For weeks, I have been grappling with the "categories of knowledge" I developed in my knowledge grid. During my defense, my adviser pushed me to define what these categories were. Needless to say, my inability to define what exactly these "categories" were and what they represented made me revisit and revise my dissertation. It took a while, but I finally realized that "category of knowledge" did not really reflect the concept I was trying to express. On the other hand, these categories were the central concept of my findings; these came before I was really able to identify what my findings were.
I finally decided I would need to name these concepts using a new term. The closest I came to expressing these "categories of knowledge" were knowledge genres. Once I had a term to describe this concept, I was able to create a framework to identify knowledge genres which eventually I will use to identify design features to optimize knowledge creation.
Defining Knowledge Genres
Genres standardize rituals and rhetoric, influence work patterns, promote particular ways of acting, and set orientation to thinking (Berkendotter & Huckin, 2005; Dias et al., 1999; Nonaka, 1994). In analyzing collaborative writing in distributed groups, genres could be applied to different ways in which knowledge is organized, created, accessed, and used. I refer to this structuring of knowledge as knowledge genres.
I identified two underlying bases for the structuring of knowledge genres which I call transactional knowledge and negotiated knowledge. Transactional and negotiated knowledge both are grounded in the social interaction of the distributed group, but are used for different purposes, create different work patterns, result in different perceptions of ownership and agency, and set different orientations of thinking. The result is different structures in the organization, creation, storage, and access of knowledge which creates different knowledge genres.
Framework for Identifying Knowledge Genres
Based on the findings, an emerging structure to understand knowledge genres was developed. The framework for identifying knowledge genres includes four dimensions:
• type of knowledge;
• level of perceived agency and ownership (individual, intragroup, intergroup, extergroup);
• purpose of knowledge creation (transactional or negotiated); and
• situational factors such as location, level of interaction between distributed group members, time, and external influences.
This section with will discuss the emerging theoretical basis of the framework, and then apply the framework to two examples of knowledge genres referenced by the study participants.
Three types of knowledge
The traditional categories of knowledge are content (or explicit knowledge), competency (or tacit knowledge), and expertise (which is performance based). However,there is a need to redefine the categories as the parameters of knowledge are reconceptualized in the context of distributed groups. Defining knowledge according to depth of knowledge or level of internalization is an insufficient basis for defining knowledge and knowledge creation in a distributed group because knowledge can be partaged. In addition, a social and knowledge networks may have knowledge which may not apply or be perceived as having value to all current situations. However, access to social and knowledge networks can create social spaces that allow for the creation of knowledge for distributed groups or individual members in the future.
Based on the findings discussed in the previous chapter, the definition of knowledge based on depth of knowledge could be expanded to be knowledge genres defined by level of tangibility. Unlike the traditional collaborative knowledge model, the model developed through this study proposes a continuum of tangibility within knowledge genres where three types of knowledge attributes (tangible representation of knowledge, processes and tacit knowledge, and partaged knowledge) are actually on a continuum of tangibility.
The three types of knowledge attibutes I identify as:
1. Tangible representation of knowledge which can be represented by policies, forms, formats, curriculum, degrees or credentials, records, and other artifacts at the individual, group, departmental, organizational, and/or professional level;
2. Procedural and tacit knowledge, which includes an understanding of work processes and the knowledge created as a result of those processes; and
3. Partaged knowledge, which was knowledge created through the linking of ideas, social relationships, cognitive interaction, and/or cultural interaction.
Knowledge genres are used by distributed group members to identify, discuss, understand, value, and create shared mental models and relevant knowledge at all four levels of interaction (individual, intra-group, inter-group, extern-group). The choice of genre is dependent upon environmental factors, power structure(s), knowledge networks, and work task requirements. At one end of the continuum is knowledge that can be identified as transactional and at the other end is knowledge that is negotiated. As knowledge becomes less tangible, groups are able to create knowledge through interaction and negotiation (negotiated knowledge). In other words, partaged knowledge is negotiated or knowledge that is created through group interaction.
