Developing new knowledge in organisations: Engagement with virtual social networks in problem solving
Organisations derive value from knowledge, but developing new knowledge is dependent on organisational members having access to the necessary resources. Traditionally the study of organisational knowledge development has focussed upon resources embedded in the material and social structures within an organisation. This was due in part to the reluctance of organisations to share knowledge externally as well as their preference to bring additional resources inside organisational boundaries. This research study, therefore, investigates how new organisational knowledge is being developed through the use of external online resources. In doing so it provides an explanation for the way in which individuals extend virtually, outside their organisational boundaries, to solve problems. The development of tacit knowledge plays an important role strategically for organisations. This study is largely informed by the work of Ikujirō Nonaka and colleagues on knowledge creation; their research asserts that the development and sharing of tacit knowledge stems from material networks in which members engage in face-to-face communication. Management literature suggests that individuals are often tasked, however, to problem solve and develop new knowledge even when the required environmental factors and resources are not contained within the organisation. There was a gap in the literature explaining how tacit knowledge was developed in this context, specifically: Where do individuals locate problem solving resources in virtual social networks and how do individuals gain access to those resources through social connection?This interpretivist research study used qualitative methods in order to describe and explain the behaviours of individuals engaged in problem solving. The fieldwork was split into two phases. In phase one, the material phase, 19 semi-structured interviews with software developers were conducted. In phase two, the virtual phase, 662 online discussion forum participants were observed during a three-month virtual ethnography. A thematic analysis was then employed using the lens of social capital theory, based on works by Alejandro Portes and Anita Blanchard, to explain the behaviours described and observed in the interviews and discussion forum. The results of this research indicate that individuals involved in problem solving did use virtual social networks to share and develop new knowledge for their organisations. Individuals identified relevant networks after a process of resource assessment and searching. Social connection provided access to the embedded resources through trust in the content of the resources and through the process of developing tacit knowledge of the social network through socialisation. The networks had a mix of bridging and bonding connections, lurking and posting engagement, and normative and deviant behaviours. Consequently, organisational concerns about individuals using external resources can be mitigated by the problem solving processes revealed in this study. Individuals demonstrated instrumental motivations for using virtual social networks and exhibited behaviours which focussed on finding solutions for organisational tasks rather than building stronger social connections outside of the organisation (and possibly compromising organisational knowledge). Online behaviours for individuals, however, could vary depending on developments in their social connections or changes in their motivations or network obligations. This study concludes that organisational members engaged in important work to develop and adapt their tacit knowledge within virtual networks as they effectively developed organisational knowledge. The study makes contributions to the following bodies of literature: knowledge management by explaining tacit knowledge sharing in virtual networks, social media by explaining how lurking and positive deviance are used in problem solving online, social capital by explaining how access to online problem solving resources is gained through social connection, and methods by extending the use of ethnography to social media.
Advisor: Boon, Bronwyn; O'Kane, Paula; Greatbanks, Richard
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Management
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: knowledge management; social media; social capital; virtual networks; social networks
Research Type: Thesis