Communities of Practice (CoP). These models were used to describe and analyse the learning process of the selected case, a Swedish military organisation. It soon became evident that the formal learning process did not work as intended, and that the informal structures and processes struggled to accomplish the results that the formal process failed to deliver. The formal and informal processes were not aligned, and neither worked satisfyingly. Informal structures exist within formal structures and they are both equally important. They are intertwined and dependent on each other as the findings of this case study have revealed. In supporting learning and knowing in organisations, IT needs to support both formal and informal structures. IT could nourish structures and processes, and IT could encourage participation and interaction in them. As learning is based on interaction supporting it is vital, but at the same time, no interaction will occur without nourishment. These are the implications for IT when designing for learning and knowing in organisations. It is not only a matter of supplying and making information available, but also of encouraging interaction in aligned formal and informal structures. Keywords: Knowledge Management, KM, CSCW, CSCL, Communities of Practice, CoP, military, lessons learned, experience, learning, knowing, formal, informal, structures, knowing wheel, preconditions, IT support, collaborative work, communication.

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9 Acknowledgement We learn as we live and we live by what we have learned. This is how and why we know what we know. Who we are and where we feel we belong depend on what paths we take to the places we aim to visit or to the places we just find by chance. The journey as well as the place we arrive to could be filled with joy as well as with sadness. This is what characterises life. Therefore, working with this thesis where learning and knowing have been in focus has been a highly motivating journey. We carry out our daily work in organisations built on formal and informal structures, and within these structures we learn individually and socially as we shape ourselves, each other, and the communities we engage in. To support the work of organisations and people by supporting their learning and knowing is to take part in the development of our society as a whole. My journey towards the accomplishment of this thesis was made financially possible by Örebro University, Campus Alfred Nobel, for which I am grateful. I also would like to thank my supervisors, Anne Persson, Skövde University, Joeri van Laere, Skövde University, and Franziska Klügl, Örebro University. Anne kept me on track, and has a great sense for crucial wordings and structure. Joeri has provided me with valuable comments and has been a nice source for discussing different topics during the progress of the work. In addition, I would like to thank Per Backlund for showing much interest in my work and for his good spirits. I have also been accompanied and supported very much by people at the Land Warfare Centre, the organisation in the case study of this thesis. I have really enjoyed your company, and it has been very interesting to get to know your organisation. I would especially like to thank Johnny Gullstrand and his colleagues, but also all those who participated in interviews and other conversations. Companions contribute as always to make a journey more fun. I thank all my colleagues at Skövde University who have been accompanying me. I am especially grateful to my Ph.D. student fellows Anna-Sofia Alklind Taylor and Tove Helldin for their inspiring companionship. Marcus Nohlberg and Hanife Krasniqi have also offered much appreciated communication and care. Finally, my greatest gratitude is given to my dear husband Petter Dessne and our family of loyal Korat cats. Your friendship and love are the most precious things.

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11 Contents Part I Thesis overview 1 INTRODUCTION Background Motivation Understanding the process of learning and knowing Understanding formal and informal structures in organisations Understanding the role of IT Research questions Contributions Publication plan Overview of the thesis RESEARCH PROCESS AND METHODS Choice of methods The selected case Methodological considerations Conducting a case study The selected research approach The literature reviews and the construction of analysis frameworks The case study Document analysis Interviews Observations Credibility and limitation Overview of the case study organisation Part II Theoretical background and case background 3 THEORETICAL BACKGROUND Knowledge Management Describing knowledge Managing knowledge/knowing Learning and knowing in organisations Factors influencing Knowledge Management Summary and implications Communities of Practice Definition Three crucial components Participation and learning... 73

12 3.2.4 Informal foundation Summary and implications Computer Supported Collaborative Work and Learning Definition Social interaction Collaboration and learning Summary and implications Learning and knowing in formal and informal structures The role of IT BACKGROUND OF EXPERIENCE WORK IN THE SWAF From the early 1990s to The Lessons Learned model Efforts in creating a Lessons Learned process Supporting learning and change Supporting learning Supporting change Dissemination track and change track Renewed efforts in Framework Current situation of the experience work The tactical component commands and the centres The LL process of the LWC from The LL process of the NWC Part III Describing and analysing the case by constructing a model taking the perspective of formal structures 5 THE WHEEL OF LEARNING AND KNOWING PRESENTING THE FINDINGS USING THE CONSTRUCTED LEARNING MODEL Field Action The arrows Experiencing from Field Action and from Training to Storing Sources to gathering experiences Description of sources Examples of experience reports The training Simulators in training Examples of training The Storing

