Patterns in the knowledge management discourse : an analysis of selected knowledge management theorists

Bester, Emily Anna (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2013-03)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Knowledge management is a fragmented and ambiguous management practice. This is evident from the plethora of definitions available for this field. The premise of this study is that different discourse patterns in knowledge management also contribute to the ambiguity. Four theoretical lenses describe the typical discourses that are associated with the formation of management practices, namely management innovation, umbrella construction, management fashion cycles and institutionalisation of management practice. The following propositions are indicative of the types of discourses involved – the rationale, business outcome, management niche, solution definitions and the means provided for the enactment of the practice. The discourses of seven proponents were analysed according to the above, viz. Verna Allee, Nancy Dixon, Leif Edvinsson, Ikujiro Nonaka, Laurence Prusak, David Snowden and Mathieu Weggeman. Three main patterns were identified based on the manner in which the discourses associated with the four theoretical lenses manifest in the analysed discourses. These patterns represent three different conceptualisations of knowledge management, namely - (i) Knowledge management as a meta-practice framework: the focus is on the assimilation and synthesis of the various knowledge-based practices that are part of other management practices (such as quality management), or practices that originate from fluid initiatives in organisations (e.g. the role of the librarian transforming to become a information broker), or practices that are defined through systematic experimentation (such as the potential of social media for intelligence analysis). (ii) Knowledge management as a platform and catalyst for systemic management innovation: the quest is to define new approaches that are appropriate to manage organisations as complex knowledge-based systems. These approaches should supersede management practices still rooted in Newtonian or mechanistic thinking. Knowledge management is regarded to be a revolutionary practice that proposes, conceptualises and diffuses such new approaches, e.g. value network management (Verna Allee) and the Cynefin framework (David Snowden). (iii) Knowledge management as a master idea or master narrative: this knowledge management discourse is about the theorisation of novel structural arrangements that emerge in organisations as a response to the new requirements of a knowledge-driven economy. This theorisation influences the thinking, premises and practices of various management fields, such as strategic planning, human resource management and organisational design.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Kennisbestuur is ‘n gefragmenteerde en dubbelsinnige bestuurspraktyk. Dit is duidelik uit die menigvuldige definisies wat voorgehou word vir die veld. Die uitgangspunt van hierdie studie is dat verskillende diskoerspatrone in kennisbestuur ook tot die dubbelsinnigheid bydra. Vier teoretiese lense beskryf die tipiese diskoerse wat geassosieer word met die vorming van bestuurspraktyke, naamlik bestuursinnovasie, sambreelkonstruksies, bestuursmodesiklusse en die institutionalisering van bestuurspraktyke. Die volgende aspekte is ‘n aanduiding van die tipes diskoerse betrokke – die rasionaal, besigheidsuitkoms, bestuursnis, die definisie van die oplossing en die middele wat vir die implementering van die praktyke verskaf word. Die diskoerse van sewe voorstaanders is geanaliseer aan die hand van bogenoemde, naamlik Verna Allee, Nancy Dixon, Leif Edvinsson, Ikujiro Nonaka, David Snowden en Matthieu Weggeman. Drie hoofpatrone is geidentifiseer, gebaseer op die analise van die wyse waarin die vier teoretiese lense in die geselekteerde diskoerse manifesteer. Hierdie patrone verteenwoordig drie verskillende konsepsualiserings van kennisbestuur, naamlik - (i) Kennisbestuur as ‘n meta-praktykraamwerk: die fokus is op die assimilasie en sintese van die verskillende kennisgebaseerde praktyke wat deel is van ander bestuurspraktyke (soos kwaliteitsbestuur), of praktyke wat ontwikkel uit vloeibare inisiatiewe in organisasies (bv. die rol van die bibliotekaris wat transformeer na die van ‘n informasiemakelaar), of die definisie van nuwe praktyke aan die hand van sistematiese eksperimentering (soos die potensiaal van sosiale media vir intelligensie analise). (ii) Kennisbestuur as ‘n platform en katalisator vir sistemiese bestuursinnovasie: die strewe is om nuwe benaderings te definieer wat toepaslik is vir die bestuur van organisasies as komplekse kennis-gebaseerde stelsels. Hierdie benaderings moet bestuurspraktyke wat gewortel is in Newtoniaanse of meganistiese denke vervang. Kennisbestuur word beskou as ‘n revolusionêre praktyk wat nuwe benaderings voorstel, konsepsualiseer en versprei, soos Value Network Management (Verna Allee) en die Cynefin-raamwerk (David Snowden). (iii) Kennisbestuur as ‘n meesteridee of meesternarratief: hierdie kennisbestuurdiskoers omvat die teoretisering van nuwe strukturele reëlings wat, as ‘n reaksie op die nuwe vereistes wat ‘n kennisgedrewe ekonomie stel, in organisasies na vore kom. Hierdie teoretisering beïnvloed die denke, begronding en praktyke van verskeie bestuursvelde, soos strategiese beplanning, menslike hulpbronbestuur en organisasie-ontwerp.

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