Knowing across boundaries

Claude Paraponaris (Lest, University AIX Marseille, Aix en Provence, France)
Martine Sigal (LEST CNRS, Aix Marseille Universite, Aix en Provence, France)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 September 2015



Paraponaris, C. and Sigal, M. (2015), "Knowing across boundaries", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Knowing across boundaries

Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Knowledge Management, Volume 19, Issue 5

Claude Paraponaris

Martine Sigal

Claude Paraponaris is Professor at LEST CNRS, Aix Marseille Universite, Aix en Provence, France.

Martine Sigal is based at LEST CNRS, Aix Marseille Universite, Aix en Provence, France.

Knowing across boundaries

The main studies on knowledge management are focused on “cross border knowledge transfer”. Effectiveness of knowledge transfer (trust, cultural alignments and openness to diversity) is central to cross organisational boundaries. Though this issue is central, others topics are equally important. Scientific boundaries and epistemic boundaries are major topics less investigated in organisational context.

This Special Issue is meant to cross different types of boundaries. Boundary raises the question of the “inside” and the “outside” of organisations. Actually, studies about the strategic positioning of organisations through knowledge management considered mainly two complementary approaches (#B1).

The first one emerged from the question of processing the formalisation of risk and knowledge retention. From this perspective, organisational reliability is achieved through an intra-organisational process of knowledge modelling.

The second approach tried to take into account social environments as driving forces behind the organisations’ strategic positioning in terms of operations and sourcing. This corresponds to an exogenous process through which the social structures generating specific knowledge can be identified (e.g. epistemic communities and technological associations).

If knowledge is both in and out of an organisation, then the knowledge processes between the two need to be specified.

To treat this issue, it seems appropriate to show organisations’ interests in crossing boundaries. To do this, we have to characterise the different boundaries. Which processes can be used to cross them and what are the outlooks for the organisations?

This challenge was taken into account by a large community of scholars. A recent international meeting has tried to deepen the question. Thus, the current issue is based on papers and discussions from the GeCSO International Conference on Cognitive Dynamics and Social Change (GeCSO 2014), held at Aix-en-Provence, France, from 4-6 June 2014. During the conference organised with Aix-Marseille University, AGeCSO (Association for Knowledge Management in Society and Organisations) and the LEST, Institute of Labour Economics and Industrial Sociology, UMR CNRS 7,317, the topic of boundary has emerged and been developed by several authors.

As a follow-up to the GeCSO, this Special Issue of Journal of Knowledge Management is published based on the best articles selected by the Scientific Committee and a few additional texts by guest authors. All content underwent a three to four blind peer review process.

Claude Paraponaris and Martine Sigal provide a state-of-the-art expertise about knowledge transfer-related boundaries. The authors use a historical approach to the concepts. Following #B2, #B3), they propose to criticise the transfer’s dominant approach. In addition, they try to show and comment on the transition from the concept of knowledge transfer to the concept of boundary. In a “constructivist way” (#B4; #B5) and with #B6, the authors propose the concept of boundary construction to underline the role of interactions “actors-objects-actors”. The overview starts with the question of knowledge transfer. The authors note the importance of the studies that laid the foundations of knowledge dynamics within organisations. Nevertheless, certain gaps were identified in the theory, as it did not seem so easy to carry out transfers. This led, in turn, to attempts to identify the boundaries that were causing difficulties and that had to be crossed. This brought, in turn, an examination of the role of boundaries. How does boundaries’ status evolve when knowledge expands enormously within communities and, in particular, when communities hold autonomous stakes outside organisations? Finally, the authors face knowledge management systems that had a tendency to redefine the forms that boundaries take. With #B6, the authors put forward the concept of boundary construction.

The authors in charge of developing the topic of crossing boundaries made several choices and particularly in using multidisciplinary research and fields.

