Knowledge By Narration: The Role Of Storytelling In Knowledge Management

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View metadata, citation and similar papers at to you byCOREprovided by Stellenbosch University SUNScholar RepositoryKnowledge by Narration: The Role of Storytelling inKnowledge ManagementKgothatso Anna MamaboloThesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degreeMaster of Philosophy in Information and Knowledge Management inthe Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch UniversitySupervisor: Mr. Christiaan Hendrik MaasdorpDepartment of Information Science SULO 2014

Stellenbosch University submitting this thesis electronically, I declare that the entirety of the work containedtherein is my own, original work, that I am the owner of the copyright thereof (unless to theextent explicitly otherwise stated) and that I have not previously in its entirety or in partsubmitted it for obtaining any qualification.30 November 2013Copyright 2014 Stellenbosch UniversityAll rights reservedi

Stellenbosch University en vertellings word toenemend erken as areas van ondersoek in bestuurs- enorganisasieteorie, maar dit is moeilik om te bepaal tot watter mate dit bruikbaar is virorganisatoriese kennisbestuur. Die tesis argumenteer dat, hoewel die bestaande literatuur oororganisatoriese stories gefokus is op stories as die oordrag van kennis, dit ook bruikbaar magwees vir kennis-formalisering. Terwyl die meeste kennisbestuursisteme op eksplisiete kennisgefokus is, is die formalisering van versweë kennis, wat moeilik is om te identifiseer enbestuur, 'n groot uitdaging.Die tesis steun op Becerra-Fernandez et al. se kennisbestuursraamwerk om so die vereistesvir kennisbestuur te bepaal en spesifiek die belangrike rol van versweë kennis inorganisatoriese kennis prosesse uit te stippel. Daarna word die rol van stories in organisasiesbeskryf deur middel van 'n literatuur-oorsig wat die werk van Snowden, Denning, Boje enCzarniawska insluit. Die uitkoms van die oorsig is dat storie-vertelling in organisasieshoofsaaklik 'n informele proses is en dat pogings om dit te formaliseer nog in die beginfasesis.Die verskeie insigte oor die rol van stories in organisasies word dan teen die agtergrond vandie kennisbestuursvereistes geinterpreteer. Daar word getoon dat die storievertellingsliteratuur amper uitsluitlik konsentreer op die area van kennis-oordrag en minderso in die areas van kennis ontdekking, -formalisering en -toepassing. Omdat kennisformalisering met die eksternalisasie van versweë kennis gepaardgaan en omdat versweëkennis makliker in narratiewe vorm uitgedruk kan word, word daar geargumenteer dat storievertelling ook tot kennisbestuur kan bydrae lewer as 'n manier om kennis te formaliseer.ii

Stellenbosch University is gaining recognition as areas of inquiry in management and organisationtheory, but it is difficult to ascertain to what extent it is useful for organisational knowledgemanagement. The thesis argues that although the existing literature on organisationalstorytelling is focused on the knowledge sharing aspects of storytelling, it is also useful forknowledge capturing. Whilst most knowledge management systems focus on explicitknowledge, the capture of tacit knowledge, which is hard to identify and manage, is a majorchallenge.The thesis uses Becerra-Fernandez et al.'s knowledge management framework to establish therequirements for knowledge management, and specifically highlighting the important role oftacit knowledge in organisational knowledge processes. Thereafter the role of storytelling inorganisations is described by way of a literature review that includes the work of Snowden,Denning, Boje and Czarniawska. The outcome of this review is to show that storytelling is aninformal process in organisations and that attempts to formalise it are still in its infancy.The various insights about the role of stories in organisations are then mapped against therequirements for knowledge management. It is shown that the storytelling literature almostwholly concentrates on the area of knowledge sharing and less so in the areas of knowledgediscovery, capture and application. Since knowledge capture involves the externalisation oftacit knowledge and because tacit knowledge is more easily expressed in narrative form, it isargued that storytelling can also contribute to knowledge management as a way to captureknowledge.iii

