The discourse on knowledge management (KM) has emerged relatively recently in the
field of management. Organisational and strategic theories have been developed which
seek to explain the existence, boundaries, structure, management and competitive
advantage of organisations based on knowledge. These theories are consistent with one
thread from the overall discourse which argues that the management of knowledge
within an organisation is an important activity required for maintaining competitive
advantage in a hypercompetitive external environment. Despite the extensive interest in
this area, there is sti11limited agreement even about some of its fundamental principles.
This plurality of perspectives is due to the diversity of disciplines, theories and
objectives with which the area is enriched by both academics and practitioners alike.
Many independent KM initiatives have also been proposed for managerial use under the
KM umbrella. Such activities include meetings, mentoring schemes, training, job
rotation, site visits, conferences and exhibitions, and internal and external
collaborations. Many of these initiatives are relatively autonomous and independent
concepts. Generally these concepts have been first identified in the practitioner
literature and it is unclear where they fit within academic frameworks. In particular, the
relationship between KM initiatives and important related academic concepts such as
knowledge transfer, organisationalleaming, knowledge creation and innovation is not
clear. This lack of agreement, clarity and cohesion in the KM discourse naturally
suggests the following research problem: What is the relationship between KM
initiatives, organisationalleaming, knowledge transfer, knowledge creation
Taking an organisation and strategic management theory perspective, an exploratory
framework for understanding and explaining KM is developed within this thesis.
Theoretically, this framework draws together perspectives from the resource-based view
of the firm, organisational learning and innovation literatures to propose that the two
fundamental KM processes are knowledge transfer and creation. Knowledge transfer
supports learning and the utilisation of available internal and external knowledge
resources within an organisation. Through knowledge transfer and learning, new
knowledge can be created and organisational innovation takes place. These two
processes are then integrated into Whittington, Pettigrew et al.'s (1999) framework for
organisational change. Various disparate KM initiatives are also positioned within the
developed framework based on whether they facilitate knowledge transfer by altering
organisational boundaries, processes or structures.
The essence of the developed framework is represented pictorially by a research model.
This research model depicts the framework's key concepts and the relationships
between them. It also begins to represent some of the complex dimensionality inherent
in the framework. The research model is explored empirically using data from the
Business Longitudinal Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Responses from 3014 Australian businesses surveyed yearly from 1994 to 1998 are
analysed using chi-squared and logistical regression statistical techniques. This sample
consists of 1344 small and 1670 medium businesses across eleven industries. In
empirically exploring the research model, some of the dimensionality of the framework
is explored. However, the process also provides a confirmatory function by providing
empirical support for many of the aspects of the framework.
Statistical support was found for all elements of the research model. Odds ratios for the
various KM initiatives examined ranged from 1.292 to 3.554. These results confirm the
value of these initiatives for facilitating the transfer of knowledge. They also suggest
that the dimensionality of these constructs represented in the model should be explored
further. Of all the KM initiatives, research and development emerged as the most
effective initiative for facilitating knowledge transfer and creation. This finding
suggests that research and development should be the very first initiative considered by
managers looking to implement a KM program. It also suggests that future research on
knowledge transfer and creation should pay particular attention to this particular
initiative. The logistical regression analysis demonstrated that changing organisational
boundaries, processes and structures all contribute to facilitating knowledge transfer
which lead to knowledge creation. These results provided support for the most
important contribution of the thesis. This contribution was the development of an
integrated and exploratory conceptual framework which can serve as a foundation stone
for the field of KM.