National Knowledge Management Research meeting "Made in Holland" (4)

Vanessa Dirksen & Ard Huizing (University van Amsterdam): The Networking Knowledge Worker, Technology Appropriation and the Shaping of Learning Practices

This very interesting presentation reports on “an ethnographic study performed in a large and distributed, knowledge intensive ICT company. It gives an in-depth account of the introduction of virtual communities in this organization and what happened afterwards. When confronted with organizational change ideas such as virtual community, people make sense of and appropriate these ideas to make them ‘their own’.”

Basically they asked: What could or should knowledge management be? Why is the game Warcraft such a success as apposed to corporate Intranet for instance?

They see to main approaches to KM: One from ‘Objectivism’, and the other from ‘subjectivism’.

Objectivism says: Knowledge and information is a thing, product, etc. Objectivism: the philosophical tradition that for knowledge development we should view the world as consisting of distinct, disembodied objects. Economist, technologist, etc. use the objective approach. Information becomes data.

However, knowledge and information is context-dependent, intersubjective meaning, dynamic and tentative meaning, etc. This is the subjectivistic approach. Subjectivism: the philosophical tradition that for knowledge development, we should focus on how people experientially understand their words (which is dependent upon what they find meaningful to their lives etc.) Sociologists, psychologists, etc use the subjective approach.

Objectivism and subjectivism: the same viewed differently. In KM research they hardly ever connect. It’s transaction vs. interaction.

Ard’s thesis is that KM is objectivist by default. However, on it own objectivism does not provide a solid foundation for KM. And subjectivism doesn’t either.

To learn more on this topic the defined ‘Governmentality’ case. Research was done on the roll out of virtual communities in a large multinational ICT company. They looked at the overal reasons for this roll out and its goals. What they learned, among others, was that the experts didn’t participate in the community and go elsewhere (e.g. on Internet). Furthermore, imposed communities create artificial organizational boundaries. They also conducted social network analysis, which resulted in the conclusion that one system for all did not fit the need of the specific groups in the organization. People share knowledge because of affinity or calculation (e.g. “I should publish this post, because then I’ll be more visible to my manager”).

Using these kind of findings they are trying to find a different way of doing knowledge management. They call this ‘Practice based knowledge management’. It’s based on looking closely at what’s really going on in companies and connecting/relating to that.

Their definition of knowledge management is: the theory and practice of shaping informational object-centered sociality, while directing people’s interaction towards organizational or societal goals. Knowledge Management is about information and knowledge, subjective and objective.

So, their domain is: Sociality centered around information objects.

I found this presentation very interesting and am going to search for their papers on this topic.


  1. Yes, very interesting. I would like to contact the presenter and/or the principle at the unnamed company for a possible case report for Inside Knowledge magazine.

    Jerry Ash
    Managing editor
    Inside Knowledge magazine

  2. You can find Ard Huizing's contact info here


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