Ba and Communities of Practice in Research and Strategic Communities as a Way Forward

Ba and Communities of Practice in Research and Strategic Communities as a Way Forward

Irma Mäkäräinen-Suni (HAAGA-HELIA & Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland) and Jianzhong Hong (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-802-4.ch004
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This chapter primarily examines the concepts of ba and communities of practice. It explores how the concepts have been used in the previous knowledge management, organizational learning, and innovation research during a decade, from the year 1999 until 2009. The reviewed studies show that both concepts have been used in various industries and in various knowledge creation and knowledge sharing situations. The similarities and differences of concepts are compared, and the concept of strategic communities is proposed as a way forward in future research and practice in terms of ba and communities of practice. The chapter includes also a comparative view of each concept, in which its major contributions, limitations and complementary nature are highlighted.
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Since the book Knowledge-creating Company (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995), the concept of knowledge creation and the significance of its social processes have become well known for knowledge management academies and practitioners. Emphasis on the Japanese concept of ba also increasingly attracted the attention of Western researchers due to its usefulness in explaining a deeper and broader mechanism for knowledge creation, transfer and sharing. However, knowledge is very much context-specific, and what we know is often and closely associated with what we do. If ba is a useful concept in general, the concept of communities of practice leads knowledge management enterprise towards a more specific context of organizations. Communities of practice are, however, criticized for being under stable cultural conditions and suffering from inflexibility in innovation within a fixed organizational boundary (e.g. Hakkarainen et al., 2004). Strategic communities, based on ba and communities of practice, has emerged as a basis for coping with market change and innovation in unpredictable and volatile business environments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Tacit Knowledge: Is described as knowledge that cannot be codified. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that comprises experience and work knowledge that resides only with the individual.

Knowledge Creation: The formation of new knowledge and ideas through interactions between explicit and tacit knowledge. See also SECI model.

Ba: Ba should be understood as a multiple interacting mechanism explaining tendencies for interactions that occur at a specific time and space instead of thinking of ba in an easier way as a physical space such as a meeting room. Ba can emerge in individuals, working groups, project teams, informal circles, temporary meetings, virtual space such as e-mail groups, and at the front-line contact with the customer. Ba is an existential place where participants share their contexts and create new meanings though interactions. Participants of ba bring in their own contexts, and through interactions with others and the environment, the context of ba , participants, and the environment change.

Strategic Communities (SCs): Are based on the concepts of ba and communities of practice The concept can be defined as ”both emergent and strategic, a collaborative, inter-organizational relationship that is associated with creative yet strategic thinking and action in an ongoing process, as in arrangements such as strategic alliances, joint ventures, consortia, associations, and roundtables …”. Strategic communities can exist within a global organization and/or between organizations for fast and collaborative innovation in an environment beset with uncertainties, where predictions are difficult to make and management is searching for valid strategies.

Knowledge Sharing: Sharing knowledge with other people, exchanging knowledge. Knowledge sharing can happen through face-to-face interaction (tacit knowledge) or through codified knowledge exchange (explicit knowledge). Also systems and tools to facilitate knowledge sharing are being created.

Communities of Practice: Groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise. Communities of practice can be, for example, engineers engaged in deep-water drilling, consultants who specialize in strategic marketing, or frontline managers in charge of check processing at a large commercial bank.

Explicit Knowledge: Is codified knowledge, and can be codified, documented, transferred, shared, and communicated between people.

SECI model: Explains the process of knowledge creation through conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge. The model consists of four stages, namely Socialization (from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge), Externalization (from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge), Combination (from explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge), and Internalization (from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge).

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