Importance of Communities of Practice in Knowledge Management Implementations
The aim of this research study was to identify the key elements of implementation of Knowledge Management solutions in any organization in the light of rapid changes in technology, business processes and human resources management. The study approach was to initially define all key terms and concepts in Knowledge Management very clearly and distinctly so that there is absolutely no overlapping and confusion with the terminology.
An extensive Literature Review was conducted to garner secondary data on the subject. The Literature Review followed the course of differentiation between data, information and knowledge to reach the definition of organization knowledge. The journey thereafter took the path of distinguishing and identifying the explicit and implicit aspects of knowledge that led to the ‘technology track’ and the ‘people track’ of Knowledge Management.
The Literature Review was instrumental in pinpointing the Community of Practice as the entity through which the people track or human aspect of Knowledge Management could be effectively implemented. It delved into a thorough analysis of the concept of Community of Practice detailing its characteristics, structure and functioning. The Literature Review also revealed how organizations could nurture Communities of Practice to their full potential so that knowledge becomes the business ace for the organization.
To complement and practically verify the findings of the Literature Review a case study of a security agency – Kaplan Security Private Limited – was undertaken in the form of extensive personal interviews with three senior managers of the company. This was further augmented by empirical data from a sample survey of 100 employees of the security agency.
Comparing and contrasting the primary and secondary data showed that the Community of Practice is practically a very crucial element of any Knowledge Management solution. In spite of intensive implementation of ICT applications and infrastructure, the Kaplan security Agency has been suffering from repeated knowledge crisis and dismal business performance because of its failure to address the human aspect of Knowledge Management through the nurturing and full utilization of the potential of Communities of Practice within the organization. The study has also found that strong indications existence of Communities of Practice within the Kaplan security agency. All that is required is to harness their utility through their incorporation in the Knowledge Management strategy of the organization.
1.1. Purpose of the Chapter
This introductory chapter presents the aim of the research work, the foundation stones and the rationale on which this study on assessing the importance of Communities of Practice in Knowledge Management implementations is based. Its purpose is to familiarize the reader with the main theme and the related core issues of the work. This chapter is rounded off by outlining the structure of subsequent chapters.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution has swept through the world in the last two decades. Computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web have changed the way in which we work, enjoy ourselves, think and live. ICT has penetrated into almost all nooks and corners of the world and pervaded every sphere of work and walk of life. The effect of ICT has been most profound on businesses – in the manner in which they are conducted and in the opening up of new avenues to maximize profits.
Information management systems have been developed to make all relevant information instantly and easily available wherever required. This has greatly aided decision making, planning and execution of all business processes. Online transactions, buying and selling have done away with the age-old constraints of geographical location and terrain. Remote access has made it possible for people situated in different parts of the world to work together in virtual teams.
In spite of the unprecedented development in technology however, there are indications that human resources remain as valuable as ever. Technology alone leads up blind alleys to nowhere. It is the human factor that is essential and imperative to lend technology the cutting edge.
This becomes all the more evident when we cross the frontiers of ICT which is more concerned with the creation, organization, management and communication of information, into the realms of Knowledge Management (KM) where the focus is not only on information which can be manipulated by computers and their peripherals but on knowledge which transcends even the awesome capabilities of the modern computer. It is in the domain of Knowledge Management that inherent human and machine capabilities have to act in perfect synergy and complement each other to the maximum to derive desired results.
Sveiby (2001) states that Knowledge Management comprises of two functional aspects: the Technology Aspect and the Management of People Aspect. He terms them as the ‘IT (Information Technology) Track’ and the ‘People Track’ respectively. While the IT Track deals with the data and information-related factors and is primarily handled by the Information Technology people usually headed by the IT manager; the ‘People Track’ of Knowledge Management falls outside the domain of IT, and according to Lesser & Storck ((2001), is largely a concern of human resources management or people management. The ‘People Track’ of Knowledge Management concentrates of sharing of knowledge by building up what are known as ‘Communities of Practice’.
Put very simply, a Community of Practice is a group of people who share similar goals and interests. They employ common practices, work with the same tools and express themselves in a shared vocabulary (Wenger, 1998). This paper however refers to the organizational Community of Practice which is defined by Gongla & Rizutto (2001) as “knowledge networks, referred to as institutionalized, informal networks of professionals managing domains of knowledge (organizational)”. Communities of Practice are instrumental in fostering knowledge development and creative interactions among members. They are a key element in the learning organization.
To examine the practical importance of Communities of Practice in the knowledge management endeavour of organizations, and in keeping with the global proliferation of ICT, a security agency, the Kaplan Security Private Limited of Bangalore in India, was taken up as a case study. The Kaplan Security Agency was established in 1993 with an approximate workforce of 800 personnel. Though the agency had initially flourished, it had experienced a slump in between primarily due to stiff competition from new entrants into the field. These new businesses relied more on ICT infrastructure and applications resulting in better management of information, human resources and domain knowledge. Realizing its drawback, the Kaplan security agency too started its own ICT implementations from the turn of the century. Though the endeavour has shown appreciable results in information management, flow, availability and accessibility; generation and transfer of knowledge have always remained problem areas. It has suffered repeatedly from migration of manpower which inevitable leaves the organization in a knowledge crisis every time. This results in loss of reputation and business for the agency. Kaplan Security Private Limited was studied in detail and a survey of its key personnel concerned was conducted to obtain empirical data on the level and stage of knowledge management implementation.
1.2. Aim and Objectives
The aim of this study was to assess the comparative importance of the technology and human aspect of Knowledge Management in the generation and transfer of knowledge within an organization. This research study examined the role that Knowledge Management could play in the proper functioning of any business enterprise, not necessarily an ICT concern, and the balance between the human and technology aspects that has to be achieved to make Knowledge Management a practical and working proposition.
The primary objectives of this research study were to:
i. Critically review specific areas in the research to achieve the aim. This consisted of identifying the areas in which research was required. It was found that the focus in knowledge management was almost entirely on ICT infrastructure and information management not on the human aspect of knowledge management as such. Available relevant literature on the subject was reviewed to identify the gaps for setting the objectives of the study.
ii. Collect Primary Data on the subject through a research strategy such as a survey. Analysing the collected empirical data for distinct patterns and trends.
iii. Collate Secondary Data on the subject. This involved obtaining data through the process of the Literature Review and analysing the data to reach findings.
iv. Critically compare and contrast the findings of the Primary and Secondary Data on knowledge management implementations.
v. Analyse the difference between the Primary and Secondary data to garner the evidence and reach the findings.
1.4. Research Questions
The following research questions were raised in order to achieve the aim and objectives of the paper:
Research Question 1: What does the term ‘Knowledge Management’ imply in practical implementation?
Research Question 2: What are the key concepts associated with Knowledge Management?
Research Question 3: How is knowledge differentiated from data and information?
Research Question 4: What roles do the technology factor and the human factor play in knowledge management implementations?
Research Question 5: How is the human aspect practically incorporated into knowledge management implementation strategies?
Both qualitative and quantitative data was obtained. The approach sought to take into consideration both the technology and the people aspects of Knowledge Management. An extensive review of relevant literature was conducted to gather evidence of practices and trends of knowledge management implementations. The literature review attempted to clear all ambiguities in the concept of knowledge management and defined it in terms of both the technology aspect and the human aspect. It provided answers to many of the basic questions that are associated with the research subject. It also helped in identifying the gaps in current research on the subject, and narrowed down the focus of the research to specific areas of importance, primarily revolving around the development and implementation of Communities of Practice.
The concept of the Community of Practice was clearly defined through the literature review along with other key concepts such as Organizational Knowledge. The literature review attempted to establish the inter-functional relationships between knowledge management, organizational knowledge, communities of practice and ICT infrastructure and applications in knowledge management implementations.
The case study of the Kaplan Security Private Limited provided the primary data for comparison with the data sourced from the Literature Review. Comparative analysis of the findings of the literature review and the case study led to the conclusions derived from the research study.
1.6. Dissertation Structure
The dissertation is structured along the following chapters:
1. Introduction: It provides the foundation and rationale behind the study, and acquaints readers with its aims and objectives.
2. Literary Review: The Literature Review begins with a comparative analysis of the definition of Knowledge vis-à-vis data and information. This leads to the concept of Organizational Knowledge which is defined in terms of Explicit and Implicit knowledge. The Literature Review then examines what the term Knowledge Management exactly refers to. The extent of applicability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Knowledge Management is examined in detail. The examination reveals that human resources management plays a greater role in Knowledge Management than Information Technology (IT) or ICT management. Further review of literature related to the ‘People track’ or human aspect of management for knowledge creation and maintenance leads to the concept of Communities of Practice as the central entity of Knowledge Management. Thereafter, the Literature Review concentrates exclusively on Communities of Practice and its different aspects.
