Balancing Local Knowledge within Global Organisations through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach

Balancing Local Knowledge within Global Organisations through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach

Somya Joshi (National Technical University of Athens, Greece), Michael Barrett (University of Cambridge, UK), Geoff Walsham (University of Cambridge, UK) and Sam Cappleman (Hewlett-Packard Ltd, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-116-2.ch017
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This article investigates how, and with what success, global organisations design computer-based systems for knowledge sharing which aim to balance centralised and standardised approaches against more diverse local needs. The empirical basis for the article is provided by an analysis of two different global organisations, each with its own knowledge-sharing infrastructure in place. We use third-generation activity theory as the theoretical basis for our analysis. The contributions from this article are twofold. The first is our theoretical lens, where activity theory is applied to the domain of global information systems and their organisational context. This analysis provides a new approach in addressing both the mediation of and motivations behind knowledge-sharing activity. The second contribution concerns the theoretical and practical insights this gives on the problems and challenges of achieving a balance between global and local priorities within highly distributed work contexts, and the role of computer-based systems in this arena.
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Global organisations today face an inherent dilemma between maintaining closeness to their customers and stakeholders whilst the geographic reach of their operations and markets expands. There is a justified desire to retain the traditional economy of scale based on extensive routinisation and standardisation, in order to present a reasonably coherent and uniform face or identity (Ger, 1999; Leidner, 1993), but there is also pressure from local partners to pay closer attention to contextual details and to support different and often conflicting needs. The challenge that emerges from this is one of balancing the diversity presented by the increasing number of local stakeholders and partners, and at the same time working towards a degree of consistency and coherence in operations. Global information systems and infrastructures are aimed to address this complexity, but they remain limited in terms of the extent of contextual diversity they end up capturing (Pan & Leidner, 2003).

There is a significant body of literature concerned with the need for adaptation of information systems to local contextual demands. Typically this is discussed with reference to the heterogeneity of information systems and the subsequent need to adapt to local needs (Ciborra, 1994; Davenport, 1998; Kyng & Mathiassen, 1997); the inscription of interests into artefacts (Bloomfield, Coombs, Knights, & Littler, 1997; Sahay, 1998); and local resistance to top-down initiatives (Ciborra, 1994, 2000). Our intention in this article is to go beyond this acknowledgement of the situated nature of information systems and the dichotomy of global-local narratives by asking how firms attempt to achieve a ‘pragmatic balance’ (Rolland & Monteiro, 2002) between the uniqueness of local context and the implied uniformity of globally applicable ‘solutions’. More specifically the research question that we address in this article is: How, and with what success, do global organisations design computer-based tools for knowledge sharing aimed to balance standardised approaches against local needs?

In order to carry out this research enquiry, we draw upon empirical material from two case studies of global organisations, each with its own distinct computer-based knowledge sharing system in place. The first case is that of a leading pharmaceutical company working within the private sector, which we refer to as GP. We focus in this case on the integrated information system that provided GP’s communicators worldwide with the opportunity to share knowledge through a standardised interface. The second case study we examine is that of a not-for-profit organisation working within the context of open source software certification, in particular that based on Linux, which we will refer to in this article as LC. We focus here on the electronic mailing lists used by LC for both internal communications and product development.

The analytical lens of activity theory is used to analyse findings from the above case studies. This theory is described in the next section of the article. Following this, we provide a detailed description of our methodology and research design, before moving on to the analysis of the case studies. We then use results from our case analyses to draw some implications and conclusions for theory and practice.

