Ownership of Knowledge
The greater the level of ownership that an individual feels towards a project or piece of work, the more likely he or she will align that work to personal values and knowledge. An individual’s personal values and knowledge might be related to his or her perceived profession, desire to be accepted by the group (project group, department, organization), or the cultures that informed the individual’s work (social, organizational, professional). Just as important is an individual or group’s perceived agency in the creation and use of knowledge within the collaborative process.
According to Skitka’s (2003) AIM model of Social Identity Theory, a greater level of ownership may create higher stakes for the individual within a group. A group member would want to be tied more closely to the other group members’ norms if the individual member perceives him or her to have a higher level of ownership in the work or work processes. Therefore, if his or her work is not accepted by the group, more than his or her work is questioned; his or her social identity and group acceptance is at risk. On the other hand, if the work is perceived as conforming to the norms and values outside of the group, as the quarterly report did, the group member would perceive the ownership of the work as someone else’s. As a result, his or her social identity within the group is not at risk. As a result, he or she might be more open to changes in the final product, work processes, or group knowledge boundaries, especially if those changes are perceived as coming from those outside of the group and the organization’s power structure.
In the group studied, there was the perception that knowledge could be located, owned, and/ or accessed either by an individual or the group when needed. Externally owned knowledge (e.g. the funding agency or organization owning either transactional or negotiated knowledge) did not always need to align with personal epistemologies for collaboration to take place within the distributed group. However, with internally owned knowledge (both transactional and negotiated knowledge), the more work was perceived as being owned by an individual, the greater the necessity that the epistemologies were aligned with the organization, group, and group members in order for collaboration to take place.
As discussed in the traditional model of knowledge management, when faced with information or an event on the group level that contradicts an individual’s personal identity construct (value, knowledge, epistemology, personal schema), that person has three choices: modify his or her own personal identity; modify the group’s beliefs, values, or understanding; or leave the group in order to maintain the individual’s personal identity (Levesque et al., 2001; McGrath et al., 2000; Moreland & Levine, 2001; Skitka, 2003; Whitworth et al., 2000). However, there is a fourth option that the group in this study used: create distance between the individual and the ownership of the work, contribution to the work, and/or knowledge needed to complete the work. In other words, knowledge needed to develop the final product or outcome is created and owned by the group, department, organization, or an external entity rather than the individual.
Related to the concept of ownership is the perceived agency an individual may have over his or her own work. Agency is the perceived ability an individual has to contribute, influence, and participate in the collaborative process. Using Nonaka’s (1994) model of intention, autonomy, and fluctuation discussed in chapter 2, agency is dependent upon both individual attributes (intention and efficacy) and situational factors (power structures and the environment). The greater the perceived agency for a task, process, or final product, the greater the level the individual perceives ownership over his or her work or work products (i.e. writing, designs, etc…). While an individual may feel a sense of ownership towards the knowledge used to create a group product having been part of the group that created it, he or she may not have felt a sense of individual agency in the creation of the knowledge due to influences at the group, departmental, or professional levels.
In the traditional model of organizational knowledge creation outlined in a previous blog post, ownership of knowledge was based on the location of the group work (individual, intragroup, intergroup, organization). This model did not account for influence outside of the organization on knowledge creation and access. Most knowledge management models (Conceicao, Heitor, Gibson, & Shariq,1998; Cook & Brown, 1999; Foss, & Pedersen, 2002; Nonaka, 1994), for example, assumed that knowledge was held by individuals within the organization. Information could then be transferred from individuals to others within the organization, thus creating knowledge at different levels. Occasionally, there was discussion of transferring the knowledge to external stakeholders (Mason & Lefrere, 2003; Yakhlef, 2002). However, the ultimate owners of the knowledge, to be kept or given away, were the individuals where the knowledge was housed (Cook & Brown).
In this study, however, the closer to the individual that agency was granted, the higher the level of ownership (and the closer to personal identity) the individual felt for that knowledge. Location for agency and ownership of work can be placed on a continuum in which perceived ownership of knowledge by external stakeholders grants individuals the lowest level of individual agency. On the other end of the continuum is knowledge that is perceived as being owned by the individual, resulting in the greatest level of individual agency.
In looking at the Quarterly Report, for example, the traditional model previously outlined would place the writing as an individual product, with high individual agency and ownership. This is because each individual wrote his or her own section, which often was edited by Robert; but much of the original writing was in the words of the individual contributor. The location of the work was somewhere between the individual and group levels. However, participants repeatedly distanced themselves from ownership of the quarterly report. In fact, the purpose and format of the Quarterly Report was perceived as being imposed on the individual and project group by the funding agency. Therefore, there was very little perceived agency in writing the Quarterly Report at the individual and even project group level. The Quarterly Report was perceived as being owned by the funding agency who imposed the format, valued knowledge, and discourse style on the project group.
The location of agency and ownership of work and the perceived ownership of knowledge is an important distinction to make as a traditional model would look to capture the individual contributions, interpreting it as expertise at the individual level. However, since the knowledge can be transactional, much of the individual knowledge was withheld or not captured because the individual knowledge the group possessed was not perceived as having value for the organization and funding agency. As Ronda discussed in the group interview:
Ronda: You know one thing the quarterly report doesn’t do is it doesn’t capture…it…it fails to capture a lot of work that is, eh, either a false start or kind of cons…concept building or teaching one another. And that’s…that’s been an incredibly important subtext of this all of this interdependence has been teaching one another about our work. And the quarterly report doesn’t ever…it’s only interested in what you did. Meaning, like what have you got evidence for. (Group interview).