3. Methodology: Chapter Three introduces and examines the research design and methodology used. The chapter opens with a discussion of the philosophical assumptions, which underpin the research. This is followed by a detailed discussion as to the research methods used, their rationale and how they were developed and implemented. The final part of the chapter describes, in detail, the data collection and analysis techniques used in this research.
4. Findings and Analysis: Chapter Four focuses on the findings from the research methods used and presents the evidence informed by the results from the questionnaire-based survey conducted on a sample population of 50 key personnel of the Kaplan security agency. It includes analyses and interpretations of the data. This is followed by discussion of the findings.
5. Conclusions: This final fifth chapter the conclusions of the study from inferences based on comparison of primary and secondary data. This chapter also evaluates the extent to which the study has been successful in meeting its designated aim and objectives, and in answering the research questions that were raised initially in the study.
2.1. Purpose of the Chapter
This chapter critically reviews relevant literature on knowledge management and knowledge management implementation strategies. The purpose of this chapter is to initially define in clear terms the concept of knowledge management and other related key terms and expressions from a practical point of view.
The primary function of the literature review is to identify the gaps in the current literature that need to be filled up, and in the process to zero in on a key element of knowledge management that need to be taken up for research.. A step-by-step decomposition of the broad subject matter of knowledge management to the focus of the study on Community of Practice has been adopted in this chapter.
Finally, the literature review defines the scope and extent of the research study.
2.2. Outline of Chapter Structure
The Literature Review begins with a comparative analysis of the definition of Knowledge vis-à-vis data and information. This leads to the concept of Organizational Knowledge which is defined in terms of Explicit and Implicit knowledge. The Literature Review then examines what the term Knowledge Management exactly refers to. This section concentrates on dispelling all confusions and ambiguities over Knowledge Management and Information Management. The extent of applicability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Knowledge Management is examined in detail. The examination reveals that human resources management plays a greater role in Knowledge Management than Information Technology (IT) or ICT management. Further review of literature related to the ‘People track’ or human aspect of management for knowledge creation and maintenance leads to the concept of Communities of Practice as the central entity of Knowledge Management. Thereafter, the Literature Review concentrates exclusively on Communities of Practice and its different aspects such as characteristics, structure, functions, stages of development and relationship with the host organization. Finally, the literature on sustaining and nurturing Communities of Practice is reviewed with the objective of finding out the ideal conditions for creation, development, dissemination and maintenance of knowledge.
2.3.1. Defining Knowledge
According to Barnes (2001), data, information and knowledge can be defined as various stages of sophistication of the same raw material – facts. He states that data is observation of facts without any associated context. When data is processed and brought within a meaningful context, it becomes information. When value is added to information, it attains the next and highest level of sophistication and is termed knowledge. Knowledge is therefore ‘information plus’ or information to which experience, context, interpretation and reflection are added within a very highly contextual environment. Knowledge is information that is made ready for use by the human mind. From the organizational perspective, knowledge is viewed as a high-value form of information that is ready to be applied to decisions and actions within organizations (Davenport 1998).
Knowledge is classified into two distinct categories – tacit of implicit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Tacit or Implicit knowledge prevails at the subconscious level. It is both understood and applied at the subconscious level. Tacit knowledge does not lend itself easily to deliberate application. It is difficult to express, manifest or articulate tacit knowledge consciously as one may wish to. Tacit knowledge lends itself more to involuntary applications as and when the need arises. Tacit knowledge is said to be developed subconsciously or involuntarily through interactive processes such as personal interactions, conversations, story telling and shared experiences. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is defined as knowledge that can be more easily expressed, applied and handled consciously or deliberately. Explicit knowledge is usually not associated with the circumstances or necessity under which it was originally created or used. Explicit knowledge is “more precisely and formally articulated, although removed from the original context of creation or use…” (Zach, 1999).
2.3.2. Organizational Knowledge
The concepts of explicit and implicit knowledge lead to the definition of what is termed as Organizational Knowledge. According to Brown & Duguid (1998, pp. 40), organizational knowledge exists in a ‘core competency’ comprising both explicit and implicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is only the surface knowledge required for execution of any activity and represents the tip of the iceberg, the iceberg itself being the implicit knowledge. Again, explicit knowledge is individualistic or may be associated entirely with individuals, while implicit knowledge is a shared resource and exists in a shared environment. Implicit knowledge is “both created out of and revealed in collaborative practice” (Lintern, Diedrich & Serfaty, 2002). These shared and collaborative characteristics of implicit knowledge make it the Organizational Knowledge. It is however to be noted that collaborations in organizations are not restricted by space, distance or time. Collaborations can take place even when the one party is no longer present through the medium of knowledge representations or knowledge artefacts (Hutchins, 1995).
Organizational knowledge is deemed to be created and maintained as a result of a dynamic and self-organizing process which is in itself is a shared and distributed one. Organizational knowledge is viewed as the interplay between two types of knowledge: the ‘know-what’ that is the explicit knowledge that gives expertise, and the ‘know-how’ that is the implicit knowledge that makes it possible to put the ‘know-what’ into practice. Brown & Duguid (1998, pp. 94) considers know-how as a state of the human mind achieved through experience, and essential to activate and apply knowledge. Know-how makes knowledge applicable and manifest only under appropriate conditions independent of voluntary control of even the host human mind.
In any organization, organizational knowledge is the result of a process in which a community of personnel, workers or employees come together in a synergy to produce a collaborative and shared resource that is far superior to the individual contributions. Organizational knowledge is distributed because it is the result of continuous interaction between people and between knowledge representations and artefacts in the environment.
“This view offers a picture of organizational knowledge as it is embedded in practice and communities. Rather than personal and modular, organizational knowledge is distributed and collective. This implies that the storage and documentation of abstracted knowledge will not alone suffice. Instead, one needs to embed the knowledge maintenance process in the practice of a community acting within a particular environment.” (Lintern, Diedrich & Serfaty, 2002)
The knowledge spiral is model proposed by Ikujiro Nonaka (1994) to represent how tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge interact with each other to create knowledge in an organization. At the heart of the knowledge spiral is the difference between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge, because the interaction between these two types of knowledge create organizational knowledge.
Socialization: This involves transferring tacit knowledge from one person to another. It is quite resistant to codification. For example, someone learning a job from an old hand.
Externalization: It makes tacit knowledge explicit and articulates “conceptual” tacit knowledge explicitly through the use of such techniques as metaphors and models.
Combination: It transfers explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge. This is where Information Technology shines. This is machine to machine, usually involving transfer among groups across organizations.
Internalization: It is when one person magically transforms explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge. This is one person learning through experience.
Organizational knowledge therefore depends not on the bringing together of suitable experts, but rather on the interactions and collaborations amongst these experts and also between them and others who work with them. Inherent in every collaboration or interaction between people in an organization are implicit multi-directional negotiations; so is reciprocity in all shared practices. These to factors combine together to sustain organizational knowledge in any concern. It is the continuity of collaborative practice that helps in maintaining organizational knowledge, not retention of ‘knowledgeable’ personnel, or transmission of knowledge from those to leave an organization to those who stay behind.
2.3.3. Defining Knowledge Management
Barnes (2001) defines Knowledge Management as an attempt to improve or maximize the use of knowledge that exists in an organization. Knowledge Management is the name of a concept in which a company or organization consciously and comprehensively gathers, organizes, shares, and analyzes its knowledge in terms of resources, documents, and people skills. Knowledge Management is the systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged. Leveraging knowledge, it is widely believed, enhances the competitive advantage of organization (Bhatt, 2000).
The point here is however different. How does one handle, process or manipulate implicit knowledge that exists only at the subconscious level? Implicit knowledge would not be amenable to Information Technology (IT) tools and would therefore be entirely out of the domain of IT. The saving grace for IT turns out to be explicit knowledge that can be processed or handled by IT, and would therefore be the concern of the IT manager. Seen in this context, implicit knowledge management would be more in the field of expertise of human resources management than in the scope of IT management; and it would be only explicit knowledge management that would be the concern of IT management. The explicit and implicit components of Knowledge and Organizational Knowledge therefore imply that any attempt to handle and manage knowledge would have to adopt approaches that would be able to handle each of the components.