In the emerging theory of distributed group knowledge creation, the type of knowledge defined as tangible representation of knowledge is close to Kolb’s (1984) comprehensive knowledge. This is knowledge that can be articulated, represented in various forms (such as visuals, documents, presentations, interviews), and stored for future use. Unlike the more traditional content or explicit knowledge, tangible representation of knowledge may include implicit knowledge. For example, educational credentials (e.g., licensing, degrees) tangibly represent certain knowledge that may include implicit and explicit knowledge. These credentials can be used as currency within a group, thus making knowledge appear tangible. However, within a traditional model of knowledge creation or knowledge management theories, the knowledge that credentials represent would be considered a competency or implicit knowledge that would be expected to be applied in any given situation. In the traditional model, the knowledge that credentials represent would then be both implicit and explicit knowledge, fitting into two different categories: content knowledge and competency (Cook & Brown, 1999; Cook & Yanow, 1993). The emerging theory of distributed group knowledge creation, therefore, needs to allow for a broader definition of knowledge genre attributes that includes abstract and tacit knowledge that can be represented through visuals, documents, and artifacts and stored for use by others.
In reconceptualizing the term competency to procedural and tacit knowledge, knowledge genre attributes move the concept of individually held knowledge and know-how to a socially constructed understanding of how things work within a given situation. It expands the concept of individually possessed knowledge about procedures and processes from a purely cognitive definition (competency) (Allee, 1997; Contu & Willmott, 2003; Raelin, 2008) to a socially constructed understanding of the situation in which procedures and processes are used (requiring analytical ability), the intangible variables that affect the situation, and the interpersonal relationships and meaning negotiation that create social cognition (Herling, 2000). The term competency, does not capture the alignment of knowledge within distributed group power structures, the withholding or use of knowledge based on perceived value, the negotiation of knowledge, the development of knowledge networks, or the distancing of work from the individual based on perceived ownership or agency. In the study, processes and procedures represented work quality expectations, reconciling processes and procedures between group members and departments, and understanding the environment in which work was situated. This indicates a much deeper level of socially constructed understanding, situational analysis, and understanding of how and why things function a certain way, which requires the new term procedural and tacit knowledge.
The use of distributed groups has allowed for both collaboratively constructed knowledge, also referred to as a shared mental model (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001) and the distribution of knowledge throughout an organization (Nonaka, 1994; Raelin, 2008) However, there is no term for knowledge that can be both shared and divided for future use. I use the term partaged knowledge for knowledge that one would need to be able to access and link to other knowledge (i.e., linking ideas, putting into context). The term partaged knowledge is derived from the French word partager, which means both to share and to divide. Partaged knowledge might be internal, such as what happens during an individual’s writing process. Initially there may be many ideas, seemingly without any correlation (divided). Through the writing process, an author must link together those ideas into one cohesive whole (thus the sharing or putting together through interaction of ideas).
Partaged knowledge can also happen with group processes in which members come into the group (especially a distributed group) with different expertise, access to resources, cultural influences, and experience/mental models of the work (divided resources and expertise). Through their work processes, group members’ knowledge is partaged or distributed through knowledge networks throughout the group and beyond. This partaged or distributed knowledge is then accessed when needed and modified or translated for use within a given situation. Partaged knowledge, therefore, includes the ability to co-create knowledge, divide the knowledge for later use, access the knowledge when needed, and translate or interpret the knowledge for a given situation. Partaged knowledge is the most valuable for knowledge-based organizations as it allows for knowledge to be evenly distributed throughout the organization, thus making organizations less vulnerable should an employee leave (Allee, 1997). It also allows for others who are not directly exposed to content, work processes, experience, and/or environments to be able to access knowledge outside of an individual’s knowledge base. Knowledge can be part of the network internal to the group, external to the group, within the profession, internal to the organization, and external to the organization. However, partaged knowledge is difficult to quantify, control, and capture because it is situated, visceral, and colocated.