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Pier Cesare Rivoltella
Informational society, mainly after the development of online and mobile devices, is changing the forms with which we build our image of the... Sample PDF
Knowledge, Culture, and Society in the Information Age
Chapter 2
Liudmila Burtseva, Svetlana Cojocaru, Constantin Gaindric, Galina Magariu, Tatiana Verlan
In this chapter the authors introduce the digitaldivide concept to the reader, bring its different definitions, and describe the short history of... Sample PDF
Digital Divide: Introduction to the Problem
Chapter 3
Soraj Hongladarom
The problem of global digital divide, namely disparity in Internet access and use among the various regions of the world, is a growing concern. Even... Sample PDF
Global Digital Divide, Global Justice, Cultures, and Epistemology
Chapter 4
Monica Fantin, Gilka Girardello
This chapter discusses the digital divide from the perspective of education and culture and highlights the forms in which the problem is presented... Sample PDF
Digital Literacy and Cultural Mediations to the Digital Divide
Chapter 5
Timothy Shea, David Lewis
This chapter introduces how culture impacts global knowledge sharing. Effective knowledge sharing (KS), one of the four interdependent dimensions of... Sample PDF
Cultural Impact on Global Knowledge Sharing
Chapter 6
Jeffrey P. Roy
The objectives of this chapter are threefold: first, to provide a conceptual framework for understanding e-government as a set of four interrelated... Sample PDF
E-Government, Democratic Governance and Integrative Prospects for Developing Countries: The Case for a Globally Federated Architecture
Chapter 7
M. Aminul Islam, Elena Murelli, Frederick Noronha, Hakikur Rahman
Capacity development initiatives for marginal communities with information and knowledge under the contemporary global scenario perhaps could be one... Sample PDF
Capacity Development Initiatives for Marginal Communities: A Few Case Studies
Chapter 8
Martin Schell
Considering that 347 languages have over 1 million speakers each and account for 94% of the world’s population, localization is unsustainable as a... Sample PDF
How to Globalize Online Course Content
Chapter 9
Anne Daly
This chapter presents data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing to highlight the low levels of computer and Internet usage by indigenous... Sample PDF
The Diffusion of New Technologies: Community Online Access Centres in Indigenous Communities in Australia
Chapter 10
William Schulte, Kevin J. O'Sullivan
Information and knowledge management technologies and globalization have changed how firms in service industries formulate, implement, and sustain... Sample PDF
Global Knowledge Management Technology Strategies and Competitive Functionality from Global IT in the International Construction Industry
Chapter 11
Emmanuel G Blanchard, Claude Frasson
This chapter introduces the concepts of culturally aware systems (CAWAS), a new family of adaptive systems that try to adapt learning contents and... Sample PDF
Cross Cultural Adaptation in E-Learning
Chapter 12
André H. Caron
Whether globalisation results in a “métissage” of cultures or the hegemony of one culture will depend on the analytical and social skills of those... Sample PDF
Globalisation and New Technology: The Challenge for Teachers to Become “Translators” and Children, Knowledge Seekers
Chapter 13
Ahmed Ali
This case study examined the effectiveness and significance of the Internet and interactive video broadcasting as instructional and communication... Sample PDF
Modern Technology and Mass Education: A Case Study of a Global Virtual Learning System
Chapter 14
Hyemin Chung, Henry Lieberman
The need for more effective communication between people of different countries has increased as travel and communications bring more of the world’s... Sample PDF
GlobalMind: Automated Analysis of Cultural Contexts with Multicultural Common-Sense Computing
Chapter 15
Tom S. Chan
This chapter discusses the challenges in constructing a culture-centric Web site. The Internet has expanded business opportunities into global... Sample PDF
Challenges in Building a Culture-Centric Web Site
Chapter 16
Susan K. Lippert, John A. Volkmar
Research to date on information technology (IT) adoption has focused primarily on homogeneous single country samples. This study integrates the... Sample PDF
Cultural Effects on Technology Performance and Utilization: A Comparison of U.S. and Canadian Users
Chapter 17
Somya Joshi, Michael Barrett, Geoff Walsham, Sam Cappleman
This article investigates how, and with what success, global organisations design computer-based systems for knowledge sharing which aim to balance... Sample PDF
Balancing Local Knowledge within Global Organisations through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach
Chapter 18
Luciano Floridi
The article argues that Information Ethics (IE) can provide a successful approach for coping with the challenges posed by our increasingly... Sample PDF
Global Information Ethics: The Importance of Being Environmentally Earnest
Chapter 19
Fikreyohannes Lemma, Mieso K. Denko, Joseph K. Tan, Samuel Kinde Kassegne
Poor infrastructures in developing countries such as Ethiopia and much of Sub-Saharan Africa have caused these nations to suffer from lack of... Sample PDF
Envisioning a National E-Medicine Network Architecture in a Developing Country: A Case Study
Chapter 20
Y. N. Chen, H. M. Chen, W. Huang, R. K.H. Ching
Given the fact that more and more governments invest heavily in e-government design and implementation, e-government has become an evolving and... Sample PDF
E-Government Strategies in Developed and Developing Countries: An Implementation Framework and Case Study
Chapter 21
Hongxin Zhao, Seung Kim, Taewon Suh, Jianjun Du
This study attempts to examine empirically how social institutional factors relate to Internet diffusion in 39 countries. Based on nine-year... Sample PDF
Social Institutional Explanations of Global Internet Diffusion: A Cross-Country Analysis
Chapter 22
Juan Juan Zhang, Sang-Yong Tom Lee
This article studies the role of international spillover of information and communication technology (ICT) in economic growth. We examine the... Sample PDF
A Time Series Analysis of International ICT Spillover
Chapter 23
Hakikur Rahman
ICT mediated learning provides utilities for achieving the goal of education for all, and in turn acts as an enabler in reducing the digital divide... Sample PDF
ICT Based Learning: A Basic Ingredient for Socio-Economic Empowerment
Chapter 24
Clive Sanford, Anol Bhattacherjee
This article presents an interpretive analysis of the key problems and challenges to technology implementation in developing countries, based on a... Sample PDF
IT Implementation in a Developing Country Municipality: A Socio-Cognitive Analysis
Chapter 25
Haiyan Huang, Eileen M. Trauth
This chapter discusses cultural diversity challenges in globally distributed software development and the implications for educating and managing... Sample PDF
Cultural Diversity Challenges: Issues for Managing Globally Distributed Knowledge Workers in Software Development
Chapter 26
Shirish C. Srivastava, Thompson S.H. Teo
Using secondary data from 99 countries and IT impact literature as the guiding theoretical perspective; we examine the payoffs from e-government in... Sample PDF
E-Government Payoffs: Evidence from Cross-Country Data
Chapter 27
Mahesh S. Raisinghani, Denise Taylor
The World Wide Web opened the door for many organizations with international ambitions to go global. Organizations that did not have a global... Sample PDF
Going Global: A Technology Review
Chapter 28
Judy Iseke-Barnes, Deborah Danard
This chapter explores how representations of indigenous peoples on the Internet and other media are contextualized according to an outsider... Sample PDF
Indigenous Knowledges and Worldview: Representations and the Internet
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