It however does not end at that. Wilson (2006) is of the firm opinion that Knowledge Management as it is being applied today, is nothing more than a management fad and at best a theoretical utopian ideal. He defines knowledge as something that goes on exclusively inside the mind. Knowledge is what we know, it involves the mental processes of comprehension, understanding and learning. The problem, according to Wilson (2006), is that we actually do not have control over what we know. We do not know what we know. What we know is expressed only when we employ the knowledge to accomplish something. What the human mind learns is apparently forgotten only to emerge when needed or even when not needed. What we know can be expressed only in the form of messages conveyed orally, in writings, and through gestures, graphics or even body language. Such messages are however not knowledge but information which another knowing mind can assimilate, understand, comprehend and incorporate into its own knowledge structures. Since each persons knowledge structures are ‘biographically determined’ Schutz (1967), they cannot be identical for the conveyor and the receiver. This essentially implies that the same information, even if it results in knowledge, will be different knowledge for different individuals. Wilson (2002) asserts:
“…everything outside the mind that can be manipulated in any way, can be defined as ‘data’, if it consists of simple facts, or as ‘information’, if the data are embedded in a context of relevance to the recipient. Collections of messages, composed in various ways, may be considered as ‘information resources’ of various kinds – collections of papers in a journal, e-mail messages in an electronic ‘folder’, manuscript letters in an archive, or whatever. Generally, these are regarded as ‘information resources’. Thus, data and information may be managed, and information resources may be managed, but knowledge (i.e., what we know) can never be managed, except by the individual knower and, even then, only imperfectly.”
Wilson’s line of argument puts knowledge management entirely out of the realm of Information Technology. If we have not been able to comprehend the mechanism of the human mind, there is no question of trying to digitize, quantify, manipulate or process knowledge which represents the human mind itself through the application of ICT.
After analysis of a large number of papers purportedly on knowledge management in leading academic journals, Wilson comes to the conclusion that there is absolutely no agreement on what actually constitutes knowledge management, that a majority of the papers used knowledge as a synonym for information and knowledge management as another name for information management. His analysis of the perspective on knowledge management held by leading management consultancies leads to the findings that “knowledge management means different things to different companies…”, and that established approaches such as Intellectual Assets Management Practice were frequently confused with knowledge management. Similarly, his analysis of business schools makes it evident that expert systems, information management systems, organization training and learning and e-learning are all labeled as knowledge management. His review of business school sites also reveals that the most reputed and prestigious of business schools give a wide berth to knowledge management except in the statement of interest of faculty.
The use of knowledge management in place of information management is termed as ‘search and replace marketing’ strategy by business houses and ICT professionals in a bid to repackage failed ICT concepts such as Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) and Organizational Learning. In other words it was the proverbial old wine in a new bottle.
It can be inferred from Wilson’s study that knowledge is a result of information assimilation by the human mind. Information therefore leads to knowledge although the same information may result in different knowledge in different minds. This research postulates that the concern of the Information Technology with respect to knowledge management is the handling, manipulation, processing and communication of the information that is in turn processed and assimilated by the human mind to generate knowledge. In other words, the ICT should concern itself with all that is related with the ICT aspect or the Information and explicit knowledge aspects of Knowledge Management. The ‘People Track’ or the people aspect of Knowledge Management falls outside the domain of technology. It is largely a concern of human resource management or people management.
The technology aspect or IT Track of knowledge management endeavors would imply implementation of information systems that would foster knowledge in the organization and not implementation of Knowledge Management per se. Such implementation best practices (Talisma White Paper, 2006) would require the usual information management approaches based on the Strategy, Planning and Execution with an overall Knowledge Management orientation. The strategy best practices would incorporate formulation of measurable business objectives, obtaining ongoing executive sponsorship, staffing the ‘Information’ Management team with the right people and identifying and tackling cultural resistance.
The Planning best practices would involve identifying target consumers and experts, conducting detailed needs assessment, identifying a small and critical first phase, collating and creating ‘information’ content and designing effective workflow processes.
Similarly, the Execution best practices would incorporate investing in meticulous project management, managing a flexible project scope, keeping the user community involved, being obsessed with ‘information’ quality and marketing the ‘information’ management implementation with a ‘Knowledge Creation’ perspective.
2.3.4. Community of Practice
The principal aim of the ‘people track’ or people perspective of Knowledge Management is to improve the exchange and sharing of information within an organization. It is largely a concern of human resource management or people management where the focus would be on knowledge sharing. To do so, the people perspective lays more emphasis on developing personal networking and what is termed Communities of Practice (Lesser & Storck, 2001) than on implementing Information Systems and other ICT tools and services.
This brings us to the concept of the Community of Practice. In very general terms, a Community of Practice is a group of people who share similar goals and interests. They employ common practices, work with the same tools and express themselves in a shared vocabulary (Wenger, 1998). Organizational Community of Practice is defined by Gongla & Rizutto (2001) as “knowledge networks, referred to as institutionalized, informal networks of professionals managing domains of knowledge (organizational)”. A similar perspective is adopted by Wegner when he defines a Community of Practice as a group of people informally bound together by shared experience and a passion for joint enterprise. A group of people facing a common set of problems to which they strive to find common solutions in the form of a store of knowledge is also defined as a Community of Practice (Manville & Foote, 1996). Communities of Practice are instrumental in fostering knowledge development and creative interactions among members. They are a key element in the learning organization. At this stage, it is required to differentiate between teams and Communities of Practice. Lesser & Storck (2001), differentiates the two as follows:
i. The organization assigns people to be team members whereas community relationships are oriented around practice.
ii. Authority relationships within the team are determined by the organization, whereas authority relationships in a Community of Practice emerge through interaction around expertise.
iii. Teams have goals that could be set by people not in the team, whereas communities are responsible only to their members.
iv. The work and reporting processes of the team are defined by the organization, whereas communities develop their own processes.
The Community of Practice is not a simple group of people who exchange information amongst themselves. Members of a Community of Practice engage in meaningful communication, negotiations and collaborations. A group matures and transforms itself into a Community of Practice marked by a self-organizing structure with a common objective or purpose bound together by social relationships. The creation, development and maintenance of knowledge occur spontaneously in a Community of Practice.
Members of a Community of Practice learn through a process of interpersonal participation in what is referred to as ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The learning is through natural interactions rather than through organizational routines or functions that are repetitive. “This notion of situated learning through interpersonal participation is what fundamentally distinguishes CoPs from other groups” (Wan et al, 2008).
126.96.36.199. Characteristics: Wan et al (2008) identifies three common characteristics of Communities of Practice that find mention in almost all studies. These are Mutual Engagement, Shared Repertoire and Joint Enterprise. Mutual Engagement is the way of functioning of a Community of Practice. It is the degree to which the members are engaged to and work on the same type of problems through the process of mutual informal interactions. It is on-the-job knowledge sharing within the Community of Practice. Shared Repertoire represents the sharing of ‘what is possessed’ by a Community of Practice (Wenger, 1998). This could represent the sharing of historical, social and physical resources of the Community of Practice that could help in sustaining and shaping mutual engagement in action. “Joint enterprise is an implicit and common identity developed through the process of community participants experiencing and finding meaning in what they do” (Wan et al, 2008). It provides a sense of belonging to the Community, a common identity and a sense of mutual accountability to the Community and its members. The characteristic of Joint Enterprise not only differentiates a Community of Practice from other groups but also from other Communities of Practice.
188.8.131.52. Structure: Three principal elements make up the structural model of a Community of Practice: domain knowledge, the community and the practice. The domain knowledge is the knowledge that is of interest or relevance to the members. The domain knowledge sets the goals and values for the members of the Community and accords legitimacy to it. The community “creates the social training base and encourages the interactions, in this case the relations based on confidence and mutual respect. It is what encourages the members of a community to share, to expose their ignorance of a domain, to be attentive to each other and to ask questions” (Kenfack, 2007). The third structural element, the practice, refers to the knowledge which the Community of Practice creates, maintains and shares. It “represents standards, rules, ideas, frameworks, languages, accounts, documents which the members share” (Kenfack, 2007).
