Measuring the Dimensions of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge: Enhancing Knowledge Management

Measuring the Dimensions of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge: Enhancing Knowledge Management

Michael A. Chilton (Kansas State University, USA) and James M. Bloodgood (Kansas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch107
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Knowledge is created, stored, transferred, and used at all levels of an organization in an attempt to achieve the goals of the organization. The organization’s performance is strongly influenced by the extent to which the appropriate knowledge is available and utilized by those who need it (Badaracco, 1991). The knowledge must also be aligned with an organization’s innovation position and product/market position in order to establish an effective strategy (McDonough, Zack, Lin, & Berdrow, 2008). Thus, organizations engage in a variety of methods of knowledge management in order to make available the knowledge that is needed. However, even when knowledge is available it is not always accessed by organization members (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Planning for the appropriate use of knowledge by organization members becomes very important (Flores, Catalanello, Rau, and Saxena, 2008). Some organization members may prefer or rely on certain types of knowledge rather than accessing all of the appropriate types of knowledge. This can result in suboptimal outcomes.

One knowledge characteristic that organization members may rely upon in differing amounts is its degree of tacitness. After Polanyi (1962, 1967) introduced the concept, the tacit character of knowledge has long been studied in the field of psychology and has begun to play a large role in other disciplines such as organizational behavior and management. Although success has been achieved in indirectly measuring tacit knowledge (cf. Scribner, 1986) research has not yet been conducted that aligns the degree to which individuals rely on tacit knowledge with tasks that are completed using varying degrees of tacit knowledge.

Increasing our understanding of what types of knowledge that organization members are most likely to utilize can help organizations improve their knowledge management practices. Primary reliance on either explicit or tacit knowledge, especially under varying degrees of complexity, can affect performance (van den Bos and Poletiek, 2008). For example, efforts by an organization to increase the amount of explicit knowledge that is created and made available to organization members for a particular project may be ineffective if organization members rely primarily on tacit knowledge. Instead the organization could consider increasing the amount of tacit knowledge available to the organization members or it could identify members who rely more on explicit knowledge and have them carry out the project. To do so implies that we can identify what tasks require a greater reliance on tacit knowledge to complete and which organizational members rely more on tacit and/or explicit knowledge in general.

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