About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dissertation: Group defining knowledge verbally

In looking at how the participants defined four terms, knowledge, know-how, content, and design, there was an insight into their similarities and differences in their perceptions of knowledge and the knowledge creating process.


They defined the term “knowledge” differently. There appeared to be three different groups: those that defined knowledge as something measurable or tangible (“information”, “content”, “things that you know”), those that had difficulty defining knowledge, and those that defined knowledge as something more intangible (“with knowledge, I know how to behave in any particular situation”, “shared meaning”). Surprisingly, those that identified knowledge as something tangible felt that they were within the organization and group’s powerstructure. They also were part of the traditional training group, which had a greater influence on the project according to the second round of interviews, 3 months later.

On the other hand, those that defined knowledge as something more intangible, were the most disgruntled with the project 3 months later. In fact, one of the group members left the organization before the second interview. The two that had difficulty defining knowledge, also felt a disconnect from the group and organization throughout the project. In fact, they felt a stronger connection to their profession or department, feeling as if they were outside of the group. They also tended to be much more careful with the answers they gave during their interviews.

This would indicate that knowledge workers need to be aligned with the epistemologies of their organizations. When there are different epistemologies within an organization, for example between departments, than there might be tension within distributed groups. This tension was not obvious in the routine collaborative written project (quarterly report) in which the format and even content was dictated from outside of the organization. However, in the creation of the document that required more group interaction and ownership, the differences in epistemologies were evident.

In analyzing the documents, therefore, it is important that I look at the changes to the most important document underwent. It is also important to look at the alignment of these changes, the interpretation of these documents by the individuals in relation to the perceived value by the organization, and the perception of what this document represented to the individual, group, and organization.


Unlike knowledge, the definition of content was consistent throughout the group. In most of the definitions, “information” was included. In many cases, some description of a tangible product was included. This included, “a variety of media”, “source material”, “images”, “what goes in a page”, “curriculum”, and “whatever the written material is.” Additionally, most participants included skills and knowledge or the word “know” in their definitions. In many cases, the definition also included how content was applied.

Interestingly, however, is that while content was consistently defined, and often used interchangeably with knowledge, knowledge was not consistently defined. Therefore, we can define “content” as a tangible subset of “knowledge”. While there might be differences as to what content is valuable or needed, the idea of what content is within a group does not seem to differ. This makes me wonder: if there is a difference in epistemology which leads to a breakdown in the group knowledge creation process, it might help to use a strategy in which acceptable “content” is defined and negotiated at the individual, group, and organizational level. In other words, the “what” will be defined.


Many of the definitions were similar for know how. Often skill and process, “how to use” and experience were used. Those who defined knowledge as something that was possessed also implied that know-how was “possessed.”

While each defined know how differently, they all seemed to share a common understanding that know how was not easily measured, had to do with a process or skill which helped to create know-how, and was informal learning. It also seemed that many of the definitions included how know-how was applied. Some of these included:

“Application of both what to do and knowing how to use it, mainly in an efficient way.” (R.).
“I guess I know…I’m going to use as…I know the know-hows of web development, know-hows of graphic design.” (D.)
“…, know how get things done even if it’s delegating.” (S.)
“I guess that’s knowledge that translates….into an ability to do something.” (P.)
“…intuitive gut navigation.” (H.)

While content seemed static, know-how seemed more action oriented. Know-how also appears to be an individual concept. When defining know-how, the participants tended to use the first person. No one used a collective pronoun in their definitions.

This brings up questions as to the role of “know-how” in the group collaborative process. If it is considered an individual attribute, can a group have “know-how”? Is there such a thing as collective “know-how”? Would it be developed or used in the same way as individual know how?


After the first series of interviews, I noticed that many of the participants used the term “design”, but each in a slightly different way. As a result, a definition of design was included in the second interview. In fact, the definition of design had very little in common from speaker to speaker. In addition, it seemed the most difficult term for the participants to define, most having long pauses before they answered.

Those from the training department tended to perceive design as a definitive construct using terms such as “strategies”,“content”, “framework”, and “curriculum.” Design was a more situated term to define for those in the elearning department, grounded in the creative and meaning making process. For example, “Design is the…planful…elegance and pattern…which gives…definition and meaning.” (R.). Not only is there some situated aspect to design, but those in the elearning department identify a sense of agency in their definitions.

Such a divergence in the understanding of what “design” is could lead to difference in understanding during the creation of a collaborative document, especially when there is no structure to the document, such as the second document studied. The first writing project, using a clearly defined structure was, “Well, the quarterly report’s always a by-product of individual contributions.” (R., group interview). On the other hand, the second collaborative project studied was a document created by the group to help identify the various aspects of the elearning project. In discussing this document in a group interview, the difficulty in creating an agreed upon product was obvious:

R: Well, what formally…I think the … for the classroom trainers, they have a document. Module 1 contains X number of elements. Module 2 contains X number of elements. Eh…for me, there’s a sort of isomorphic mapping of those content elements onto a schema that reflects those same strains and tho…and that same order. Uh…And I’ll give you a copy of this map which talks about where those elements are…


P: There’s a certain way to do that in the classroom. So, um… I think that’s…I don’t know if you can…say right now what your product is going to be. It’s going to be some type of elearning product.
R: Right. I mean…
P: But what it’s going to look like and how it’s…how it’s going to work is not…really isn’t there yet.
R: It isn’t really there... I mean, we have an idea…

Those in the training department seem to perceive design in what Buchanan (1992) refers to as the “categories” of design: “Categories have fixed meanings that are accepted within the framework of a theory or a philosophy, and serve as the basis for analyzing what already exist (p. 12).” The elearning department looks at the possibilities of design, however. This is what Buchanan refers to as “placement” of design. “Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence, a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances (p. 13).”

It appears that coming to the collaborative writing process from these two different approaches affects the knowledge creation and collaborative process.


In this project, it would appear that the source of conflict over epistemology was not a shared understanding of what content was (information, tangible) or know-how (intangible), but rather a shared understanding of design (what is as opposed to what can be created). This appears to be an overlooked aspect of the collaborative writing process.


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2 Accessed: 11/12/2009

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