184.108.40.206. Functions: Communities of Practice are essential for the smooth working of any organization. They are indispensable for organizations with knowledge-related core competencies. With the fast pace of development of technology, processes related to work area also undergo rapid development and change. Organizations therefore cannot afford to depend on individuals for the knowledge they require. Organizational knowledge has to be created, developed, maintained and sustained. This is viable only with the help of Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice typically perform the following functions:
i. Communities of Practice maintain the flow of information by acting as nodes for information exchange and interpretation. Since members share a mutual community understanding, they are able to know and distinguish what type of information would be relevant and useful for the Community. Useful information is therefore communicated in ways that strike the attention of the members. The Communities of Practice becomes the ideal channel to feed best practices, experiences, hints and feedbacks effectively. “Communities of practice can drive strategy, generate new lines of business, solve problems, promote the development, identification and spread the best practices, develop people skills, facilitate learning, enable enhanced performance and aid in the development and distribution of new knowledge” (LaContora & Mendonca, 2003). Even stored information or what is commonly referred as a knowledge base becomes effective in the creation of knowledge only when it is firmly associated and embedded with a Community of Practice. In fact the Community of Practice lends credence to the knowledge base and gives it the acceptability that is required to be used productively by the members of the Community of Practice.
ii. Communities of Practice are living and vibrant repositories of knowledge unlike a database or a manual. In the collaborative and interactive processes inherent in Communities of Practice, even knowledge on routine and repetitive tasks can be disseminated in ways that the recipients find interesting and respond to. As a living repository, the Community of Practice is the only mechanism that can store and disseminate implicit knowledge.
iii. Communities of Practice play a significant role to hone core competencies of organizations. They are therefore instrumental in keeping the organization ahead of the competition. Communities of Practice tend to keep abreast of new development in their work area or field by developing a mechanism which assigns different members with different responsibilities and tasks to ensure that there is no lag time in picking up and adopting emerging trends and technologies. By doing so, the Communities of Practice increases its own value as a collaborative team that is dynamic and futuristic.
iv. Communities of Practice give a sense of identity to its members. Members are proud of the identity that they belong to a particular community of practice and therefore have a particular reputation and have to live up to a set of specific expectations. They also become acutely aware of what knowledge exactly they should be looking for and developing in a world that is practically deluged with information. In a way, the community role is defined for each member. It narrows down the field of attention and helps the member focus on information and knowledge that are of relevance. (Wenger, 1998)
220.127.116.11. Stages of Development: Communities of Practice goes through different stages of development. Wenger (1998) defines five stages. The Potential stage is the initial stage in which people who do similar work or face similar problems in the same work area discover each other but do not have any shared practice in which they collaborate, negotiate or interact. Potential members of a potential Community of Practice discover the commonalities but are yet to work together on them. In the second stage of Coalescing, members recognize their potential and come together to form a loose group. In this stage, associations and interconnections are explored, joint enterprises are defined and negotiations within the group commence. The third stage is the Active stage and is marked by the crucial process of development of practice. Typical behavior at this stage are engaging in joint activities, creating artifacts, adapting to changing circumstances, and renewing interest, commitment and relationships. The Active stage is the highest stage of development of a Community of Practice. This stage is followed by the Dispersed stage of development, in which the Community of Practice starts to wan. The stage is marked by low intensity of participation and engagement though the Community still remains functional as a centre of knowledge. The final phase, termed the Memorable phase refers to a defunct and inactive Community of Practice. It however stays on in the memory of its members as a significant part of their identities.
A Community of Practice’s relationship with the organization within which it functions seems to correspond to its stages of development up to the Active stage. “Communities of practice are everywhere, sometimes unrecognized, sometimes legitimized, and sometimes recognized as an asset to be nurtured” (Voss & Schafer, 2003). A Community of Practice may be unrecognized by its organization and even by its members. It remains invisible and faces issues relating to lack of reflexivity and lack of awareness of its value and its limitations. When a Community of Practice is visible informally only to a circle of people or its members, it is said to be ‘bootlegged’ (Wenger, 1998). In such a relationship, the Community of Practice faces difficulties in acquiring adequate resources and in being fully utilized. A Community of Practice is ‘Legitimized’ when it is officially recognized by the organization as a valuable entity. It has to deal with problems such as acute scrutiny, over-management and new demands in such a relationship. A Community of Practice assumes ‘Strategic’ status when it is recognized as crucial to the success of the organization. Short-term pressures, over-confidence of success, smugness, elitism and exclusion are some problems that could nag the Community in such a relationship. A Community of Practice is defined as ‘Transformative’ when it has the capability of redefining its environment and the direction of the organization. When it attains such a status, associated problems could be in relating to the organization itself, gaining acceptance and in managing its area of functioning.
18.104.22.168. Nurturing of Communities of Practice: It is evident that even though Communities of Practice operate within organizations, they do so with the minimal of organizational control. It is the Community that matter, and members gain or lose in status in accordance to their level of knowledge and their contribution to the Community. Given the extreme flexibility of the Community of Practice and its independence from organization control, it is evident that the primary function of knowledge management would be to restructure organizations in a way that encourages the creation and development of communities of practice. The big advantage that Communities of Practice have is the fact that they form spontaneously. Internal leadership plays a pivotal role in their development. That however does not mean that they do not need any help or support altogether. The right word here would be ‘nurturing’ and not ‘intervention’. An organization can help in nurturing Communities of Practice so that they reach their full potential with ease.
The first step would be to legitimize the participation of members in Communities of Practice. By doing so, the organization indicates that it values the contribution made by the Communities of Practice. This in turn provided encouragement to members. The long-term value of Communities of Practice need to be appreciated and made apparent. This can be done by linking the knowledge orientation of Communities of Practice with business strategies. In fact this is considered to be the first step in the creation of Communities of Practice: “The first step in starting a CoP is defining the strategic objectives of the CoP and seducing the employees to participate in the CoP. When defining the strategic objectives of a CoP it is important that they are in line with the company’s business strategy” (Vrij et al. 2006). This helps Communities of Practice in articulating their strategic value. To be able to do so, however, the concepts of knowledge and practices need to be made very clear. Looking at it the other way round, all emerging Communities of Practice indicate the direction of business strategy of the organization. Adopting prevalent practices for knowledge creation and development is a simple way of harnessing the knowledge that is already available in the organization. Encouraging the growth of communities around practices that already exists is a failsafe knowledge management strategy that goes a long way in nurturing Communities of Practice. In many cases, it may also be necessary to adapt the organization to nurture Communities of Practice. Many factors such as management intervention, the very culture of the organization, the corporate hierarchy, the rewards system, company policies and work processes can affect Communities of Practice both positively and negatively. The organization could therefore need to be fine tuned in order to be able to nurture Communities of Practice. Finally, Communities of Practice, though self sufficient could benefit hugely if they are given support in the form of resources such as technology, expert inputs, training facilities, etc. A team could be specifically entrusted with the responsibility to provide the necessary support for development of Communities of Practice. According to Wenger (1998) such a team could be tasked with:
i. providing guidance and resources when needed.
ii. helping communities connect their agenda to business strategies.
iii. encouraging them to move forward with their agenda and remain focused on the cutting edge.
iv. making sure they include all the right people.
v. helping them create links to other communities.
2.3.5. Summary and Implications
Findings from the literature review conducted have brought several pertinent points into sharp focus. From a broader perspective, it has been found that though the unprecedented development of ICT has opened up many new avenues for manipulation and management of data and information, Knowledge Management as such remains largely a domain of human resources management, ICT acting only as an enabling or facilitating agent. This is because of the fact that knowledge can be classified into two categories – explicit and implicit; the explicit knowledge representing the part that can be codified, digitized, stored, disseminated and manipulated by ICT tools and the implicit or tacit knowledge representing the part that is the exclusive preserve of the human brain. These two distinct aspects of Knowledge Management lead to its ‘IT track’ and ‘People track’ of management.
It was however evident that information leads to knowledge, although the same information may result in different knowledge in different human minds. The findings of this literature Review postulate that the concern of the Information Technology with respect to knowledge management is the handling, manipulation, processing and communication of the information that is in turn processed and assimilated by the human mind to generate knowledge. Human resources management or the ‘People track’ of Knowledge Management takes over from ICT to develop and maintain organizational knowledge.
The main finding of the Literature Review has been the identification of the Community of Practice as the central entity in Knowledge Management endeavors. It has been found that these self-developing communities are the living store houses of organizational knowledge. It is the Communities of Practice which are mainly responsible for creation, maintenance and development of organizational knowledge through the processes of negotiation, collaboration and interaction of the members of the Communities of Practice.
The three main characteristics of Communities of Practice have been found to be Mutual Engagement, Shared Repertoire and Joint Enterprise. The structure of the Communities of Practice comprises the domain knowledge, the community and the practice. Amongst the main functions of Communities of Practice are information exchange and interpretation, acting as living repositories of knowledge, honing and developing the core competencies of organizations, and providing a sense of identity to its members. Communities of Practice pass through several stages of development. These include the Potential or embryonic stage at which they are not active, the Coalescing stage at which the similarities are identified, the Active at which the practice is identified and the community becomes active. This is followed by the Dispersed stage of waning activity and finally the Memorable phase at which the Community is no longer active. The relationship with or the status of Communities of Practice within the host organization can also vary from stages at which the Community remains unrecognized and invisible or is visible only to a closed circle to being not only legitimized by the organization but also being crucial to the strategic direction of the organization. At its best a Community of Practice can assume a ‘transformative’ status at which it can redefine its environment and change the direction of the organization. The Literature Review also found that organizations can nurture Communities of Practice by according legitimacy, linking the knowledge direction of the Community with the business strategy of the organization, adopting existing practices to foster the growth of communities, fine-tuning the organization to provide ideal conditions for the development and growth of Communities of Practice and finally by providing direct support in the form of resources, expertise, monitoring, etc.
The Literature Review has therefore made it amply clear that application of Information and Communication Technology alone will not serve the purpose of knowledge development and management in any organization. The solution lies in a judicious mix of ICT management and Human Resources management with the emphasis on the human resources through the development and nurturing of Communities of Practice.