Partaged knowledge is created through creative practices (writing, design, problem solving) rather than through the imposition of formats or processes. In the traditional knowledge model, expertise is an intangible form of knowledge held at varying degrees by individual group members and demonstrated through performance (Herling, 2000, Nonaka, 1994. Yaklief, 2002, 2010). Expertise assumes that knowledge boundaries are static and access to knowledge ultimately is based on the individual and his or her ability to use the knowledge. In the emerging theory of distributed group knowledge creation, expertise, tacit knowledge, and content can be held by individuals, the group, the organization, or even stakeholders in the form of partaged knowledge. It is not enough for an individual to be able to access information. Rather, it is important to link ideas; add knowledge to the group and/or organization; store the knowledge within a network for future use by others; value knowledge situated in differing power structures and knowledge networks; and link new meaning to established meaning, negotiating the creation of new knowledge boundaries within the distributed group knowledge system.
Partaged knowledge also differs from expertise in that partaged knowledge is the possibility of future knowledge creation when it is needed. Partaged knowledge is the possibility to access and create knowledge within a knowledge network in the future. Even the concept of what knowledge may be needed is abstract with partaged knowledge, although partaged knowledge is based upon a knowledge network that will allow those who are part of the network to access knowledge when needed. To access and use the network, individuals, groups, and organizations need to understand where and when to create knowledge.
Location of knowledge creation, agency, and ownership
The traditional model of knowledge creation locates knowledge and ownership of knowledge with the individual (Nonaka, 1994; Raelin, 2008). Nonaka further identified an individual’s level of autonomy as a requirement for organizational knowledge creation. The granting of autonomy is termed agency. In the traditional model, the idea of agency and ownership are separate with agency being controlled by the power structure and ownership tied to work task artifacts (Lundsford, 1999; Lundsford & Ede, 1992). An individual who contributes to the work task artifact would be a partial owner of the knowledge created through the distributed group process merely by contributing to the process. The degree of ownership would depend on the level that agency was granted.
However, this study suggests that agency plays an important role in how distributed group members and their knowledge networks perceive ownership. The perception of ownership and agency is as much an individual construct which relates to social identity theory as it is a socially defined construct created through interaction by distributed groups based on perceived agency at the intra-group, inter-group, and exter-group levels. The findings of this study suggest that agency is not as much granted as perceived as being granted by those within the power structure through the use of genres (communication and knowledge), perceived value of individual contributions, distributed work processes, and perceived ownership of the final work artifacts and created knowledge. In the study, the greater level of perceived individual agency to create knowledge within a distributed work task, the greater perception of individual ownership over the knowledge and work task artifact.
The emerging theory for knowledge creation in distributed groups, therefore, would use a continuum to identify perceived level of agency and resulting ownership depending on the distance between the individual group member and the perception of where knowledge was created. In other words, an individual without individual agency may perceive that knowledge is created and owned by the organization when group processes, contributions to created knowledge, and knowledge genres are dictated by the organization. Even though the individual contributed work to the creation of knowledge and distributed group artifacts, the individual did not have agency. As a result, ownership moves from those completing work tasks to those that dictate discourse communities, knowledge genres, and work values, norms, and processes. An individual can create distance between his or her perceived level of ownership of work in order to maintain his or her social identity when individual agency is taken away. Therefore, the location of agency (individual, intra-group, inter-group, and exter-group) will have an effect on the location of perceived ownership.
The continiuum I developed to represent the distance between the individual and the level that he or she perceives the location agency and ownership of knowledge creation in distributed groups places high individual agency at one end and low individual agency at the other. The greater the level of individual agency the closer an individual perceives ownership of created knowledge by the individual. On the other end of the continuum, the absence of individual agency in distributed group processes, the greater distance in ownership between the individual and the knowledge created through distributed group processes.
Situating knowledge boundaries
There are a number of situational and environmental factors that affect the creation of knowledge and the use of knowledge genres in distributed group work. As discussed in previous chapters, knowledge creation in distributed groups are situated in the work patterns and power structures within which distributed groups work (Contu & Willmott, 2003; Foss & Pedersen, 2002; Goodwin, 1994; Laufer et al., 1998; Sternberg & Horvath, 1999). Those work patterns and power structures affect how knowledge is valued; where knowledge is created, stored, accessed, and used; who has access to valued knowledge within the workplace, discourse communities, communities of practice, and the power structures; and when different types of knowledge is accessible from (often) competing power structures, knowledge networks, and social networks.