Stellenbosch University would like to thank my mother for tirelessly encouraging me to complete this thesis. Thanksto my family and friends who motivated and prodded whenever I became despondent. Thankyou to my supervisor Christiaan Maasdorp for reassuring me that this could be done. Last butnot least, I would like to thank God because I know that without Him, this would never havebeen achieved.iv

Stellenbosch University thesis is dedicated to my late father- S.K. Mamabolo and my loving mother – C.K.Mamabolov

Stellenbosch University of Contents1.Introduction . 12.Knowledge Management Chapter . 122.1Background . 122.2Characteristics of Knowledge . 142.3 Types of knowledge . 152.3.1 Tacit or Explicit knowledge . 152.3.2 Personal knowledge approach . 192.3.3 Organizational knowledge approach . 202.3.4 Procedural or Declarative knowledge . 212.3.5 General or Specific knowledge . 212.4 Reservoirs of knowledge . 222.5 Knowledge versus Information . 232.6 Knowledge Management . 252.7 Nonaka’s knowledge conversion theory . 292.8 Becerra’s knowledge management processes model. . 302.8.1Knowledge Management Process . 312.8.1.1 Knowledge discovery . 312.8.1.2 Knowledge capture . 322.8.1.3 Knowledge sharing . 322.8.1.4 Knowledge application . 332.9 Knowledge Management Systems . 342.9.1 Knowledge discovery systems . 342.9.2 Knowledge capture systems . 35vi

Stellenbosch University Knowledge sharing systems . 362.9.4 Knowledge application systems . 362.10 Knowledge management infrastructure . 372.10.1 Physical environment . 382.10.2 Knowledge elicitation as a method for knowledge capture. 382.11 Summary of chapter . 3934Storytelling chapter . 413.1Why storytelling? . 433.2Storytelling in organizations . 483.3Storytelling and Tacit knowledge . 503.4Snowden on storytelling . 513.5Denning on storytelling . 583.6Boje on storytelling . 643.7Czarniawska on storytelling . 673.8Summary of chapter . 70The role of storytelling in knowledge management . 734.1 Becerra’s framework in relation to tacit knowledge and story. 744.2 Becerra-Fernandez outlines the key roles of a story in relation to the KnowledgeManagement Framework. . 784.3 Denning on the role of storytelling in knowledge management. . 814.3.1 A story that ignited action in knowledge-era organizations. . 824.4 Snowden on the role of storytelling in knowledge management. . 854.5 Boje on storytelling in organisations . 904.6 Czarniawska on storytelling in organisations . 914.7 Summary of chapter . 925Conclusion . 946Bibliography . 100vii

Stellenbosch University IntroductionThe hardest part of knowledge management is to extract and acquire tacit knowledge frompeople in a structured deliberate form that can be used for business improvement. Theimportance of using metaphors and stories as mechanisms for capturing and transferring tacitknowledge is increasingly being brought to the attention of organizations. In the past fewyears there has been an ongoing interest in storytelling as a component of knowledgemanagement, but it has never really become a major focus. Only a few modern organizationswhich are characterized by a strong need for collaboration consider the significant role thatstories can play in supporting collaboration. Unlike knowledge management, storytelling fororganizational management has not been studied extensively. The role of stories inknowledge management is narrowly understood and thus far, has not been explored to its fullpotential in most literary studies. It is in line with these observations that this thesis has beenformulated.The main objective of the thesis is to attempt to answer the question of whether there is a rolefor narratives in knowledge management. The core question for the thesis is; can stories andstorytelling support the successful implementation of knowledge management in the modernbusiness environment. The context of the thesis is that there is a great potential role forstories in knowledge management. From a theoretical and practical view point, knowledgemanagement is fundamentally about creating and sharing explicit and tacit knowledge forenhanced value of organisational processes. Of the two types of knowledge, tacit knowledgeis the most difficult to manage, evaluate and measure because it is not tangible. The majorityof literature and methodologies for the management of knowledge are technologically basedand do not entirely support the tacit aspect of knowledge management. The use of technologyin knowledge management is geared at reports, emails, documents which are all supportive ofexplicit knowledge. Knowledge sharing technologies are still concentrated on explicitknowledge instead of the sharing of tacit knowledge. Most organisational knowledge sharingprogrammes do not incorporate the value of getting people together to talk and communicateface to face on what they know about what they are working on, thus do not support telling ofstories as an organizational management tool. Many organisations which have embraced theconcept of the knowledge economy realize the value of tacit knowledge, however, most of1