13 6.4.1 Systems for managing experiences Experience reports at the LWC The arrow Changing from Storing to Field Action The arrow Changing from Storing to Training EXPLANATIONS WITHIN THE SWAF TO WHY THE EXPERIENCE WORK AND PROCESS DO NOT MEASURE UP The vagueness of experience work Definition and purpose of the LL process Terminology Use of terminology Ongoing vagueness Resources Reallocation of personnel and missions Ambiguity Trust Leadership engagement Employee engagement Culture and structure Dissemination NEEDS AND REQUESTS FOR EXPERIENCE WORK Needs expressed Requests expressed Part IV Describing and analysing the case by constructing a model taking the perspective of informal structures 9 ENABLING AND DISABLING LEARNING AND KNOWING IN THE SWAF Approaches of using the concept of CoP Describing interaction Cultivating and creating interaction Investigating and supporting preconditions for interaction Preconditions for interaction collecting keys Critique of CoP Attitude to change Sharing Need of control Trust in relations and in work Facilitating and using a CoP CoP for leading or response

14 CoP in the organisation Coordinating support Comparing approaches of CoP CONSTRUCTING A PRECONDITION PROFILE MODEL Analysis of keys Profiling precondition factors Attitude Status Participants Relationships the ties that bind Resources PROFILING THE SWAF FOCUSING ON THE LWC EXPERIENCE WORK Attitude Status Participants Relationships Resources Summarising the precondition profile Enabling and disabling factors for the experience work. 208 Part V Implications for designing IT and conclusion of the thesis 12 IMPLICATIONS FOR DESIGNING IT The role of IT The first role storage support system for nourishing The second role collaboration and communication support system for encouraging Designing IT aided by the analysis frameworks Focus on participation Accomplishing participation Reflections CONCLUSION, REFLECTIONS, FUTURE WORK Conclusion Contributions Conclusions regarding the selected case Reflections on research approach Future work Final remarks REFERENCES SOURCES USED IN THE DOCUMENT ANALYSIS APPENDIX

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17 Part I Thesis overview

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19 1 Introduction The overall aim of this research is to support learning and knowing processes with Information Technology (IT) within the field of Knowledge Management (KM). The purpose of this thesis is to provide a framework for describing and understanding crucial preconditions for carrying out KM in organisations by the assistance of IT. This first chapter introduces the context for the research conducted, presents the purpose and importance of this study, and briefly describes contributions and the organisation of the thesis. 1.1 Background Organisations are built on intertwined formal and informal structures, designed by management and created by participants respectively (see definitions below). No KM work or design of IT for supporting KM work will succeed without addressing both structures. Supporting them both is a challenge and a necessity (Rasmussen & Nielsen, 2011; Rood, 1994). Organisations learn as people within them learn and share what they know (Tsuchiya & Tsuchiya, 2000). Thus people learn within these structures, and IT should support this learning by supporting the structures. This is the challenge addressed in this thesis. The field of KM faces the challenges of wrestling with human and structural complexities of knowledge in organisations (Prusak, 2001). The challenges are inherent in managing the complex processes of learning and knowing in organisations. This complexity is reflected in the fact that the field still lacks a consensus of how to define the term Knowledge (e.g. Heisig, 2009). In this thesis KM is defined as the act of facilitating the intertwined process of learning and knowing in an organisation. The above definition is built on how learning is accomplished in organisations; that is, knowing by participation as a learning activity (Wenger, 1998), learning in collaboration to construct knowledge (Arvaja, Häkkinen, & Kankaanranta, 2008), knowledge as a process of knowing by learning (Beesley & Cooper, 2008), knowledge as a result of processed information in the minds of people (Alavi & Leidner, 2001), and knowledge existing and growing in complex structures of internal networks and communities (Prusak, 2001). Knowing is thus a mind process in an act of participation in order to accomplish learning within a specific organisational structure, and learning is a mind process in an act of partic- KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology I 11