Theories in group communication (Akoyo, et al., 2002; Engleberg & Allison, 2007; Galanes, 2007; Gersick, 1988), communities of practice (Boland, 1992; Haythornthwaite et al., 2000; Johnson, 2001), discourse communities (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003; Parks, 2001; Russel, 1997), and organizational culture (Collis, 1999; Cook & Brown, 1999; Goodwin, 1994; King & Frost, 2002) apply to the study findings that situational factors such as the power structure, access to resources, and social interaction affect knowledge creation in distributed groups. Expanding on these theories, I identified situational factors that affect a distributed group’s knowledge creation as: (a) knowledge networks, social networks, work environment, and power structures of distributed groups including the choice and application of tools; (b) the creation, choice, dissemination, and use of formats; (c) membership in discourse communities; (d) modality of interaction; and (e) the use, creation, modification, storage, application, and collection of distributed group artifacts. Many of these factors both affect and have an effect on the power structure(s) that control the environment and knowledge boundaries in which distributed groups create knowledge. Based on the findings of this study, I propose that creation of knowledge genres are bound by three situational attributes in distributed groups: temporal orientation, access to resources, and level and modality of interaction.
Temporal orientation is the perceived amount of time allowed for negotiation, creation, interaction, and storage of knowledge created by distributed group processes. Any given situation can require that either individual members or the distributed group as a whole create knowledge in a short time period (i.e., minutes or hours) or knowledge is created over a long period of time (i.e., months or years). In the study, if the knowledge needed to accomplish a task was located away from the individual (e.g., within a knowledge network, community of practice, or discourse community), temporal orientation was more long term. The temporal orientation also affected and was effected by group members’ perception of when the knowledge would be needed (immediately, in the short term, in the future). Knowledge genres, therefore, can be bound by how long it takes to convert knowledge into an accessible tangible representation that is valued by those who will use the knowledge, how long it will take for a member to access valued knowledge, how long knowledge will be relevant to and/or stored by those within a knowledge network, and how static the knowledge is.
Another way in which knowledge boundaries were established in the distributed group work processes were through the allocation and access of resources such as communication modalities, social interactive spaces (e.g., conference rooms, collocated offices, online spaces), content experts, and personnel, both within and outside of the organization. Knowledge could be structured based on the resources available and the expectation of the power structures.
Knowledge genres are also bound by the social structures that create the environment and social spaces that affect interaction between individual distributed group members and social circles within which they work (intragroup, intergroup, and extergroup levels). These interactive boundaries are affected by tools given for interaction (i.e., software, office space, communication tools, storage of artifacts); discourse community values, norms, and rules of interaction; and place, time, and opportunity to interact with others at different levels. Knowledge genres may be limited through control of the social structures within which a distributed group works, such as limiting who is allowed to interact, the format of the interaction, power structures valuing some forms of interaction over others (e.g., weekly meetings or interaction via the internet), and choice of discourse community (e.g., preference for one department or profession over another). However, knowledge genres may also have flexibility built in which allows for greater level of interaction and knowledge building. By establishing a more flexible structure for interaction between levels of the power structure, there may be greater control by the individual group member by giving the individual greater agency to create knowledge.
Each of these situational attributes help to define the knowledge boundaries used in the creation, storage, access, and use of knowledge while at the same locating the knowledge in the environment in which it was created.
Examples of Knowledge Genres
There were a number of knowledge genres used by participants in this study. Two of the knowledge genres study participants referred to the most when describing their work and the work of others in the distributed group were credentials and professionalism. Using the framework to identify knowledge genres outlined above, this section will identify the attributes of the knowledge genres credentials and professionalism used in this study. While perception of what credentials and professionalism was varied from group member to group member, department to department, and profession to profession, there was a shared knowledge boundary in which these genres (credentials and professionalism) were framed.
Credentials are the establishment of tangible representation of knowledge possessed by the individual. Credentials can take the form of reports and other documentation of individual work; degrees, drafts, postings, or notes that contribute to the group process; and transactional knowledge such as degrees, awards, and job titles. Unlike the traditional knowledge model, credentials within a distributed group is a socio-cognitive construct. Credentials represent valued knowledge that can be used or transformed into an identifiable form to be used as currency for the individual (e.g., future jobs), within the group, between groups, and externally (e.g., product or service sales). The value of the knowledge is situated within the power structure and environment in which the individual works. Credentials are situated within the knowledge needed for a particular task.