All the findings of the literature review have to be taken into consideration in the methodology being adopted for this study. They have to be incorporated in the survey and case study being conducted for the study. The analysis that will be conducted for this study will compare and contrast the findings from the literature review with the findings from the sample survey and case study of Kaplan Security Private Limited based at Bangalore in India..
3.1. Purpose of the Chapter
The core aim of this research study was to find out the roles played by the technology and human aspect of Knowledge Management in the generation and transfer of knowledge within an organization. As has already been pointed out in the introductory chapter, this study attempted to do so by conducting an extensive literature review, and following it up with a case study and a sample survey. The literature review conducted for this study, had indicated that human resource management played a far more dominant role than technology or Information Technology (IT) management in all Knowledge Management implementations. The literature review had identified the Community of Practice as the central unit for creation and dissemination of knowledge in any organization. This study thereafter took up the Kaplan security agency as a case study to find out whether the practical example of the security agency complemented the findings of the literature or not. A sample survey of 100 employees of the Kaplan Security agency was also conducted for the purpose.
The importance of empirical data in a study of this nature cannot be underestimated. Empirical research provides the opportunity to gain first hand information from subjects. Empirical research can be planned in designed in a manner that could meet the requirements of the research. Analysis of the empirical data and the findings therein also provides a sound basis for comparison with the theoretical findings for more consolidated and substantiated conclusions.
The purpose of this chapter is to identify and describe the research methodology that has been adopted for the study.
3.2. Outline of the Chapter Structure
This chapter starts with an introduction to the objective of the study and the purpose of the chapter. It then identifies and defines the research strategies that have been adopted for the paper, the data collection techniques that have been applied, and how the empirical data has been analyzed and then synthesised with the literature review work. This chapter also finally describes the limitations of the research strategy that has been adopted for the study.
3.3. Research Strategies
The Research Strategies that are adopted in this study are the Case Study and the Survey. This research is therefore based on both qualitative and quantitative strategies in order to achieve the research aims and objectives, the Case Study comprising the qualitative approach, and the Survey the quantitative approach. Qualitative data was collected through personal interviews with a three senior managers in the Kaplan security agency who answered a structured questionnaire consisting of ten open-ended questions. Of the senior managers interviewed, one was an IT manager while the others looked after human resources and finances respectively. On the other hand, quantitative data was collected through a survey of 100 executives of Kaplan belonging to various departments including IT. A questionnaire consisting of ten close-ended questions was used for the purpose
3.3.1. Why the Case Study
The case study method is an in-depth examination of a unit of interest. It is an empirical study that looks into a contemporary phenomenon in its real-life context. By virtue of its insight-generating potential, the case study is a useful research strategy to obtain detailed qualitative data on the subject (Parasuraman, 2004). A case study provides the researcher with the opportunity of observing a real-life situation from close quarters.
According to Stake (1995), there are six sources that can be used to conduct a case study. These sources are: documents, archival records, interviews, direct observation, participant observation and physical artefacts. In the case of this research study, the interview with the senior IT personnel of Kaplan security agency attempted to elicit detailed information regarding knowledge management and the overall approach adopted to create, maintain and transfer knowledge within the organization.
The case study is ideally suited as a research strategy for this study because of the complex nature of this research where the data that is being sought would not be amenable to quantification. Besides, the phenomenon of knowledge that is being examined and explored is intangible and abstract. The underlying research philosophy that based on an interpretative understanding of the host environment and the world would best suit the requirements of this research study. The Case Study is therefore the perfect strategy for the human aspect of Knowledge Management and the associated objectives and research questions that have been raised.
To deal with the quantifiable aspects of Knowledge Management however, the survey is the most suitable research strategy because of the representative nature of the information that is required. The objectives of the study related to the technology aspect of Knowledge Management and the associated research questions that have been raised are both amenable to the survey.
3.3.2. Why the Survey
The Survey is ideally suited to this study as the sample population of junior IT personnel in the Kaplan security Agency is enumerated, easily available and accessible. There is also very less possibility of any literacy issues cropping up as a handicap for respondents. The study being restricted to only one organization the question of georaphical dispersion does not arise.
Survey research is defined as “one of the most important areas of measurement in applied social research. The broad area of survey research encompasses any measurement procedures that involve asking questions of respondents. A ‘survey’ can be anything from a short paper-and-pencil feedback form to an intensive one-on-one in-depth interview.” (Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2008)
“The word ‘survey’” states Scheuren (2004), “is used most often to describe a method of gathering information from a sample of individuals. This ‘sample’ is usually a fraction of the population being studied.”
In a bona fide survey, the sample population is not chosen haphazardly or just out of hand. It is chosen in such a way that each person in the population has a measurable chance of selection. This enables the results to be from the sample to the larger population.
The data that is required can be easily elicited through a well-designed questionnaire. The questions need not be too complex and most the responses can be restricted to close-ended options. The respondents do not need to consult any records or other details to answer the questions. They can do so off hand from their own personal experiences. Though the ‘social desirability’ factor in which a respondent gives a false answer in order to gain social acceptability, could always play a role in this study in the context of a respondent wanting to portray a more techno-savvy image, the probability is very low. False respondents can be largely avoided as the sample population can be contacted personally on site. The scope for researcher bias in the context of the subject under consideration is also minimal. Administratively, conducting such a survey would not entail much expenditure and would be economically feasible. It can be also carried out with the involvement of a minimum of personnel provided ample time is given to the activity.
3.4. Data Collection Techniques
3.4.1. The Case Study Interviews
The primary objective of conducting the case study through the personal interviews with the senior managers was to gain an insight into the approach and strategy adopted for knowledge development and management by the Kaplan security agency. The open-ended questions included in the interview questionnaire were based on the research questions raised in the introductory chapter of the study. The questions are as given below:
1. How do you think knowledge affects the competitiveness of your organization?
2. What strategy has your company adopted for knowledge management?
3. Do you practically differentiate between data, information and knowledge? If you do, why and how?
4. What role does technology play in the development and transfer of knowledge in Kaplan security agency?
5. How would you retain or maintain knowledge in the event of a mass migration from of a particular wok area experts from you r organization?
6. How important is the human aspect of Knowledge Management in your organization?
7. How do your employees learn to do their jobs?
8. How would you define and identify Communities of Practice within your organization?
9. What role do you think Communities of Practice play in the development, maintenance and transfer of knowledge in your organization?
10. How do you nurture Communities of Practice in your organization?
Each of these questions was designed with the objective of not only studying the Knowledge Management strategy of the Kaplan security agency as a whole but also to elicit the views of the senior managers on the subjects of knowledge, knowledge management and communities of practice.
Since the senior managers looked after the different management sectors of IT, finance and human resources, it was expected that their perspectives would be based on the particular discipline of management that each of them were specialized in.
3.4.2. The Sample Survey
The main objective of the survey was to collect quantifiable data that could lend itself to analysis and interpretations from different perspectives. It was decided to collect the data required for the study from a sample of 100 personnel of Kaplan Security Private Limited. The Questionnaire has been chosen as the ideal technique of data collection for the study.
Again, the research questions raised in the introductory chapter were used as the basic guides in framing the questionnaire:
1. What is your age?
[ ] 18 – 24 [ ] 25 – 34 [ ] 35 – 44
[ ] 45- 54 [ ] 55+
2. Which section of the company do you work in?
[ ] Security [ ] IT [ ] Management [ ] Finance [ ] Others
3. What is work knowledge?
[ ] Information related to the work [ ] Knowing your job
[ ] Any information
4. Are you aware of the Knowledge Management strategy of your company?
[ ] Yes [ ] No
5. Your company’s knowledge management strategy focuses on:
[ ] ICT, databases and information systems [ ] Organized Training programmes
[ ] Group collaboration and interaction [ ] No specific focus
6. Which of the following helped you most in learning to practically do your job?
[ ] Self study [ ] Training [ ] Learning from others on the job
7. What do you think affects learning most in the company?
[ ] Technology Infrastructure [ ] Environment and Work Culture
[ ] Management Attitude [ ] Pressure from Seniors
[ ] Peer Pressure and Competition
8. Where is work-related knowledge available in your organization?
[ ] In computers and databases [ ] In books and manuals in the library
[ ] In human minds
[ ] Predominantly in others but also in human minds
[ ] Predominantly in human minds but also in others
*Please Note: Others = computers and databases + books and manuals in library
9. When you face a new or unknown task, how do you handle it?
[ ] Look up the company databases [ ] Browse the Internet and books
[ ] Consult a colleague
10. Are you a member of a Community of Practice in your organization?
[ ] Yes [ ] No
It is obvious from the questions that the effort was to frame them in an easily comprehensible manner even to the respondents who were not familiar with the terms associated with Knowledge Management or IT. It was ensured that 100 questionnaires were answered in full. The questionnaire was distributed randomly amongst the skilled employees of Kaplan security agency based on the criteria that they had to be in the employment of the security agency and possess working knowledge of the English language in order to be able to answer the questions accurately.
