Thursday, April 16, 2009

An empirical investigation of knowledge creation in electronic networks of practice (Chou & Chang, 2008)

I'm reading this paper as part of my look at social psychology inspired analysis and design of online communities.

In this paper the authors are concerned with knowledge creation in electronic networks. They describe knowledge as "information combined with experience, context, interpretation and reflection", which goes a little against the situated cognition position of knowledge as process rather than entity; however the authors go on to discuss how knowledge creation involves social and collaborative processes.

The authors present a paradox that while electronic networks allow information to be shared quickly with many other individuals, and may foster knowledge creation; the lack of directives or organizational routines in networks that span organizational boundaries may hinder efficient knowledge creation. In order to better understand the knowledge creation process in electronic networks the authors develop a series of hypotheses based on the theories of social capital (Lin, 2001) and the theory of planned behaviour (TPB; Ajzen, 1991).

They test these hypotheses by creating a questionnaire on attitudes to knowledge creation (KC). The reliability of this instrument is checked by getting responses from a mixed group of industries in Taiwan. A refined questionnaire was then distributed to members of a legal professional association that made extensive use of electronic networks, and the results from this survey were analyzed and used to create a model of the relationships between the different constructs, as shown in the diagram above.

The hypotheses in the paper are about how different constructs such as reputation and centrality of an individual affect attitudes towards KC, intention to conduct KC and KC behavior itself. The majority of the author's hypotheses are born out by the results of the survey (and an analysis based on posting logs). Some hypotheses are contradicted such as those that knowledge self-efficacy and reputation positively effect attitudes towards KC. Also, network centrality appears to impede the intention to create KC.

Overall this paper includes a rigorous approach to developing a survey instrument and analyzing it in terms of specific constructs. The approach is similar to the one I read about in Ma & Agarwal (2007) and I am guessing must be a standard approach in the business/organizational sciences. This approach clearly avoids some of the standard criticisms leveled at data collected in surveys, but it does not appear to avoid the problem that the survey results rely on self-assessment. An individual might believe they have a positive attitude to knowledge creation , but the reality may be different. Some of the constructs used rely on relatively objective analysis (i.e. centrality), so it would be beneficial to have further analysis to determine the relationship between individual's perceptions of their behaviors and actual behaviors. Also I'd like to see the actual questionnaire, but presumably it was in Taiwanese, and so there would be no simple way for me to get a feel for the "reliable constructs" expressed within it.

This paper (cited by 2 according to Google Scholar at time of this post) appears to be following in the footsteps of the highly cited Wasko & Faraj (2005) and so it would probably be instructive to read that paper.


Ajzen, I. (1991), “The Theory of Planned Behavior,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), pp. 179-211.

Lin, N. (2001), Social Capital, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Ma, M., and Agarwal, R. (2007), “Through a Glass Darkly: Information Technology Design, Identify Verification, and Knowledge Contribution in Online Communities,” Information Systems Research, 18(1), pp. 42-67.

Wasko, M. M., and Faraj, S. (2005), “Why Should I Share? Examining Social Capital and Knowledge Contribution in Electronic Networks of Practice,” MIS Quarterly, 29(1), pp. 35-57.

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