20 ipation so as to accomplish knowing. The management of knowledge is hence the same thing as facilitating the processes of learning and knowing, as knowledge or knowing is a state of mind rather than an object possible to codify. A state of mind in turn is always moving and dynamic, which makes knowing a more appropriate term as it implies an ongoing activity. This process of knowing is nourished by the availability of information. Understanding how to approach KM is about understanding the context of organisations. This context includes the structures on which an organisation is built; that is, the formal and informal structures. These structures are interlaced in a complex set of actions, which are as complex as human behaviour in general. A formal structure is in this thesis defined as a structure designed and implemented by the management of an organisation. An informal structure is in this thesis defined as a structure invented and used by the participants of an organisation. These definitions are built on the fact that formal structures refer to the designed organisation found in the organisational chart as well as the formal relationships between individuals, groups, and departments, and described work procedures (e.g. Conway, 2001; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Wang & Ahmed, 2002), while informal structures refer to interaction invented participants in the organisation; that is, not explicitly found in this chart (e.g. Brown & Duguid, 1991; Conway, 2001; Wang & Ahmed, 2002). The formal structures of an organisation are intentional and consist of the official distribution of authority, responsibility, accountability, roles, and functions whereas the informal structures are unintentional (Rood, 1994); that is; the management structures versus the private organisation (Burns & Stalker, 1961). The relationships and interactions in each structure include formal and informal processes such as learning, not necessarily clear-cut into two distinct categories but rather crossing the fuzzy boundaries of formal and informal structures. Since the informal structures are upheld and kept alive by the participants, the processes built on or developed from these structures are dependent on them to the extent that they are mutually dependent and cannot exist without each other. Formal structures, however, are independent once they have been constructed. The complex interrelationship between these structures influences and shapes learning and knowing in and by the organisation. IT could enable by supporting or disable by disrupting these structures simultaneously as well as their intertwined relationship. Supporting them both is a need and a chal- 12 I KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology

21 lenge in organisations (Rasmussen & Nielsen, 2011). As both structures have major impact on the effectiveness of an organisation and influence the flow of information and design of communication systems, it is necessary to carefully pay attention to the two of them (Rood, 1994). When IT supports one or both structures it becomes part of it, and hence IT is a way to visualise and give form to processes, formal as well as informal. This role of IT is illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 1 The role of IT in formal and informal structures Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) is a class of Information Systems (IS) aimed at supporting knowledge work in organisations (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). KM is considered as always consisting of people, but does not necessarily include IT. The fact that KM sometimes, but not always, makes use of IT when developing systems for the management of knowledge KMS contributes to the complexity of the field, as it is hard to support something that is not even easily defined. Knowledge is turned into information once it is articulated and presented in some form, and information is turned into knowledge when it is processed in the minds of people (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). IT is not only a computer-based tool for the management of knowledge in the form of information, but it is also a tool shaping our actions in forming and reforming human behaviour by offering ways for extending, changing, creating, and sustaining our interactions with each other. Interacting, collaborating, and participating in the KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology I 13

22 communities we take part in as members of an organisation, is facilitated by IT (e.g. Arvaja et al., 2008; Koch, 2008; Koch & Gross, 2006; Nirmala & Vemuri, 2009; Wenger, 1998; Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009). Today we face a wide set of communication possibilities which might make our communication more fragmented and thus less valuable, or it might enhance our knowing barriers. This is an aspect of communication quality and nature, which relates to the organic and dynamic existence and development of an organisation, always moving in some direction. Aspects of learning and knowing are cognitive, social, and organisational. Organisational factors could be labelled in terms of culture, leadership, technology, motivation, and structure. These are common factors influencing the performance of KM processes discussed and proposed in a majority of KM success factor frameworks (Heisig, 2009). IT research needs to study how technologies shape organisations as well as how organisational phenomena affect the development and use of technologies. The fields of IT and Organisational Science (OS) overlap each other rather than constitute distinct fields, where IT research has drawn on organisation studies. (Orlikowski & Barley, 2001). Within the scope of this thesis Information Technology is defined as a computer-based tool to be possibly used for enabling KM. The above definition of IT is built on the definition of KM in this thesis; that is, KM as facilitating the intertwined process of learning and knowing. In addition it is built on the role of IT as a digital habitat and part of a shared repertoire to facilitate interaction between people (Wenger, 1998; Wenger et al., 2009), IT as support for collaborative work and social interactions (Koch & Gross, 2006), and IT as facilitator for learning (Arvaja et al., 2008). IT is thus a computer-based tool that could enable KM by enabling the processes of learning and knowing taking place in interactions and collaborative work. 1.2 Motivation This study took off wishing to increase the understanding of the nature of learning processes in organisations in order to support these processes with IT. An organisation is comprised of intertwined formal and informal structures enabled or disabled by various preconditions. An analysis and understanding of how learning and knowing is accomplished in an organisation is necessary in order to design any supportive measures for these processes. As IT once designed becomes part of the structures, it is vital to design it to 14 I KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology

23 support aligned and healthy formal and informal organisational structures. IT easily becomes the driver of changes, and therefore it really needs to be carefully implemented and built on structures and processes that work. Besides IT, other supportive measures such as the creation of motivation and engagement are important. In order to design helpful and appropriate IT, it is necessary to understand the organisation where it is intended to contribute, for example by supporting a specific targeted learning process. A learning process occurring in an organisation is dependent on and influenced by the formal and informal structures involving the relationships and interactions between people using artefacts such as speech, IT tools, documents, and meetings. The process of learning and knowing occurs within individuals, groups, networks, communities, and societies, which implies that there are not only formal ways of learning and knowing but also informal ways. This nature of the process also implies the importance of various kinds of groupings. Thus, research focusing on the collective rather than the individual was chosen as the theoretical background for this thesis. Information systems (IS) research is a broad field studying the design, implementation, and use of IT in organisations. Central in IS research is the notion of organisation and theories of formal organisations, but that centrality has been challenged by other social formations such as virtual social networks adding to a progressive diversity of approaches in the IS field (Avgerou, 2010). In the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) the focus is on making systems more useful by exploring the way individual users interact with the interfaces of them (e.g. Fischer, 2001; Myers, Hollan, & al., 1996). To study the collective rather than the individual, research fields with a more specific focus on groups are needed. Since this thesis is about studying a process of learning and knowing in organisations, the chosen theories must thus focus on learning socially in various group constellations. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) is a field concerned with the development of technological tools supporting communication (Herring, 2004). The perspective is how features of the media influence and stimulate the use of the media. CMC tools could support learning, but the focus in this support is not to describe a learning process. The fields of KM, Communities of Practice (CoP), and CSCW/CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Work/Learning) pay much attention to the social context of an organisation where interactions and relationships are carried out, and hence group constellations are in focus. Individuals are still important as participants of group constellations. All three fields view IT as the tool for humans to use in groups within an organisa- KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology I 15

24 tion. KM is about managing knowledge in systems where the participation of people is the crucial component to be studied related to for example culture, leadership, technology, structure, and motivation. In KM keywords as creating, storing, sharing/transferring, and applying knowledge in order to enhance knowing in the organisation are used (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). CSCW studies the social aspect as a factor to consider when supporting work by computers (Koch & Gross, 2006), and CSCL studies how learning is accomplished by people when interacting with computers (Arvaja et al., 2008). CoP focuses on participation as learning using a repertoire including technological tools as well as written documents and speech (Wenger, 1998). Studying these theories should provide a basis of a theoretical framework for describing and analysing the empirical data collected. Understanding a learning process in an organisation leads to three challenges for KM research targeting the process of learning and knowing, formal and informal structures in relation to this learning, and the role of IT in view of the first two challenges Understanding the process of learning and knowing In this thesis KM has been defined as being about facilitating the intertwined process of learning and knowing in an organisation. This means that knowledge or knowing as a process needs to be understood rather than knowledge as an object to be specified. The intention is to support knowledge building as a state of mind accomplished by ongoing learning and not to support knowledge building as an object to codify for dissemination. KM needs to focus on understanding the process of learning and knowing in order to support this very process. Knowledge as a result of a learning process is expressed by Kolb: Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). Knowledge based on experience is dependent on context and develops over time through a learning process of iterative perception, action, and feedback where reflection on experience could be a way to achieve knowledge (Matthew & Sternberg, 2009). A learning process thus involves people interacting to learn and know, and thereby knowledge is possibly created, shared, and applied. This view results in computers mainly being used for facilitating communication between people and a KM strategy that is personalised rather than codified (Hansen, Nohria, & Tierney, 1999). Attempting to process knowledge as 16 I KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology

25 tacit and explicit has been one way of approach to distinguish between knowledge that could or could not be codified (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995), whereas it could be argued that all knowledge is tacit or tacitly based (Tsuchiya & Tsuchiya, 2000). Knowledge should be regarded as a process of learning and knowing and not as an object to be expressed. What could be expressed is information available for interpretation in interaction with or by a human being and thus knowledge is an act of learning and knowing in the minds of people. Information is turned into knowledge when it is processed in the minds of people and knowledge is turned into information once it is articulated and presented in some form (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). We learn individually and socially. An organisation learns when individuals share their individual learning (Tsuchiya & Tsuchiya, 2000). A majority of individual transfer of what is known occurs in informal structures in relationships and interactions rather than in formal structures and processes (Nirmala & Vemuri, 2009). Learning is often accomplished by social interaction and networks (Marsick, 2009). The concept of formal learning (systematic and designed, such as education taught by teachers (e.g. Conlon, 2003)) has received much attention in research as well as informal learning (such as learning in informal and social networks (e.g. Wenger, 1998)). The concepts of formal and informal learning have, however, no clear definitions in literature (Hodkinson, Colley, & Malcolm, 2003). The formal and informal structures and how these concepts relate to learning in an IT setting seem however to be in need of further research in order to provide understanding for how to facilitate support of learning. Knowledge Management (both technology and person based) can become a link between individually generated informal learning that is often highly particular to a given situation and accessibility by a wide range of people to information and ideas for their own informal learning when the right systems, practices, structures, leadership, and culture are in place. (Marsick, 2009, p. 273) The factors that Marsick lists are parts and preconditions of both the formal and informal structures involved in informal learning, and in addition they also inherently involve formal learning. Hence it is crucial to understand and investigate learning in relation to formal and informal structures as fundamental parts of an organisation. Since knowledge resides within people as a result of people engaging in some sort of interaction in a learning process to acquire this new knowledge (Hildreth & Kimble, 2002), it is vital to study the learning process in the light of formal and informal learning leading to knowledge that according to Hildreth & Kimble not always is possible to articulate. KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology I 17

26 Learning and knowing thus occur in and is a part of complex formal and informal structures and interactions, and this kind of integrated approach needs continued research: There is a need for theoretical frameworks that integrate insights on the nature of knowledge and knowledge flows, learning and learning processes, organizational configurations, human resources and competences, employer participation, and performance improvement in firms. (Rasmussen & Nielsen, 2011, p. 481) Aspects of learning and knowing are cognitive, social, and organisational. Organisational factors could be labelled in terms of culture, leadership, technology, motivation, and structure. These are common factors influencing the performance of KM processes discussed and proposed in a majority of KM success factor frameworks (Heisig, 2009). These factors are found in the formal and informal structures of an organisation Understanding formal and informal structures in organisations Formal and informal structures have in this thesis been defined as structures designed by management and invented by participants of the organisation respectively. As previously stated, learning and knowing related to these structures need studying. Knowledge could be formal or informal, and the approaches of learning as something for management to design for or something emerging from informality and communities of practice are not mutually exclusive; they should be combined and supported by work systems (Rasmussen & Nielsen, 2011). KM needs to understand the formal and informal structures in an organisation in order to support learning and knowing within and by these structures. The concepts formal and informal have an intertwined relationship, overlapping and interacting in nature. Informal structures could support as well as disrupt formal structures and formal structures should work together with informal ones in order to avoid tension between legitimate power and power derived from knowledge (Conway, 2001). Informal networks and informal learning should align with the formal structures to be beneficial to the organisation as a whole (Wenger, 1998). Another reason for aligning them is the value of informal learning as a majority of individual transfer of what is known occurs in informal structures (Nirmala & Vemuri, 2009), and organisational learning has recently been attributed to mostly being informal, unintentional, and practice related (Rasmussen & Nielsen, 2011). 18 I KARIN DESSNE Supporting Knowledge Management with Information Technology

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