Stellenbosch University have not yet figured out how to get the most value out of the tacit knowledge possessedby the employees. The lack of storytelling literature studies and limited literature searcheswhen conducting research for the thesis demonstrates and confirms that organisations havenot realized the value of stories and those that have embraced organisational stories do nothave formalized storytelling processes and that the methodologies still need to be developedor improved.The first sub-objective of the thesis is to analyze the role of storytelling from the point ofview of, and in relation to Becerra-Fernandez’s1 knowledge management frameworksolution of knowledge management. The view point of storytelling is examined through theliterature of Stephen Denning and Dave Snowden who are both known for their interest andfocus in storytelling for organizational management. David Boje and Barbara Czarniawskaare briefly acknowledged for their story types, but not elaborated on in the thesis althoughthey have both studied and shown an interest in the evolution of storytelling in organizations,because they do not cover storytelling from a knowledge management perspective.Denning is widely known and quoted with regard to the Springboard story which hedeveloped, named and utilized during his involvement in knowledge management and changemanagement at the World Bank. While Denning has more recent publications based on hisevolving understanding of storytelling as an emerging discipline, it is in his first book TheSpringboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations2 where hecaptured experiences that represent the foundation of his interest in storytelling as amanagement tool, and that is frequently referred to in acknowledgement of his contribution toorganizational storytelling.Snowden similarly, is quoted widely in literature and journal articles for his contribution andcontinued attempt to understand and highlight the importance of storytelling in organizationsspecifically in the management of knowledge. Snowden is described as an expert on tacitknowledge and one of the most perceptive observers of the way in which knowledge is usedin organizations. Snowden has also researched extensively on stories and storytelling in theorganizational context and within knowledge management. His article Story Telling: An OldSkill in a New Context, which was originally published in Business Review3 amongst his1Becerra-Fernandez,, 2004.Denning, S.3Snowden, D. 199922

Stellenbosch University published articles which bring to light the role of storytelling in knowledgemanagement, will form a substantial part of the literature examined in this thesis. He is thefounder of Cognitive Edge, a research network focussing on the application of complexitytheory in sense making.Boje is considered one of the leading scholars of organizational storytelling. He coined theterm “ante narrative” and the concept has become one of his most significant contributions toorganizational storytelling research. Czarniawska is known for her contributions to narrativeanalysis in anthropology of organizations. She has an interest in methodology, fieldworktechniques and in the application of narratology to organizational studies. Becerra’sbook on Knowledge Management challenges, solutions and technologies forms the basis ofdiscussion and examination of storytelling in knowledge management as it breaks downknowledge management processes and systems into components which are easier to studyand discuss individually. The book also focuses on the use of stories in organizations andhow that can be aligned to knowledge management.The second sub-objective of the thesis endeavours to define whether there is a role for storiesin knowledge management, in the context of Nonaka’s theory of knowledge conversionmodel known as the SECI model4. The interplay between explicit and tacit knowledge andhow that impacts the flow of knowledge in organisations is explored in detail as this formsthe foundation of the thesis, and also because tacit knowledge is essential for exchange ofnarrative. Although Nonaka’s model is not purely about narrative or stories, but rather aboutthe process of knowledge creation, it is a relevant basis for discussing management of tacitknowledge – which encompasses storytelling in organisations. The context of which is howtacit knowledge is managed in relation to telling stories in organisations.Part of becoming a member of an institution or organization is learning to tell the stories ofthat institution, and learning to tell your own stories in a way that is coherent with those ofthat group. Part of what one needs to know to be a member is what the stories of the group4Nonaka and Takeuchi propose a model of the knowledge creating process in order to understand and managethe dynamic process of knowledge creation. The model is known as the SECI model. The model is based on thespiral of knowledge where tacit and explicit knowledge interact in a continuous spiral process to create newknowledge. The main theme of the model is that if knowledge held by individuals is shared continuously, then itleads to interconnection and the creation of new knowledge. The model is divided up into four quadrants madeup of socialization, externalization, combination and internalization which all deal with the interplay betweentacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. The SECI model has the benefit of providing a framework formanagement of tacit and explicit knowledge and appreciates the dynamic nature of knowledge and knowledgecreation.3

