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Knowledge Management in Virtual Environments

Knowledge Management in Virtual Environments
Stavros Kammas s.kammas@rhul.ac.uk SANE research team, School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX,UK Keywords: Knowledge Workers, Knowledge Representations, Distributed Organisations, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), Computer Supported Cooperation in the Workplace (CSCW), Shared Understanding, Common Ground Approach. 1. Introduction Knowledge is power. It has become the product of the modern office and the information, the primary raw material. Knowledge flows among human and organisational knowledge processes and structures that are the key to organisational performance. Tacit knowledge, that exists either in the minds of the knowledge workers or in a meeting within an organisation, needs to become explicit and available for many people to use and apply. Knowledge management strategy can support this objective if its development has been based on the understanding of the organisation in which it is applied. This understanding includes the organisational culture, processes the infrastructure as well as the human communication. Knowledge management should be able to encourage the communication among the people within an organisation for the creation and sharing of knowledge, rather than being a collection of individual’s knowledge, especially when the organisation is distributed. The aim of this research is a further study on how can technology help distributed organisations extract knowledge from human communication among mobile knowledge workers by establishing common understanding in physical and mediated spaces and what are the necessary metaphors in such an environment. 2. Research Issues The starting point of this research is the distributed organisations. A distributed organisation consists of individual branch offices that operate at a distance from the home office but are in fact intact sub-organisations with dynamics of their own. Virtual environments are a step further than that. They are dynamically created workspaces with members from widely dispersed locations who may operate in physical isolation from their colleagues. So when virtual environments are adapted in distributed organisations at the same or different space, at the same or different time there are same or different processes that are happening and the same or different people are involved in these processes. This research is focused on the knowledge that is created within these environments. And it could be either individual or group considering its creation by a person or a team, and tacit or explicit considering its nature if it exists in the minds of people, it is internalised, verbal, soft knowledge or it is externalised, documented knowledge. The more representative vehicles of knowledge are mobile knowledge workers. These are experts within an organisation. There is increased demand for them but they are never in place because of the nature of their work. So they need different ways to communicate with their colleagues in order to help with their expertise or participate in meetings. This communication produces new knowledge about the subject that is discussed. 3. Research motivation

But why do we want to manage knowledge? Because Knowledge is Power (F. Bacon). It is the main capital of an organisation. And why do we want to manage this knowledge, the knowledge that comes from what people experience from communication? Because the only source of knowledge is experience. (A. Einstein). A part of organisation’s knowledge is experience. But “an organisation's knowledge walks out of the door every night – and it might never come back.” So, In order to acquire this kind of knowledge we need help. And the help in this case comes from technology. So, the main research question is “How can technology help distributed organisations extract knowledge from human communication among mobile knowledge workers?” There are some sub-questions that arise from the main research question: ? When people communicate, either in physical or in mediated environments, they need to understand each other. So we need to identify how people establish common understanding both in physical and mediated spaces. ? The communication through computers is called Computer Mediated Communication. The question here is how can this communication help people to identify and acquire knowledge. ? A group of knowledge workers working together can be called Human Knowledge Community. These people sometimes need to use metaphors in order to pass quickly or more comprehensive their messages to the others. So what are the metaphors and the environment that need to be used so that a Human Knowledge Community can operate. ? Technological media tend to limit the communication comparing to the face to face communication as the last is a complex multi-modal process. So the question is how technology should be designed so that it adapts to the needs for identifying and acquiring knowledge. 4. Literature In order to answer these questions research has been done in the literature starting by Knowledge Management and the several phases of knowledge life cycle, which according to Abecker and Bernardi are: identification, acquisition, development, dissemi-nation, use and preservation of enterprise’s knowledge. In this research I am specifically interested in the identification and acquisition. How knowledge can be identified and acquired during communicative events. This question arise the need for the next research in literature to be in communication and the time/space matrix which classifies communication according to the time and place the participants take part in the communication. So, a face to face communication is synchronous co-located because it happens at the same time and place while communication through letter is asynchronous remote because it happens at different place and time. Still in communication, a cooperative work framework based on the entities involved in cooperative work, that is the participants and the things they use. People communicate directly or through artefacts and establish common understanding. When the communication is through artefacts then the participants control the artefact and take feedback by it. The next area of research is the Computer Supported Cooperative Work. It is about group of users – how to design systems to support their work as a group and how to understand the effect of technology in their work patterns. These systems are called groupware and their function is to support computer-mediated communication through participants. Examples of such systems are email, videoconference and meeting rooms.

Virtual reality is an example of a meeting room where it is interesting to identify how participants realise time and space and what kind of metaphors they use in order to represent meaningful components. An example of a virtual reality world is a 3 dimensional chat rooms. 5. Methodology It is clear enough that in order to identify the knowledge that is created during a communicative event we need to understand the human communication. For this reason the Common Ground Framework is used. The main principal of this framework is that people who communicate need to achieve shared understanding and this can be achieved by creating a common ground. The common ground framework consists of three main concepts: ? The Background Knowledge that is what people know or assume for the communicative event and the other participants. It is the soft knowledge that exists in the minds of the participants. ? The current state of Join Activities that is what is actually happening now in the present, where is it happening, who is participating and what is said. ? And finally the public domain resources which are the tools that people use to communicate, the shared artefacts. It is the hard, documented knowledge as well. During a communicative event, the background knowledge feeds the current state that changes the public domain resources. These give feedback to the current state that changes the background knowledge of the participants. This cycle is repetitive during a communicative event until the participants end with shared understanding. The process is like acting and experiencing. 6. Data Sources The data sources for my research come first from workplace studies. These give us critical information about how people communicate in specific work settings: who the participants are, where and when the communicative event is taking place, what the topic and purpose of the event are and what media for communication are available in the work setting. This makes it possible to identify and describe the regularities and constraints that govern behaviour in those settings. And the other data source is work within the SANE project. SANE stands for Sustainable Accommodation in the New Economy. It is a multidisciplinary EU funded project to develop and validate a framework for the design and validation of sustainable workplaces that support knowledge workers in the office at home and on the move (SANE IST 2000-25257). 7. References http://www.saneproject.com Maher, M. L. et al. (2000). Understanding Virtual Design Studios, Sydney: Springer. Rosenberg D., Perry M., Leevers D., Farrow N. (1997). ‘People and Information Finder: informational perspectives’, in Williams R. (ed) The Social Shaping of Multimedia: Proceedings of International Conference COST-4, European Commission DGXIII, Luxembourg. Rosenberg, D. (2000). Online Information Environments, In Proceedings of ICCBEE-VIII, August 2000, Stanford University. Schreiber, G. et al. (2000). Knowledge Engineering and Management: The Common KADS Methodology, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. Skyrme, D. J. (1999). Knowledge Networking: Creating the Collaborating Enterprise, Massachusetts: Butterworth-Heinemann. Smith, D. E. (2000). Knowledge, Groupware and the Internet, Butterworth-Heinemann.

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