Knowledge Communities, Communities of Practice and Knowledge Networks

Knowledge Communities, Communities of Practice and Knowledge Networks

Tobias Müller-Prothmann (Free University Berlin, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-556-6.ch046
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In the last few years, the social perspective has emerged as the dominant paradigm in information and knowledge management studies. First-generation knowledge management, characterised by a technical and technological process view, has given way to new approaches that examine social dimensions of knowledge creation, transfer, and management. This shift of focus takes into account the perspective that the majority of individual knowledge transfer does not follow formal hierarchies or processes, but is instead driven by personal and informal communications. Such a social constructionist view of knowledge exchange considers not only single individuals, but also social aggregates and their structural patterns. Even so, despite a growing literature on the socially derived related concepts of knowledge communities (see, e.g., Botkin, 1999; Erickson & Kellog, 1999; 2001; Lesser, Slusher & Fontaine, 2000; Schmidt, 2000), communities of practice (see, e.g., Brown & Duguid, 1991; Lesser, 2001; Wenger, 1999), and knowledge networks (see, e.g., Collinson & Gregson, 2003; Liyanage, Greenfied & Don, 1999; Nohria & Eccles, 1992; Powell, 1998; Seufert, von Krogh & Bach, 1999), there is confusion over their conceptual and applied distinctiveness. Could it be, for example, that they are just different labels for the same phenomenon? Or are there justifiable and valid differences that demand a more careful and reflective use of terminology? This article provides basic steps to the exploration of similarities and differences between the concepts of knowledge communities, communities of practice, and knowledge networks.

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