Assessing the Role of Knowledge Management Technologies in Learning Organisations

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1 Assessing the Role of Knowledge Management Technologies in Learning Organisations Frank Nyame-Asiamah ID No: Brunel Business School, Brunel University, UK Supervisors: Dr Nandish Patel Dr Maged Ali Abstract The purpose of this conceptual paper is to apply the complexity theory to investigate how learning organisations learn to achieve emergent changes through knowledge management technologies. It identifies epistemic gaps relating to learning from recent publications. The paper attempts to achieve self-organising, unpredictable, knowledge creation and transformative growth outcomes through organisational learning. Brief description of complexity theory, learning, learning organisation, organisational learning and knowledge management technologies were highlighted. It proposes a qualitative paradigm of critical epistemology and ethnography as tools of investigation. A Large Teaching Hospital is selected and justified as a unit of study. 1

2 Introduction The growing complexity of business environment, the increasing pace for change, the rising competitive pressures, the increasing levels of workloads and other socio-technical problems necessitate the need for organisational learning (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004; Burnes et al, 2003). Thus, organisations need to acquire new knowledge and approach of managing that will transform their operations in a continuous fashion for survival (van Eijnatten, 2004; Stacey, 2003). This new thinking is often used interchangeably in literature as learning organisation though there is a slight difference between the two - Organisational learning (OL) and Learning Organisation (LO) (Burnes et al, 2003). For the purposes of this synopsis, the terms have been used interchangeably. 2.0 Literature Survey and Identification of Research Questions There is a reasonable agreement amongst LO experts regarding the experimentation and practising of OL in an unstable and unpredictable environment (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004; Burnes et al, 2003; Stacey, 2003). Yet there are differing views in the literature on whether to use inter-related disciple models or knowledge creation approaches to implement OL (Burnes et al, 2003). Another school of thought perceives learning and OL as Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) which take place in dynamically complex environment, and as a result there is the need to implement these through complexity perspective (Brodbeck, 2002). Learning is perceived as in iterative process of creating new knowledge through the transformation of individual or collective experiences for further development of an 2

3 organisation (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004; Stacey, 2003; Burnes et al, 2003). In addition, Burnes et al (2003) stipulate that learning goals could be achieved and sustained if we developed an understanding of theories and psychology of learning from prescriptive, analytical and constructionists points of view. In a related development, Firestone and McKlroy (2004) link individual and group learning to knowledge processes which are broadly classified as knowledge production and knowledge integration. The emerged outcomes of these processes which include tested, evaluated, surviving beliefs, sharable ideas and linguistic formulations help adaptive systems and their agents to adapt to the changing environment (Firestone and McKlroy, 2004). Similarly, the advocates of complexity theory see organisations as complex whole where multiple interactions between constituent components and agents give rise to emergent changes and spontaneous self-organising outcomes (Smith and Graetz, 2006; Brodbeck, 2002; van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004). Furthermore, Firestone and McKlroy (2004) claim that CASs are capable of learning new knowledge and solving problems in sincerity and through a distributed knowledgeprocessing environment in which there are equal opportunity and autonomy for participants interaction without reprisal. Yet many available technologies for learning are identified as not fit for cognitive mapping especially higher level learning (Firestone and McKlroy, 2004; Chen et al, 2003). From the above discussions, the big thesis question is: How do the learning organisations learn to achieve emergent changes and what roles do technologies play in this? 3

4 Superficially, we seem to have come closer to finding answers to this problem in a fast changing digital world where information and communication technologies (ICT) have become dominant tools for transforming traditional practices into informal ways of achieving goals. In this respect, knowledge management (KM) initiative which involves creating, sharing, storing and disseminating of information is important for communication and collaboration in OL (Tomblin and Bennet, 2006; 2004; Chen, et al 2003). However, there are epistemic gaps in the literature regarding: How we integrate workers OL and managers OL (Mets and Torokoff 2007); how we can attain unpredictable changes through organisational learning support technologies (Tomblin and Bennet, 2006; Chen, et al 2003); how we capture, share and manage members knowledge through available KM technologies (Tomblin and Bennet, 2006; Chen, et al 2003) and how we can achieve transformative growth of dynamically networked organisations (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004). Contrary to the potential benefits of OL, Mets and Torokoff (2007) established in their study of six Estonian small and medium sized companies that managers have not extended their learning to encompass workers team learning. Hence, the first specific issue is: What learning methods can fully integrate both managers and workers learning and what results can these bring to the organisations?. 4

