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Chapter 15 Outsiders on the Inside: Sharing Know-How Across Space and Time 1

By Thomas A. Finholt, Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler


This study examined how employees of a global corporation sought out technical information from employees distant from them. Data were drawn from the contents and access records of two computer-based employee message archives. The “peer archive ” contained questions and answers exchanged over a company-wide electronic mailing list by ordinary employees. The “expert archive ” contained questions from employees and answers from designated experts. We predicted that archive accesses by employees would increase with their geographic distance from engineering headquarters, and that accesses would increase to the extent that the archive contained know-how information. Content analysis demonstrated that the peer exchanges were more informal, more personal, and were more likely to contain specific references to the company’s products, tools, and customers, all indicators of know-how information. Analyses of use showed that workers accessed the peer archive more than the expert archive; this difference increased with greater geographic distance from engineering headquarters. The results suggest that know-how archives can be useful in connecting distant employees seeking and providing technical information across space and time. 470 Organizations are focused on improving access to and use of organizational knowledge-both “know-what ” and “know-how ” (Brown and Duguid, 1998). Know-what is explicit rules and principles. Know-how is the ability to put know-what into practice. For example, a help line operator may understand general principles of computer operating systems, but this understanding is useful only if it can be deployed to solve a caller’s particular problem. Knowwhat is relatively easily transmitted through books, manuals, or formal instruction and computerbased documents and databases. Know-how, by contrast, is often difficult to transmit in documents and formal instruction because it is embedded in work practices Technicians and engineers have always shared know-how in informal face-to-fac

Year: 2013
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