3.5. Framework for Data Analysis
The Framework for Data Analysis followed the broad contours of the Research Questions raised in the study.
The first objective of the data analysis was to categorize the respondents according to their age and work profiles. The analysis then attempted to relate these age and work profiles to indicators that would suggest the existence of Communities of Practice. This first step in analysis of the available data made it possible to identify the Communities of Practice. The findings were then correlated with data from the case study to ascertain the actual status of the Communities of Practice in terms of them being legitimized and recognized by the Kaplan security agency.
The next part of the analysis concentrated on finding out what strategies were being adopted at Kaplan security agency for knowledge management to create, develop, maintain and disseminate knowledge. The effort was to identify and the significant features of the knowledge management approach of the security agency.
A crucial component of the data analysis comprised of assessing the importance that the Kaplan security agency accorded to Communities of Practice in its approach to knowledge management. This would provide an indication of the degree of nurturing that the security agency provided to Communities of Practice which had already been identified as the most critical and crucial factor for the creation and transfer of knowledge in any organization.
The analytical steps described above were intended to result in a thorough overall assessment of the quality of the knowledge management efforts of the Kaplan Security Private Limited and to identify any major flaw or loophole in its knowledge management policy which could have been a reason behind the dismal performance of the security agency despite the introduction of modern ICT and security infrastructure. Such an analysis would ultimately lead to the main research aim of whether adequate importance is being provided to the core entity the Community of Development in knowledge management to support viable creation and transfer of knowledge to accord the organization the required competitive
In any qualitative research there is always concern about the validity and reliability of data. Generally it happens with primary data collected. According to Saunders to reduce the possibility of getting wrong answers, attention should be paid to two particular aspects of research viz. reliability and validity (Saunders, 2003). Adequate care has however been taken on both the counts while collecting the data, to get the real picture of the company’s implementation of knowledge management. Considerable care had also been taken in framing the questions of the interviews to restrict and limit subjective responses by the senior managers. A very high emphasis was also put on objectivity in data interpretation. In spite of all the safeguards however, elements of respondent subjectivity and wrong researcher interpretation are bound to creep in especially in a qualitative research methodology executed through a research strategy such as an interview.
A survey through the means of a questionnaire is always restricted to the level of questions given in the questionnaire. No further probing or findings are possible as in the case of case studies. In this study too, the same limitations apply.
As is common in all research studies in which the strategy of survey is adopted for data collection, population sampling may not be quite as optimal as is required. In the case of this study however, sampling problems would be restricted to the minimum for the survey as the sample was selected from employees of the same Kaplan security agency. The chances of the sample being representative of the whole population are therefore very high. In the case of the case study through interviews, the selection of the senior managers is however susceptible to sampling problems. In order to avoid such problems senior managers from three different departments of management were selected to be able to obtain a broader and more representative perspective.
The degree to which the sample population represents a generic population of respondents also constitutes a major limitation of the research methodology. Since the area in which the survey was conducted is primarily an educational area, the sample population would consist more of respondents related to the field of education either as students or as faculty members or associates. This was evident in the profile of the respondents in which students constituted a large majority.
Looking at it the other way round, the sample population lacked the diversity required to obtain generic conclusions. This would affect the validity and reliability of the study adversely. The major limitation for such a research is that the results obtained in one industry may not be applicable in other industries. The broad concepts of knowledge management remain the same but could still stand out quiet different for other industries (Collis & Hussey, 2003).
The next chapter on Findings on Discussions will present the findings of the Case Study and Research Survey and attempt analyses of the collected data from various perspectives.
FINDINGS & DISCUSSION
4.1. Purpose of the Chapter
The purpose of this chapter was to analyse the data obtained in the course of the case study and survey that was conducted as part of the research strategy of the study. The case study was carried out by conducting personal interviews with three senior managers of Kaplan Security Private Limited, each from three different disciplines of management – IT, Human Resources and Finances. A questionnaire with ten open-ended questions was given to the managers to respond to. The survey was carried out by distributing a questionnaire amongst 100 personnel of the Kaplan Security Agency. The questionnaire comprised nine close-ended questions. The data obtained in the form the transcripts of the three senior manager of the company and the 200 filled up questionnaires from the survey had to be initially consolidated and structured to make it amenable to analysis. The consolidated data was then analysed from different perspectives to interpret the trends and patterns that are indicated by the data. These constituted the findings from the case study and survey data.
The study attempted to analyse the ideal strategy that should be adopted for Knowledge Management to pin point the areas that should be accorded the maximum importance and then compare it with the empirical data available from the case study and the survey to identify the weaknesses, lapses and drawbacks that have resulted in the dismal performance of Kaplan Security Private Limited in spite of implementation of state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure and tools for knowledge leveraging and management.
The Literature Review conducted for the study had led to certain findings regarding the strategy and approach that should be ideally adopted for any Knowledge Management implementation, and core areas that deserve the highest of priority. Communities of Practice were identified as the central entity in any Knowledge Management implementation. According full legitimacy to Communities of Practice and nurturing them to their full potential enabled organizations to realize their knowledge management potential to the fullest extent.
The ultimate objective of this chapter was to compare and contrast the findings of the Literature Review with the findings of the case study survey conducted for the study. Even during the design of the questionnaires and also in adopting the approach for the study, the endeavour was always to refer to the research questions raised initially in the study and to orient the data for comparison with the findings of the Literature Review.
4.2. Outline of the Chapter Structure
This chapter starts with an introduction consisting of the purpose of the chapter. It then presents the findings of the research strategies of the study from different perspectives of the study. The findings are finally analysed in the discussions section of the chapter and compared with the findings of the Literature Review that was conducted in the course of the study.
4.3. Study Context
In today’s world, companies are becoming more global and market is developing at a very high rate. The ability to unleash the creativity and knowledge of our people is the essential enabler for meeting the everyday needs of our consumer everywhere (George, Kazudi & Nonaka 2000). Thus anywhere in the world companies are successful because of their skills and expertise at “organizational knowledge creation”, which means the capability of a company as a whole to create new knowledge, disseminate it throughout the organization and embody it in products, services and system. Organizational knowledge creation is the key to the distinctive ways that companies innovate (Nonaka 1995). Further Drucker (1993) states that in the present environment, knowledge as an input resource will be of higher value in the future than physical resources, a view shared by others such as Quinn (1997), Sveiby (1997) and Stewart (1997). The source of long term competitive advantage for any organization is derived from access to some form of knowledge that it can exploit (Drucker 1993). Leveraging knowledge, it is widely believed, enhances the competitive advantage of organizations (Bhatt, 2000).
The critical fact that emerges is that leveraging knowledge enhances the competitive advantage of organization. But how do organizations leverage knowledge? The ICT revolution has put many hitherto unimaginable tools and facilities in the hands of human beings. But can technology alone create knowledge? Is it sufficient or adequate only to develop databases, implement information systems, install computer networks and connectivity and make data and information easily accessible? Will that create knowledge? Or is there a human element, something that goes on in the human mind beyond the reach of ICT that is the core element in the creation and development of knowledge?
This research study was conducted with the purpose of finding answers to these vexing questions that modern technology and a changing business environment pose. A research study was conducted to identify and pinpoint the essential elements of the ideal Knowledge Management strategy. The findings of the Literature Review were then compared and contrasted with the empirical data from a case study and a survey to identify what could go wrong in practical real-life situations. A security agency located at the southern city of Bangalore in India was selected for the case study considering the universal dispersion of ICT and rapidly emerging concept of the Global Village.
4.4.1. Age and Activity Break-ups of Sample
The age and activity break-ups of the research survey are depicted graphically below:
As is evident, a greater number of respondents are in the age group of 18 -24 years. The study will examine the relation of age with other factors influencing Knowledge Management implementations at a later stage.
The activity break-up of the survey respondents are as given below:
A majority of the representatives are from the core competency area of security making up 44% of the total population sample. This is followed by a representation of 21% each from the important areas of activity of Human Resources (HR) and IT which are closely associated with technical aspects of any Knowledge Management strategy. Finance, which retains its importance in all endeavours, has a healthy share of 10%, the others comprising miscellaneous activities such as maintenance, medical, etc., bringing up the rear with a 4% representation.
In their interviews, all the three senior managers had stressed that security, management, IT and finance all had major roles to play in the Knowledge Management implementation approach of the Kaplan security agency. All the three had stated that these four departments sat together in the planning and crucial decision-making stages of the company’s knowledge management initiative. From a purely management perspective, the senior managers agreed that while human resources played a overall role in planning, IT took the lead in execution. This would imply that the senior managers viewed knowledge management initiatives as more IT oriented than based on management of human resources. Security assumes equal significance as the core competency area. The activity break-up of the survey sample therefore well represents the views of the senior managers in the case study.