In addition, the quality of the work, since it was perceived as being owned by the organization and funding agency, did not affect the social identity of the individual; therefore, there was little time and effort put into writing the Quarterly Report as it had very little individual knowledge value. Contrary to what Dias et al, (1995) claimed, genres only promote a different way of knowing which can be used as a starting point for group knowledge creation if there is a sense of agency and ownership of the knowledge. Without agency and a sense of personal ownership, the genre cannot trigger cognitive dissonance or negotiated knowledge.
In addition to the project group’s influence, individual members’ membership in a profession and department also had an impact on his or her social identity which in turn influenced perceived agency which in turn influenced perceived ownership. Professional and departmental processes, formats, and visions influenced an individual’s work as part of their desire to maintain the group norms within the profession or department. Each profession and department had its own focus and vision that was unique to the profession or the department. Each profession and department has its own codes, means of highlighting information important to the profession or department, and processes for creating professional and departmental artifacts which defined professional or departmental vision and value knowledge (Goodwin, 1994). Moving from the department to the distributed group, the project group in the study began to create its own lens (codes, highlighted information, the way in which information was sequenced, accessed, exchanged, and recorded), through which valued knowledge was identified. Each group member came to the project with a professional and departmental vision, which became the basis for developing the project group vision and culture.
For example, participants spoke about the difficulties of the project group in working with the Video Production department due to the rigid professional vision and work processes used in Video Production. Elearning was used to using a much less formal process for video creation and set a less rigid standard for video production. As the healthcare counseling project progressed, the Video Production department was given less agency in developing the video and the ownership of the video moved from Video Production to the project group. However, the project group began to revisualize the quality of the video so that it was different from both the elearning and the Video Production standards, yet still acceptable to both departments. The final video product moved location of ownership from the departments to the project group, yet also created negotiated knowledge within the departments through alignment of professional and departmental vision.
Within the collaborative process, tensions would arise when there was a question of legitimate ownership of knowledge or there was a struggle to grant or remove agency. For example, conflicts over writing styles based on differing professional standards often resulted in the realigning of negotiated knowledge. This realignment was sometimes interpreted as diminishing the agency to use certain professional knowledge that others in the group may have valued less than another profession’s knowledge. An example of this would be the conflict the group had over the language used for an elearning module. While Ronda believed a certain tone of language was needed as part of effective engagement strategies in instructional design, Phillip believed the language would be inappropriate for the healthcare profession. For those whose self-concept was strongly tied to the profession such as Phillip, Ronda’s questioning the use of traditional healthcare rhetoric could be perceived as others questioning his professionalism or expertise within the profession and, thus, his self-concept. However, as Skitka’s (2003) accessible identity model implies, the cognitive dissonance created through different professional standards could be resolved by group members identifying others as part of a different profession. In other words, different perceptions of valued knowledge and expertise might be caused by different professional alliances, but these differences might be accepted by project group members of differing professions because of perceived differences of professional alliances within a distributed group. As a result, Ronda aligned her work with Phillip, but at the same time relinquished individual ownership in exchange for the group knowledge and granted Phillip a greater level of agency in the creation of the elearning modules. However, she maintained her individual professional knowledge ownership on what makes a good elearning module.
At other times, differing knowledge about the same topic were allowed to coexist with ownership being shared within the group or between levels (departments, organizational, or stakeholders). For example, even though the negotiated knowledge about the curriculum was the basis for the training manuals and elearning modules, there were differences in the final products produced within different departments, even between those from the same profession. The training manuals developed for the face to face training deparment and the elearning developed for the IT department had fundamental differences. The curriculum knowledge upon which the manuals and modules were based was perceived as being owned by the project group, funder, and organization as a whole. The knowledge used to deliver the curriculum (which tended to be transactional knowledge) was owned separately by individual group members and their departments. The curriculum was perceived as being very valuable at all levels of the project. As a result, it was important to participants that there was a sense of ownership at all levels. The variation in the delivery of the curriculum could be attributed to a sense of lack of agency by individuals (i.e. Olivia and David) and departments (elearning and Video Production); differences in perceived value; or by the transfer of ownership to other levels or project members.
The process of modification and reconciliation of processes and formats helped the project group began to identify ownership of transactional knowledge (certain processes and documents). It also helped individuals to align their knowledge and create negotiated knowledge with other levels of the power structure (group, department, professional, organization, stakeholders). Literature on communities of practice and discourse communities observed the same outcomes when those within the communities experienced cognitive dissonance (Boland & Tenkasi, 1995; Goodwin, 1994). In this study, however, when knowledge could not be aligned, than the individual could distance ownership of a product or the knowledge upon which processes and outcomes were dependent. In some cases, the department maintained ownership (which the group accessed when needed); at other times the group or a subgroup (i.e. the elearning group or the face to face trainers) claimed ownership. Individuals that did not perceive themselves as having a high degree of agency, did not have a strong sense of identity with the knowledge, and/or did not perceive value to the knowledge. They were better able to distance themselves from the ownership of the knowledge used in collaboration.