Credentials, unlike documentation, deliverables, and certification, are perceived by the individual as being owned by the individual to dispense whenever the individual believes it is to his or her advantage. As a result, a group member might have hidden credentials that they feel are undervalued or not needed by the group. Credentials also may be tied to the individual’s social identity, so the undervaluing of the individual credentials may result in a group member disengaging from the group, withholding knowledge, or presenting knowledge in a form that is inaccessible to group members (e.g., unfamiliar formats, technical jargon, limited access documents). In the last case, the individual then becomes invaluable to the group as the credentialed individual is the only one able to translate knowledge into a form that is identifiable and useful for the group.
The form that credentials can take may change depending on the who is perceived as owning the distributed work task, the alignment between levels of agency and shared mental models, and perceived location (either individual members or the distributed group as a whole) within the work task power structure. Professional credentials, such as degrees, licenses, and membership in a professional organization, will always have relevance at the extergroup level, but may not have relevance at the intergroup level when organizational and professional qualifications for a specific task are not aligned. When there is misalignment at one of the levels, then credentials may be presented in multiple forms (e.g., diploma for the organization and license for the profession).
Credentials usually represent access to discourse communities and knowledge networks that an individual perceives are relevant for a certain work task. Credentials also may be used as a starting point for interaction between an individual and others (at intragroup, intergroup, or extergroup levels) in terms of resources, expectations, and work patterns for a given task. Finally, credentials tend to have a long term orientation, as it takes a long time to develop credentials. Credentials tend to be composed of static knowledge, and once established, credentials can be stored with the individual for future use.
Professionalism is trans-organizational which means that there needs to be interorganizational interaction for professionalism to exist. This interaction can come in the form of interaction and training with stakeholders, professional organizations, and professional institutions (e.g., professional training programs, higher education programs). The interaction creates both a shared mental model for the profession and an understanding of where and how to access resources within the profession so that it is unnecessary for an individual to know all aspects of the profession, but will have access to all professional knowledge when needed. In other words, professional knowledge is partaged throughout the profession and professional knowledge networks. Professionalism and professional knowledge exists outside of the individual(s) through formation of professional alliances and networks (Nonaka, 1994).
Once a person is identified as a member of the profession, he or she will need to understand where, when, and how to access community resources. However, membership in a profession is socially constructed through professional discourse communities and sub-communities (i.e. Healthcare profession and the sub-community of Healthcare Counseling profession). There are definitive knowledge boundaries that create a broad professional structure within which there is great flexibility for interaction, knowledge creation, and power structures for individual and distributed group work patterns. While the professional knowledge boundaries are fairly static, those individuals that identify themselves as members of the profession may have flexible knowledge boundaries based on interaction with others, both inside and outside of the profession. The individual will align his or her own individual knowledge boundaries with the profession, based on cognitive dissonance created through interaction with others. In other words, with knowledge perceived as professional knowledge, there is a low level of individual agency and, therefore, a high perception of ownership by the profession.
Professional knowledge, because of its partaged nature within the diverse environments in which knowledge creation occurs, is more susceptible to competing power structures. Because professional knowledge is situated in the work processes and social and knowledge networks within which a distributed group works, resources and temporal orientation vary. Therefore, the most valued members of the profession are those that understand how to access professional resources; translate professional knowledge into a form that those within and outside of the profession can understand; and create new knowledge that both fits within the professional knowledge boundaries and yet is situated within the distributed group’s work environment.
The framework presented to identify and understand knowledge genres used by distributed groups differs from the Traditional Model of Organizational Knowledge Creation, in that the framework (a) uses an expanded understanding of knowledge that recognizes that knowledge can be held outside of the individual within distributed group knowledge networks; (b) identifies the attributes that bind the knowledge creation process within the social and knowledge networks situated in the distributed group processes; (c) expands the location of knowledge creation through interaction and perception of influence to include social spaces outside of the organization (externgroup); and (d) identifies the relationship between agency and ownership, and the ability for individuals to contribute to a collaborative artifact without having perceived individual ownership.
- V Yonkers
- 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.