4.4.2. The Concept of Knowledge
In the case study the views of the senior managers on the concept of knowledge had varied. The IT Manager chose to define knowledge as explicit knowledge that could be manipulated by ICT. She found it difficult to accept that any aspect of knowledge could be out of the purview of ICT. Though the HR manager did state that HR management was crucial for knowledge management, he was not able to clearly define whether HR mattered only in motivation and dissemination or did have a part to play in knowledge creation and development also. He readily accepted that implicit knowledge resided in human minds but could not specifically state the company’s HR initiatives with regards to this type of knowledge. The Finance manager gave a general view that all three departments of management needed to work together for knowledge management implementations.
The data from the sample survey however shows that the employees of the Kaplan security agency have a more or less clear notion of what exactly comprise knowledge. This may be due to the fact that several training programmes on knowledge management have been conducted in the company as a part of its overall ICT integration efforts. The knowledge perception of the survey sample population is illustrated below:
What was all the more encouraging in this regard was that the core competency are of security took the lead in defining knowledge correctly as ‘knowing the job’. The activity-wise break-up of the responses to what is knowledge is given in the pie diagram below:
4.4.3. Awareness of Knowledge Management Strategy
In spite of the claims made by all the three senior managers interviewed for the case study that a majority of the Kaplan security agency employees were aware of the knowledge management strategies adopted by the company, a majority of 64% of the survey respondents, as depicted below, said that they were not aware of the knowledge management initiatives of the company. This indicates a communication gap between the decision making and implementation or execution aspects of the knowledge management policy of the company. Though the managers say that steps have been taken as per the knowledge management strategy adopted, these may not have been clearly identified as knowledge management initiatives to the employees because of which they have failed to associate the two.
The most negative impact of this lapse is seen in the activity break-up of the knowledge management strategy break-up with 95.45% of those in the core competency area of security blissfully unaware of the knowledge management strategy of the company as illustrated below:
A considerable 47.62% of those in the IT sector also plead ignorance of the knowledge management initiatives. This could lead to drastic results as IT is supposed to be the enabler and facilitator of organizational knowledge creation and transfer. Those in finance are also not apprised of the knowledge management approach of the company. Only those in Human Resources seem to be fully aware of the knowledge management initiatives being carried out by the Kaplan security agency. This is obvious as Human Resources would be primarily concerned with all such initiatives. A lack of cross-department dispersion is therefore evident in both form the sample survey and the case study.
4.4.4. Focus of Knowledge Management
The focus of Knowledge Management approach adopted by the company is on organized trainings and ICT implementations as is evident form the figure below:
Group collaborations and interactions is pegged at only 16%. This shows that in practice, Communities of Practice is not the core entity of the knowledge management strategy of the company. This was also evident in the case study because there seem to be considerable confusion amongst the mangers in what exactly constituted Communities of Practice. They were not able to identify the Communities of Practice present and functional in the security agency properly. Each identified different Communities of Practice from entirely different points of view.
4.4.5. Learning Source
Seventy-five per cent of the respondents of the sample survey said that they learnt on the job. This is a major indication of the presence of an environment conducive to the development of Communities of Practice. The response on learning source is illustrated graphically below:
The feedback obtained from the case study interviews however contradicted the findings of the sample survey. All the three senior managers claimed that the main source of learning for the employees were training programmes organized by the company. This indicates a reluctance to accord importance and legitimacy to Communities of Practice that could be functional within the organization. It also points to a major drawback in the knowledge management strategy of the security agency.
4.4.6. Factors affecting Learning
A comparison of the case study and the sample survey reveals that there is considerable difference between theory and practice with regards to identification of factors that affect learning in the Kaplan security agency. While the senior managers had identified technology, management and pressure from seniors as the primary factors affecting learning, the sample survey data, as represented below, identifies environment and culture of the company and peer pressure as the major factors influencing learning in the employees:
A very interesting observation is that the findings of the sample survey all points towards a Community of Practice type of environment that induces learning in the respondents. An overwhelming 79% of the respondents say that say so.
4.4.7. Location of Organizational Knowledge
Both the sample survey and the case study indicated major confusion over the exact location of availability of organizational knowledge. This is evident from the illustration of the sample survey response in this regards given below:
Thirty per cent of the respondents said that organizational knowledge resided more in ICT and other document and artefacts than in the mind. Only 12% of the respondents were able to give the correct answer that knowledge resided predominantly in the human mind. In the case study too, the IT manager found it difficult to accept that knowledge was predominantly a domain of the human mind. Instead, she claimed that knowledge resided in databases and information systems but were made applicable by the human mind. The HR and the finance manager stated that knowledge was a function of the human mind but were not certain how that function could be controlled or manipulated from outside.
An activity-wise break-up of the correct answer given shows very poor percentage performance as depicted in the graph below:
This is also an indication of a disjoint between plan formulation and implementation of the knowledge management policy of Kaplan security agency.
4.4.8. Source of Help for New Challenge
The case study and sample survey data did not agree on the source of help that employees found for new challenges that they faced in their work. In the case study, the managers were of the view that institutionalized hierarchies and organized training programmes helped employees face new challenges in their work. The sample survey data however pointed to informal help from colleague as the major source of help to face new challenges faced in work. This is depicted in the figure given below:
This again is a major indication that an atmosphere conducive to the development and functioning of Communities of Practice exist in the organization but is not accorded proper importance and legitimacy by the management.
4.4.9. Community of Practice members
Though the senior managers were of the view that a majority of the employees were members of informal Communities of Practice, employees in the sample survey do not agree. Only 7% of the members say that they were member of a community of Practice. This is depicted in the bar graph given below:
4.4.10. Presence of Communities of Practice without KM Strategy focus
The percentage of factors that indicate presence of Communities of Practice is very high averaging 69%. The individual indicators are depicted diagrammatically below:
However, the focus of the Knowledge Management strategy on Communities of Practice averages only 17.5% with the individual indicators recording very low percentages as shown below:
The case study and the sample survey therefore combine to suggest that though there is very high indication of the presence of entities similar to Communities of Practice, the Knowledge Management approach and strategy and approach adopted by Kaplan Security Private Limited do not accord the deserving focus or importance to Communities of Practice in its endeavour to create, maintain and disseminate knowledge in the organization. This is evident for the graphical representation given below:
An attempt to analyze the sample survey data on the basis of age groupings did not yield any significant results. In the case study too, the senior managers did not mention any age-related affect on the implementation of the knowledge management strategy.
It is clear from the sample survey that elements of community collaboration, interaction and participation are functional in the Kaplan Security Private Limited. These elements are informally contributing in the creation and transfer of knowledge. A majority of the respondents, specifically from the core competency activity area of security have an appreciable concept of what constitutes knowledge.
However, awareness of the knowledge management strategy amongst the employees is very low. Of special concern is the fact that an overwhelming 95.45% of respondents in the core competency activity area of security are unaware of the knowledge management strategy. Under such circumstances, the initiative is bound to result in failure – and it has. The fault nevertheless lies with the management which have not been able to communicate its knowledge management plans and priorities throughout the organization.
Only 16% of the respondents feel that the focus of Knowledge Management is on group collaborations and interactions. ICT and organized training programmes are given higher priority as the foci of knowledge management initiatives. This indicates that the management is not concentrating on Communities of Practice as the core entity in knowledge management processes.
Contrary to views held by the management, it has been found that the primary source of learning is on the job. Moreover, environment and culture of the organization along with peer pressure have been found to be the factors affecting learning most in the organization. Help for new challenges faced in the job, also come from colleagues albeit informally. These also show that elements of Communities of Practice are already functional in the organization. But, the other way round, it proves that sufficient emphasis has not been put on community knowledge development in the knowledge management strategy of the Kaplan security agency.
Since only 7% of the employees feel that they belong to a Community of Practice, it implies that Communities of Practice have not been accorded the sanction or legitimacy that they deserve in any knowledge management implementation. This has restricted the development of the full potential of the Communities of Development and resulted in the failure of knowledge creation and transfer efforts of the company.
In this age of high competition and changing technologies, processes and methods, where employees constantly migrate from one work place to another, the failure to create and retain organization knowledge through the development and nurturing of Communities of Practice is bound to have its impact on the overall performance of any business concern. Kaplan Security Private Limited suffers from a lack of insight in its knowledge management strategy and approach.
In the next chapter, this study will infer its conclusions from the literature review and case study and survey data compiled and analysed so far.