Stellenbosch University, what past events are judged to have relevance to the present, what values the storiesexemplify and when is it appropriate to tell them. This is one very important way that peopletake on the values of the institution as their own. When participants bring a willingness tolearn and engage in a process of collective imagining, a story can return the favour and carrythem to a place where they can see new meaning for their work and lives5. Storytellingenables the management of large organizations to spring to a higher level of understanding sothat the idea of knowledge sharing emerges in the collective consciousness as something thatthe organization obviously has to do. A story such as the Springboard story enables anaudiences’ leap in understanding so they can grasp how an organization or community orcomplex system may change6.The subsequent objective is about exploring why storytelling can be used as a tool inknowledge management. This thesis will explore ways of leveraging knowledge that residesin people’s minds using Becerra et al.’s knowledge management processes of knowledgediscovery, knowledge capture, knowledge sharing and knowledge application and KMsystems and the role of these components in supporting organizational use of narrative.Because storytelling has been around since time immemorial it has an enormous ability tocommunicate and share knowledge across vast distances over long periods of time, making ita low cost natural way of transferring knowledge in any situation7. This ability and power ofstorytelling has not yet been tapped into by a lot of organisations. Sharing experiences andknowledge through stories is not yet acknowledged in many organisations as a powerful wayto exchange and consolidate knowledge.Knowledge management would benefit from the use of stories for the simple reason thatstories work as a knowledge management tool.8 Purposeful storytelling can achieve results inthe modern organisation that traditional abstract modes of communication cannot9. Denningand Snowden’s use of stories in organisational management is explored in order to highlightthe potential benefit to knowledge management. The Springboard story which led toDenning’s interest in the role of stories in organisations will be examined in relation toBecerra-Fernandez’s solutions framework of knowledge management. The story of theZambian worker of the World Bank is used to show the interchange between the different5Denning, S. 2004 2Denning, S. 2001 1997Snowden, D. 1999 -why-storytelling.html9Snowden, D. 1999 30-3764

Stellenbosch University of knowledge and highlight the importance of knowledge capture, knowledge sharingand making knowledge accessible over vast geographical distances. Snowden’s experiencesand studies in the knowledge management field are also elaborated on to show the role ofstories in knowledge sharing, knowledge capture and knowledge transfer. His work inknowledge management and stories and work on the role of Communities of Practice in thecapture and sharing on knowledge is acknowledged. How these stories can play a role inknowledge management will be discussed at length in the thesis.Storytelling is a collaboration tool and modern day organisations need to collaborate in orderto stay competitive. Sharing experiences through narrative builds trust, cultivates norms,transfer tacit knowledge, facilitates learning and generates emotional connections. Stories arerelevant for communicating complex knowledge within organisations which may includeawareness of values and norms, or solutions to workable problems10. Organizationalstorytelling is an emerging discipline in the study of management, strategy and organizationalstudies. It is seen as a powerful managerial tool and a key competency for the 21st century.Knowing how to deliver a story effectively combined with knowing the right story to tell, is apowerful communication influencing skill. It can be used to connect employees to strategy byproviding understanding, belief and motivation in the personal contribution that employeescan make.In organizations people tell stories all the time and in most cases they are not even aware ofdoing that. Purposeful stories, which are told with a deliberate objective in mind, canaccelerate learning and communication amongst members of an organisation11 Stories conveymeaning and convey tacit knowledge. Stories allow people to share and transfer what is intheir heads, information that is not codified and that communicates best practice. It is claimedthat narratives, in particular storytelling, fulfil multiple functions in knowledge management,such as effectively distributing uncodified knowledge and organic problem-solvingcompetencies,12 generating “thick descriptions” of contexts, thereby providing actors with anadequate understanding of the complex nature of practical solutions, thus setting up the basisfor actionable knowing. Stories enhance learning and knowledge management is aboutlearning.10Snowden, D. 1999 30-37Snowden, D. 1999 30-3712Swap, W. Et al. 2001115

