Within the last decade, researchers and managers in organizations have become increasingly interested in understanding knowledge and the processes through which knowledge is created, distributed, and exchanged. The recognition that knowledge is a valuable resource has emerged within an increasingly complex business environment, one in which advances in technologies have enabled the exchange of knowledge in unprecedented ways. Thus, the link between technology and knowledge exchange is a significant topic of interest, and one that has important implications for how technology is implemented to support knowledge work. The purpose of this dissertation is to further the understanding of knowledge exchange within organizations, and how technology has influenced this exchange, by examining the dyadic relationships between people by mapping how knowledge flows from one person to another. A key extension of prior research is the inclusion of both face-to-face exchanges and email exchanges.
Using a social network approach, this study was based on theories of social capital to develop hypotheses describing how an individualís centrality in one network, e.g. the email communication network, is related to his/her centrality in the knowledge network. We then developed hypotheses relating to centrality in the knowledge network to individual performance, both in terms of creativity and efficiency. Data were gathered and analyzed in network form, and we used SNA (social network analysis) and SEM (structural equation modeling) to test the hypotheses. Although intended to increase the effectiveness of knowledge exchange, technology may actually inhibit the exchange of certain types of knowledge. For example, Davenport and Prusak (2000) suggest that the use of CMC (computer-mediated communication) can diminish the personal contact that is often required for the effective exchange of more tacit-related knowledge. Thus, the key contribution of this study is to understand how technology affects the exchange of different types of knowledge, and how an individualís position in the knowledge network affects performance.
The findings from this research suggest some important modifications to our theoretical understanding of knowledge exchange and performance. First, individuals sharing knowledge do not see it as simply tacit/explicit, but also consider its sensitivity. Face-to-face channels with trusted sources are the most preferred method for exchanging sensitive knowledge. Second, the communication channel is not an important consideration in the exchange of research knowledge Ė this requires knowing where expertise resides and if that expertise will be made available. Finally, the findings suggest that embedding knowledge workers in more knowledge flows does not result in a uniform increase in individual performance. Some work tasks, such as teaching, require practice over long periods of time and innate abilities. So how does the structure and quality of relationships impact knowledge exchange and performance? It depends on the sensitivity of the knowledge more than the tacitness of the knowledge, and the type of tasks being performed.