Virtual Communities of Practice: A Mechanism for Efficient Knowledge Retrieval in MNCs

Virtual Communities of Practice: A Mechanism for Efficient Knowledge Retrieval in MNCs

Jens Gammelgaard (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-070-7.ch019
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Abstract

In geographically dispersed organizations, like multinational corporations (MNCs), contextual gaps exist between senders and receivers of knowledge. Employee socialization resulting from physical proximity facilitates contextualization of the transferred knowledge. However, in MNCs most knowledge transfers take place through virtual communication media. We investigate the phenomenon of virtual communities of practice, and propose them to be efficient for individual’s knowledge retrieval as participation in such communities reduces the contextual gaps between senders and receivers of knowledge. However, the organization must provide a knowledge-sharing friendly culture, and an institutional protectionism, in order to establish the required level of swift trust within the virtual community.
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Introduction

This article focuses on virtual communities of practices, and whether participation in such forums improves knowledge retrieval processes by overcoming problems of contextual gaps between the sender and the receiver of knowledge. Most multinational corporations (MNCs) have invested heavily in computer systems that help employees to easily download documents, but problems still arise when the searched knowledge is removed from its context and thereby loses some or all of its meaning to the reader. This article, though, differentiates the conventional wisdom that employee socialization, resulting from physical proximity that facilitates contextualization and trust building processes allows transfer of complex and tacit knowledge, (Cohendet, Kern, Mehmanpazir, & Muier, 1999; Constant, Kiesler, & Sproull, 1994; Granovetter, 1972; Hansen, 1999; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) as in the case of communities of practice (Brown & Duguid, 1991, Wenger, 1998). Here, we point to the fact that proximity is seldom the case of the MNC—having operations spanning the globe—which makes most communication “global rather than local” (Li et al., 2007). This article, therefore, questions whether knowledge retrieval can be efficient in a virtual setting, given the context of an MNC. The description of knowledge retrieval, and knowledge transfer processes in general, are well established, and likewise the analyses and surveys of these processes in communities of practices. However, this article contributes by investigating these matters in the context of the MNC and the impact of knowledge retrieval processes when they take place in a virtual context.

The topic of knowledge retrieval is central to MNCs when they, to give one example, intend to implement best practices throughout the organization as it requires the application of knowledge from one context to another (Grant, 2005; Hornett & Stein, 2007). The question is which Knowledge Management strategy best fits knowledge retrieval. Typically, MNCs either practices socialization or codification strategies (Hansen, 1999). Hornett and Stein (2007) confirm this established fact because their survey company focused on the social or the technological part respectively, but seldom the combination of the two, that is, the sociotechnical orientation. Hornett and Stein further vary the debate with the finding of the company’s attention paid to the knowledge transfer per se more than the usefulness of the transferred knowledge. Adding to this finding, we believe that MNC managers can benefit from this article, as we theorize on the underlying mechanism for efficient utilization of transferred knowledge, that is, the establishment of a forum where knowledge is retrieved correctly. This issue has been investigated in proxy environments, but we discuss the efficiency of a sociotechnical Knowledge Management strategy, in this case a virtual communities of practice. This contributes to a recent debate in this journal, where Bartczak, Turner, and England (2007) survey of the Knowledge Management strategy of the US Air Force Material Command showed the difficulties of leveraging the otherwise efficient communities of practice in a virtual context, and Vizcaino, Soto, Portillo-Rodriguez, and Piattini (2007) arguing that technological solutions seldom take into account the fundamental problems of transferring knowledge. Contrarily, Cheuk (2007) reports how the British Council has established sense-making processes in a virtual context by initiating social networks. This article taps into this debate and contributes to this area of research because it examines the pros and cons of virtual communities of practice in regard to knowledge retrieval.