5 In an attempt to improve LO, features and techniques of KM technologies (please see Table 1 below) need to represent individual group members personal beliefs and their cognitive maps (Firestone and McKlroy, 2004; Chen et al, 2003). Likewise, the design of these systems needs to provide an enabling platform where members can freely communicate, share ideas and solve problems without information overload or reprisal (Chen et al, 2003). However, most of the current KM technologies for learning were not designed solely for learning and majority also favour single loop learning (Firestone and McKlroy, 2004; Chen et al, 2003). In this respect, the role of the KM technologies for learning is under scrutiny and this prompts the second specific inquiry question is: What are the importance of organisational learning support technologies and how effectively can these help organisations to achieve unpredictable learning goals?. In relation to the socio-technical aspect of KM technologies, Chen et al (2003) questioned the organisational ability to simultaneously capture its members knowledge and deal with those who refuse to share their knowledge. Thus, the third specific question which needs further investigation is: How might an organisation use the available KM technologies to capture, share and manage their members knowledge? 5

6 Scope of Support Organisational Group Management Information Systems Transactions Processing Systems Intranet Groupware Organisational Memory Information Systems Electronic Performance Support System Groupware Group calendar Workflow Management Systems Electronic Meeting systems Group Decision Support Systems Collective Cognitive Mapping System Groupware Learning Laboratory Machine Apprentice Individual Executive Information Systems Decision Support Systems Expert Systems Learning Laboratory/Executive Cognitive Support Lower-Level Learning Higher-Level Learning Table 1: KM Technologies for Learning (Chen et al, 2003, p.77) The fourth specific research issue stems from the knowledge gap that dynamically network organisations lack transformative change (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004). In this regard, the question is: How can a dynamically reconfigured networked organisations create a culture of transformative development?. 6

7 3.0 Aim and Objectives The main of this study is to apply the theory of complexity to the evaluation of how technology-supported learning help organisations to achieve emergent changes. In a closed relationship with the aim, the follow four specific objectives will be pursued: i. To examine the self-organising outcomes of integrated managers and workers team learning for the organisation ii. To evaluate the importance of using organisational learning support technologies to achieve unpredictable outcomes for the organisation iii. To examine how the organisations use the available KM technologies to capture, share and manage their members knowledge iv. To investigate how the dynamically networked organisations create a culture of transformative growth through higher level learning 4.0 Theoretical Framework Complexity theory has gained prominence in many publications and some authors describe it as a new interpretive paradigm of providing improved practice and understanding of systems constituents interactions and behaviours (Smith and Graetz, 2006). Thus, complexity theory exhibits non-additive emergent behaviour from interactive networks and properties, and these behaviours are unpredictable at the edge of chaos (Smith and Graetz, 2006). This new form of science therefore predicts non-linear, self organising, creativity, and emergence of innovative behaviour in dynamic systems. In addition, complexity is increasingly characterised with coherence, dissipation, discontinuous growth, uncertainty and bifurcation (van Eijnatten and Putnik, 2004). 7

8 Other properties of complexity science include exploration, customisation, organic, freedom, adaptability, differentiation, responsiveness, autonomy, networks, heterogeneity, open schema, decentralisation, double loop learning, intellectual capital and loose (Smith and Graetz, 2006; Stacey, 2003). 5.0 Justification of the Study The study recognises the important contributions of previous research in the area of LO, OL, KM and complexity science but it is convincingly clear that the epistemic gaps identified above are not explored. As a result, we aim to apply a meta-method paradigm of complexity to evaluate how emergent change can be achieved through technology learning. This justification is consistent with Firestone and McKlroy (2004), who recommended that KM, OL and CAS should be viewed in a harmonious context rather than in isolation. The proposed methodology, ethnography which is justified below complements the assumptions of complexity theory and has excellent tools to address the how, what and further why questions to be raised. The expected results will provide useful suggestions for managers regarding how to abandon the natural propensity to control organisational activities from a cause-effect point of view (Smith and Graetz, 2006). In addition, it will advance the importance of using complexity framework to guide the functioning and survival of LO (Stacey, 2003). 8