5.1. Purpose of the Chapter
The primary purpose of this final chapter is to draw conclusions from the study that has been conducted to critically analyze the importance of Communities of Practice in Knowledge Management implementations. Findings from the secondary data collated through a Literature Review of relevant material have been compared and contrasted with findings from the empirical primary data obtained through a case study of a security agency – the Kaplan Security Private Limited based in Bangalore of India and a sample survey of 100 employees of the security agency. The inferences and conclusions arrived at on the role of Communities of Practice and their importance in Knowledge Management implementation will be presented in this chapter.
This chapter will also take stock of the extent to which the research methodology adopted has been able to meet the aim and objectives set out at the beginning of the study. It will also critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the study as a whole and attempt an assessment of the contribution of the research to its field of study.
5.2. Outline of the Chapter Structure
After defining its purpose, this chapter undertook an evaluation of the extent to which it was able to meet its aim and objectives. This comprised comparison of the findings of the primary and secondary data and assessment of the answers to the research questions. The chapter then presented the insights gained in the study and the recommendations based on the insights. The contribution made by the research to its field of study, the strengths and weaknesses of the research were then examined. The study finally presented the scope for further research into the importance of Communities of Practice in creation, maintenance and transfer of knowledge in any organization.
5.3. Cyclical Closure
The primary aim of this paper was to analyze and examine the areas or aspects of importance in Knowledge Management implementations in any organization. The study approached the subject from the basic point of defining the concept of knowledge from the point of view of data and information as well as the point of view of knowledge that explicit and is therefore amenable to manipulation by ICT applications; and knowledge that is implicit and is therefore the exclusive domain of the human brain. Knowledge Management was chosen as the subject because simple ICT applications centering around data and information management has failed to serve the purpose of business organizations in a fast changing world. It is knowledge that matter and promise to give business concerns the competitive edge they seek over their rivals in business.
The study has been largely successful in identifying the core areas of Knowledge Management and identifying the central issues that needs to be emphasized in all Knowledge Management endeavours. It has found that Communities of Practice play a decisive and crucial role in all knowledge creation and transfer initiatives.
The study has found that organizations tend to downplay the importance of the ‘human factor’ of knowledge management and concentrate more on the ‘technology or IT factor’ in all knowledge development efforts. This leads to accordance of low priority on the nurturing of Communities of Practice resulting in the failure of the entire initiative.
The study has also been successful in achieving most of the objectives that it had set at the beginning. An extensive Literature Review was conducted to yield the envisaged secondary data. The secondary data was critically analyzed to reach conclusions and inferences. A case study was conducted through interviews with three senior managers of the Kaplan Security Agency as well as a sample survey of 100 employees of the organization through the distribution of a carefully designed questionnaire to elicit responses that provided the empirical primary data. The survey questionnaire was designed so that the primary data obtained would be quantifiable in nature and would be amenable to rigorous analysis. The case study questionnaire was designed so that the data obtained from it and the sample survey could be compared and contrasted.
A comparison of the primary and secondary data revealed the following:
i. The Literature Review had found that knowledge was basically value-added information and consisted of two intrinsic aspects – explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge. While explicit knowledge was the aspect that could be manipulated with the help of ICT applications and could therefore be dealt with technology or IT Management; implicit knowledge was the dominant aspect and the exclusive preserve of the human brain, and would therefore have to be managed through human resources management techniques. Knowledge Management would therefore have two tracks – the IT Track and the People Track, with the IT Track acting as the enabler or facilitator and the People Track dominating all procedures thereafter.
ii. The main finding of the Literature Review has been the identification of the Community of Practice as the central entity in Knowledge Management endeavors. It has been found that these self-developing communities are the living store houses of organizational knowledge. It is the Communities of Practice which are mainly responsible for creation, maintenance and development of organizational knowledge through the processes of negotiation, collaboration and interaction of the members of the Communities of Practice.
iii. The Literature Review identified the three main characteristics of Communities of Practice have to be Mutual Engagement, Shared Repertoire and Joint Enterprise. Their structure was found to comprise of the domain knowledge, the community and the practice. Communities of Practice were found to act as information exchange and interpretation nodes and as living repositories of knowledge, they helped in honing and developing the core competencies of organizations, and in providing a sense of identity to their members.
iv. The Literature Review revealed that Communities of Practice can remain unrecognized or invisible or visible only to their members in an organization. This has been complemented by the case study and the sample survey conducted. Once recognized and legitimized by the organization they can however assume strategic and transformative stature changing the very course of the organization for the better.
v. The Literature Review also found that organizations can nurture Communities of Practice by according legitimacy, linking the knowledge direction of the Community with the business strategy of the organization, adopting existing practices to foster the growth of communities, fine-tuning the organization to provide ideal conditions for the development and growth of Communities of Practice and finally by providing direct support in the form of resources, expertise, monitoring, etc. In the case of the Kaplan security agency however, it was found that the Knowledge Management strategy of the company has failed to accord due importance, recognition, legitimacy and nurturing to Communities of Practice.
vi. Finally the Literature Review established that that application of Information and Communication Technology alone will not serve the purpose of knowledge development and management in any organization. The solution lies in a judicious mix of ICT management and Human Resources management with the emphasis on the human resources through the development and nurturing of Communities of Practice. It has been conclusively proved by the case study and the sample survey that the entire knowledge development initiative of the Kaplan security agency has failed because of the lack of emphasis on Communities of Practice. Even though these self-developing entities give adequate proof of their existence, their full potential could not be harnessed due to lack of legitimacy and recognition. Kaplan Security Private Limited faces disastrous consequences because of this lack of insight in its Knowledge Management strategy.
5.4. Answers to the Research Questions
The study has also been largely successful in finding answers to all the research questions raised in the introductory chapter.
Regarding the practical implication of the term Knowledge Management, it was found that it is imperative that organizational knowledge be created, developed, maintained and disseminated in any organization in order to be able to cope with the changing circumstances of competitiveness and maintain the competitive edge. Maintenance of organizational knowledge is only safeguard against the trend of high migration of employees. Organizational knowledge has to made independent of the individual employee.
It has been found that the key concepts associated with Knowledge Management are knowledge, explicit knowledge, implicit or tacit knowledge, organizational knowledge and the Community of Practice. Each of these concepts have been clearly defined, detailed and examined in this study.
Knowledge is differentiated hierarchically from data and information. Data is without any context, information is contextual data and knowledge is value-added information. Knowledge in the context of the organization is organizational knowledge that has a enabling or facilitating explicit aspect and a predominant implicit aspect that resides in what can be termed as the collective organizational mind represented by the Communities of Practice if they are given their due importance and recognition.
Both the technology and human aspects are essential for effective Knowledge Management implementations. This research postulates that the concern of the Information Technology with respect to knowledge management is the handling, manipulation, processing and communication of the information that is in turn processed and assimilated by the human mind to generate knowledge. In other words, the ICT should concern itself with all that is related with the ICT aspect or the Information and explicit knowledge aspects of Knowledge Management. The ‘People Track’ or the people aspect of Knowledge Management falls outside the domain of technology. It is largely a concern of human resource management or people management which assumes overriding importance in all Knowledge Management implementations.
This study has reached the conclusion that the human aspect is practically incorporated into Knowledge Management implementation strategies through the medium of the Community of Practice. By providing adequate recognition and nurturing the existent Communities of Practice to their full potential, the organization can effectively create, develop, transfer and maintain knowledge so that knowledge itself becomes the ace business play of the organization. If the organization fails to nurture Communities of Practice no amount of ICT applications or infrastructure will enable it to achieve the knowledge advantage and the organization will not be able to cope with the vagaries of changing business processes.
This research has been successful in complementing many of the findings in cotemporary relevant literature on the subject through the practical case study and sample survey. It has also added to the knowledge in the field by identifying Community of Practice as the critical element of Knowledge Management efforts.
5.6. Robustness of the Study
This study has attempted to arrive at conclusions through the analysis and collation of both primary and secondary data. However, the sample size and its limited representative nature can be cited as limitations and weaknesses.
5.7. Further Research
There is ample scope for further research on the subject of importance of the Community of Practice in Knowledge Management implementations. A larger sample population distributed over a larger area and over a number of business concerns could be more representative of the practical situation. Moreover, further studies could be made not only on details of identification, incorporation and nurturing of existent Communities of Practice within an organization but also on creating new Communities of Practice wherever necessary.
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18 – 24
25 – 34
35 – 44
45 – 54
Knowledge Strategy Awareness
Factors affecting learning
More in others
More in minds
Help for new Challenge
Factors indicating CoP presence
Learning on Job
Peer Pressure + Env;Culture in learning
Colleague help in new challenge
Factors indicating lack of focus on CoP in KM Strategy
KM focus on Group collaboration and interactions
View that knowledge resides predominantly in human minds
Indication of CoP presence
Indication of KM focus on CoP
Sample Survey Data
(Attached as separate xl file)