Stellenbosch University thesis supports the statement by Snowden that “storytelling is an old technology withmodern use.”13 Modern organisations are required to come to grips with the knowledge inpeople’s heads so as to use it for their competitive advantage. This is more so in the case ofexperts leaving the organisation with the intellectual capital they have gained during theirwork in that organisation. Essential methodologies should be developed to ensure that theintellectual capital remains within the organisations because allowing these experts to tellstories of their work is one of the ways to draw on the intellectual capital. Telling of storiesdraws on aspects of human nature of which we are barely aware and makes use of a deliverysystem that is as old as civilisation itself14. Storytelling is technology free and does notrequire investment in hardware or software as it is essentially about capturing tacitknowledge that resides in people’s heads. Storytelling is the ultimate low-cost high-returntechnology15 because when you capture knowledge in people’s heads, what is required isinteraction which is in the form of face to face collaboration or virtual collaboration whichstill involves exchange of tacit knowledge. In addition purposeful storytelling can reach alarge number of people very rapidly. Purposeful storytelling is a powerful mechanism forensuring that knowledge is shared within an organisation and this is acknowledged as part ofthis thesis.Denning and Snowden define organizational stories as detailed narrative of past managementactions, employee interactions or other intra- or extra- organizational events that arecommunicated informally within organizations. Denning and Snowden concur that storiesplay a significant role in organizations characterized by a strong need for collaboration andthat includes just about every organization that would want to succeed in the current businessenvironment. Stories can be useful in the following four situations: new unexpectedsituations, situations that require feelings as well as thoughts, complex situations andsituations where you need to help people “why”16. Stories are seen as being at the centre of anorganization.The knowledge management chapter provides an intensive view of the discipline, itscharacteristics and evolution. Various well known authors in the field – such as Peter DruckerDavid Skyrme, Ikujiro Nonaka and Karl Wiig are highlighted in order to provide a more13Snowden, D. 1999 146

Stellenbosch University view of knowledge management and set the foundation for the alignment ofcharacteristics and qualities of knowledge management to that of storytelling. Knowledge isexplored in the context of the types of knowledge that have been identified, where it can befound in organisations as well as how it is defined against information. In the context of thethesis knowledge management is defined at a high level as managing the corporation’sknowledge through a systematically and organizationally specified process for acquiring,organizing, sustaining, applying, sharing and renewing both the tacit and explicit knowledgeof employees to enhance organizational performance and create value17. The subsequentchapter on knowledge management provides a more detailed view of this definition.Knowledge management is about applying the collective knowledge of teams to achievespecific organisational goals. Knowledge management is understood and based on the ideathat an organisation’s most valuable resource is the knowledge of its people.Knowledge management is not about managing all knowledge, as that is not possible, butrather about managing only the knowledge that is strategically important to the organisation.It is fundamentally about ensuring that people have knowledge when they need it, where theyneed it, how they need it. Thus – people being able to access the right knowledge, in the rightplace at the right time. What knowledge management does is to establish an environment thatis conducive for the creation, sharing of both tacit and explicit knowledge, for purposes oflearning and use of knowledge for the benefit of the organisation and all who work in it.Knowledge management helps organizations find, select, organize, disseminate, and transferimportant information and expertise necessary for business activities.There are many definitions of knowledge management out there and if one had to conduct asearch on the internet one would come up with over 340000 hits, making knowledgemanagement a discipline that is broad and difficult to define narrowly. Peter Drucker18 whommany consider as the father of knowledge ma

knowledge, the capture of tacit knowledge, which is hard to identify and manage, is a major challenge. The thesis uses Becerra-Fernandez et al.'s knowledge management framework to establish the requirements for knowledge management, and specifically highlighting the important role of tacit knowledge in organisational knowledge processes.

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