9 6.0 Research Design The study will employ critical epistemology and ethnography to investigate how a Large Teaching Hospital in England learns through the use of available technologies to achieve emergent changes. Myers (2009, p.42) perceives a critical research as epistemology which attempts to challenge status quo of current knowledge, social beliefs, values and assumptions. The choice of a Large Teaching Hospital of the National Health Services (NHS) was influenced by the recommendations in the literature that researcher should consider more intelligent and knowledge-based organisations as units of study for research involving learning models (Mets and Torokoff, 2007). In addition, NHS is identified as a sector which has complex issues including significant financial pressures, increased public pressure for change, increased workload, multiple interactions between diverse employees and technology issues. In this regarding, Brodbeck (2002) suggested that future studies should look at aims that would eliminate traditional bureaucratic culture of management and apply complexity theory in designing an organisational model for team dynamics or team structure for an organic structure of organisation. Ethnography is a qualitative research method which reveals the worldview of people and demonstrates their daily cultural meanings, and brings researchers closer to where action takes place (Myers, 2009). It offers researchers detailed quality information about social systems including all aspects of corporate organisations, and researchers learn from people over a longer period of time (Myers, 2009). Ontologically, ethnography is in a domain of critical design and both share the same philosophy with learning organisations and complexity science, as they offer opportunity to obtain vital information to challenge 9

10 conventional practices and assumptions (Myers, 2009). Hence, these qualitative design techniques are appropriate instruments for examining how complexity theory can be used for studying the way learning goals are achieved through technologies in LO. The main properties of complexity would form the basis for designing interview questions which would be classified under the four main research objectives. The proposed model is supported by the claim that complexity construct favours the use of open-ended questions with human consciousness (Brodbeck, 2000). Similarly, Mets and Torokoff (2007) recommended the use more nuanced questions and instruments for studying different groups of organisation members and this is what the research intend to do. 6.1 Data Collection and Analysis The key informants for data collection will be selected from both junior and senior level staff of diverse cluster teams and clinical departments. The various methods for data collection will include observations, participation, structured and semi-structured interviews, focus group and documentation. The process would also involve a netnography where a significant proportion of time will be used to engage in online discussions and gather data for evaluating the effectiveness of the learning technologies in the Hospital. Collecting data through an organisation s intranet and for investigating a phenomenon was advanced by Brodbeck (2002), who used complexity theory as a tool of focus group design. Thus, methodological design complements Myers view that a qualitative critical ethnography might involve interviews, fieldwork, 10

11 documentation and a combination of hermeneutic and narrative analysis (Myers, 2009, p27). The use of NUD*IST will support the analysis of huge amount of data to be collected. As the study aims to promote emergent change, critical narrative analysis is justified as one of the two analytical methods. Considering a multi-method data collection process, hermeneutics which focuses on text analysis and provides meaning from human understanding will be used alongside narrative (Myers, 2009). The outcomes will be examined against the key research questions to establish conclusions while at the same time relating them to the literature to validate, contradict or extend previous studies or to discover new lines of inquiry. In general, it often takes a longer period of time to collect data, analyse them and write the final report through ethnography, as a result people find it daunting to use and this explains way ethnography is not widely used in the study of LO. 6.2 Scope of the Research I will seek access permission from the Ethical Committee of the Hospital Trust and discuss ethical issues including the confidentiality of key informants. In addition, I will carefully examine and adhere to the research ethics of the NHS including publication of the results. It will take months to complete the entire study and academic supervisors will verify the rigour of the process. 11

12 7.0 Conclusion It is clearly identified that learning is extremely important if organisations want to develop transformative growth in an unstable environment. We have established that KM technologies would be useful learning supporting tools for achieving emergent transformation in organisations. We have established that complexity theory might be useful paradigm for managing learning in learning organisations. With these revelations, I strongly believe that this proposal should be approved. 12

13 References: Bennet, A., Tomblin, M., S., (2006). A Learning Network Framework for Modern Organizations: Organizational Learning, Knowledge Management and ICT Support. VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 36(3): Brodbeck, P., W., (2002). Complexity Theory and Organisation Procedure Design. Business Process Management Journal 8(4): Burnes, B., Cooper, C., West, P., (2003). Organisational Learning: The New Management Paradigm? Management Decision, 41(5): Chen, J., Ted, E., Zhang, R., Zhang, Y. (2003), Systems Requirements for Organizational Learning. Communications of the ACM, 46(12): van Eijnatten, F., M., Putnik, G., D., (2004). Chaos, Complexity, Learning and the Learning Organization: Towards a Chaordic Enterprise. The Learning Organization, 11(6): Firestone, J., McElroy, M., (2004). Viewpoint: Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management: the Relationship. The Learning Organization, 11(2): Mets, T., Torokoff, M., (2007). Patterns of Learning Organisation in Estonian Companies. TRAMES, 11(61/56): 2, Myers, M., D., (2009). Qualitative Research in Business & Management. Sage, London Smith, A., C., T., Graetz, F., (2006). Complexity theory and Organising Forms Duality. Management Decision, 44 (7): Stacey, R., D., (2003). Learning as an Activity of Interdependent People. The Learning Organization, 10(6):

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