The article proceeds in the following order: Section Two provides an overview of the knowledge retrieval process, followed by discussions of communities of practice and virtual communities of practice in the next two sections. Thereafter, knowledge retrieval is analyzed in the context of virtual communities and this discussion leads to the formulation of propositions. Conclusions are drawn in the final section.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Knowledge Management and Virtual Organizations
Chapter 1
Fernando Garrigos
This chapter presents the interrelationships between professional virtual communities and social networks, and analyzes how, and in what ways, these... Sample PDF
Interrelationships Between Professional Virtual Communities and Social Networks, and the Importance of Virtual Communities in Creating and Sharing Knowledge
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Chapter 2
Luis V. Casaló
The rapid growth of virtual communities has created a new interest in researchers. Indeed, understanding these communities is especially relevant... Sample PDF
The Role of Trust, Satisfaction, and Communication in the Development of Participation in Virtual Communities
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Chapter 3
Cesar Camison
Organisations are finding it more difficult to keep abreast with the pace of change. The continuous rise of business opportunities and the increase... Sample PDF
Can Virtual Networks Encourage Knowledge Absorptive Capacity?
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Chapter 4
Montserrat Boronat Navarro
In this study we adopt an inter-organizational view to examine virtual organizations. Thus, we understand this phenomenon as a strategic agreement... Sample PDF
Knowledge Integration Through Inter-Organizational Virtual Organizations
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Chapter 5
Mark E. Nissen
In today’s increasingly networked world of organizational practice, information and computer technologies are enabling people and organizations to... Sample PDF
Visualizing Knowledge Networks and Flows to Enhance Organizational Metacognition in Virtual Organizations
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Chapter 6
Eduardo Bueno Campos
The aim of this chapter is to deepen the concept of ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoPs) from the understanding of a reference framework for knowledge... Sample PDF
Model on Knowledge-Governance: Collaboration Focus and Communities of Practice
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Chapter 7
Josep Capó-Vicedo
This chapter highlights the necessity of establishing relationships with other companies and external agents in order to empower the creation and... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management in SMEs Clusters
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Chapter 8
Raquel Sanchis
This chapter presents a general overview of the relationships between information and communications technologies (ITCs) and the process of... Sample PDF
Tools for Supporting Knowledge Management: Knowledge Internalization Through E-Learning
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Chapter 9
Cesar Camison, Carlos Devece, Daniel Palacios, Carles Camisón-Haba
In this chapter we describe a practical tool useful to managing knowledge in the firm. It has already been introduced and tested in several firms... Sample PDF
The Value of Virtual Networks for Knowledge Management: A Tool for Practical Development
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Chapter 10
M. Eugenia Fabra, Cesar Camison
Companies are increasingly conscious of the fact that the achieving of their objectives, together with the improvement of their competitive... Sample PDF
Human Capital and E-Learning: Developing Knowledge Through Virtual Networks
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Chapter 11
Júlio Da Costa Mendes
This chapter looks to analyse new paradigms in the relationship between public and private organisations towards tourism destinations. It proposes... Sample PDF
The Development of Knowledge and Information Networks in Tourism Destinations
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Chapter 12
E. Claver-Cortés
Government agencies are being pressed to become more efficient. For this reason, e-government strategies result from the expectations from society... Sample PDF
E-Government Challenges: Barriers and Facilitators in Spanish City Councils
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Chapter 13
Hindupur Ramakrishna
The chapter presents a conceptual framework that identifies technological and organizational factors that impact the success of business analytics... Sample PDF
Business Analytics Success: A Conceptual Framework and an Application to Virtual Organizing
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Chapter 14
Andrew Targowski
This chapter provides theoretical analysis and synthesis of how computer applications are applied in problem-solving and decision-making in practice... Sample PDF
The Evolution from Data to Wisdom in Decision-Making at the Level of Real and Virtual Networks
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Chapter 15
Editor Conclusions  (pages 278-279)
Cesar Camison
The study of virtual organizations encompasses several research fields, and the variables involved in each of them are sometimes closely related.... Sample PDF
Editor Conclusions
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Chapter 16
Andrew P. Sage, Cynthia T. Small
This chapter describes a complex adaptive systems (CAS)-based enterprise knowledge-sharing (KnS) model. The CAS-based enterprise KnS model consists... Sample PDF
A Complex Adaptive Systems-Based Enterprise Knowledge Sharing Model
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Chapter 17
James G. Williams, Kai A. Olsen
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened competition in the telecommunications market in the U.S. and forced the incumbent telecommunications... Sample PDF
Developing a Telecommunication Operation Support Systems (OSS): The Impact of a Change in Network Technology
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Chapter 18
Tor Guimaraes
Emerging agent-based systems offer new means of effectively addressing complex decision processes and enabling solutions to business requirements... Sample PDF
Enabling the Virtual Organization with Agent Technology
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Chapter 19
Jens Gammelgaard
In geographically dispersed organizations, like multinational corporations (MNCs), contextual gaps exist between senders and receivers of knowledge.... Sample PDF
Virtual Communities of Practice: A Mechanism for Efficient Knowledge Retrieval in MNCs
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About the Contributors