A systemic study of learners' knowledge sharing and collaborative skills development : a case study in a British business school

Pour Mohammad, Salimeh

November 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Salimeh Pour Mohammad. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Knowledge management, as Leistner (2010) argues, is a “misnomer”. Knowledge cannot be managed since it relates to prior experience and is present merely in the mind of individuals (p. 4). We can manage knowledge flow, but not the knowledge itself. Leistner states that ‘‘you can enable a flow by creating an environment that people find safe, attractive, and efficient, and that motivates them to share their knowledge. This could be either face-to-face or by recording relevant information that can be used by others to re-create knowledge in their own frame of reference’’ (p. 10). Therefore, managing the flow is “as much about creating conditions that will make sharing more likely as it is about trying to have a direct influence on people’’ (pp. 17-18).

In the arena of creating such conditions, operational research (OR) is assumed to offer special capacities to lead the advancements in knowledge management and knowledge sharing research. However, the role of OR is not clear in knowledge management. There is also very little account of OR studies concerning knowledge management in combination with social network analysis. This situation has not changed over past years. In addition, although soft-OR tools promote specific solutions with which to tackle complexity management in organisations, there are very few studies concerning the use of action research and soft-OR tools such as the Viable System Model, which are designed specifically for knowledge sharing projects and simulating social networks.

This research intends to design, develop and implement a soft canonical operational research (SCOR) methodological framework for the processes of knowledge sharing. The researcher combines Davison et al.’s (2012) canonical action research and Checkland’s (1985) F-M-A soft account of action research. The framework has, in itself, an embedded solution for skill development and performance improvement through collaborative knowledge sharing and experiential learning/practising. In this research, a combinative perspective of VSM and SNA is considered.

Adopting a pragmatic philosophy with an interpretivist ontology and relativist epistemology, the researcher inductively conducted two cycles of action research and analysed the outcomes. Four types of transformations occurred in (1) individuals’ skill level, (2) performance, (3) knowledge network and (4) gradual development of strategies across levels. This research elucidates said transformations and explains the key mechanisms for facilitating collective knowledge sharing in order to develop skills and to improve performance. It also brings to light the evidence regarding two unplanned phenomena that occurred in both cycles: leadership development and autopoiesis.

Reflection is provided on the design of the soft-OR multi-methodology and on how this design has been useful and effective in the present research. In addition, the study’s contributions to knowledge and practice are also explained. This research suggests that guided self-organisation is a more effective approach for skill development than traditional methods and that it can create an effective context in which a knowledge network is able to reproduce itself. Finally, the limitations of the research and implications for future studies are clarified.

Business School, The University of Hull
Espinosa Salazar, Angela Ma. (Angela María); Vidgen, Richard
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