The purpose of Bootz, Lièvre and Schenk is to address the following questions: how are outside experts identified, selected and mobilised in the upstream phase of innovation projects? How do such explorative projects overcome contexts of radical uncertainty? The authors’ research design is based on a case study of a polar expedition. They explain how the rationality of expert’s solicitation falls within a pragmatic logic where the acquired knowledge must overcome the uncertainty so that the project can progress. The research into the aerospace industry (Beaugency, Sakinç and Talbot) specifies two kinds of managing boundaries. Flight control systems are strategic for aircraft manufacturing. One firm kept in house both the development and the production of the technology, the second one, in accordance with financial strategy, continued to outsource them. For each one, the boundaries are not the same. Another view on boundaries is suggested by Khedhaouria and Jamal. The authors ask the question of knowledge sourcing in the case of project teams. The paper investigates motivations of team members to source knowledge and how the sourced knowledge increases their reuse and creation outcomes. They investigate 341 project teams to identify what motivates them to reuse existing knowledge or create new. This study highlights that knowledge-sourcing methods produce different performance outcomes regarding knowledge reuse and creation.

A study of scientific boundaries is conducted by Nathalie Girard. This study explores the field of agriculture and points the question of scientific and practices boundaries of knowledge. The author performs a literature analysis on a database and a qualitative analysis of 273 scientific article abstracts. Four knowledge-management strategies revealed the importance of legitimisation processes of practitioners’ knowledge and the need to go beyond the dichotomy between scientific and empirical knowledge.

Echajari and Thomas suggest to overcome epistemological frontiers (knowledge/knowing) into the theories of learning. When the experiences are complex and heterogeneous, the learning mechanisms are not easy to establish. In this way, the authors suggest that knowledge codification can facilitate the learning process. A contribution to the literature is purposed with the identification of appropriate codification strategies based on experience type.

Dupouët and Aribi address the question of the contingency of a firm’s absorptive capacity upon the type of expected outcome (more or less radical innovations). Their results suggest that, while “new-to-the-firm” innovations tend to favour the use of social capital, “new-to-the-world” innovations tend to rely more on organisational capital. They interpret these rather counterintuitive results by the necessity to take into account other variables such as time and knowledge distance in the absorption of new knowledge.

Michel Ferrary explores the boundaries between knowledge management and human resource management. How providing strategic human capital within alliances could be a strategy for leveraging resource? This study states that human resource’s high replicability is a new source of investment for each firm.

Aurore Haas wishes to contribute to define the concepts of boundary spanner, gatekeeper and knowledge broker. These actors can use their positions in several systems or groups to gain power. They can modify their behaviours according to their personal goals and to organisational and local contexts. The following paper is close. The study of Luciana Castro Gonçalves concerns French innovation clusters as inter-organisational context. The research focuses on knowledge brokering activities implemented in this inter-organisational context. And shows how they cross-knowledge boundaries, structure cooperative dynamics and participate in common strategy-making. Findings show a widespread development of brokering activities that emerge from cluster governance unit to its networks according to a reflexive relationship progressively structured over time.

Several studies show that cultural differences can be a major obstacle to the transfer of knowledge. Lièvre and Tang study these obstacles in a co-operation project between France and China with private and public partners in the health sector. They exploit the Nonaka’s SECI model and its successive additions to reintroduce the cultural difference and the gaps between private and public logics in the circulation of knowledge. These parts constitute controversies – in the meaning of Latour – understood as basis for collective action. They discuss positive and negative issues of these controversies. Their results show that cultural obstacles are more important than differences between private and public logics with similar purposes in the health sector.

In the last paper, Lehmann, Frangioni and Dubé explore living labs as knowledge creation systems for large-scale urban projects. This empirical study aims to identify and characterise “new” knowledge emerging from living labs concerned by health care. Four cases in the city and urban public spaces are investigated. A theoretical model of knowledge creation and integration from living lab system is proposed and discussed, in particular how “new” knowledge can be integrated to urban projects and create value for all living lab stakeholders.

The guest editors would like to thank Rory Chase, Chief Editor of Journal of Knowledge Management, for offering us the privilege of editing this special issue. The following persons have acted as assistance for GeCSO 2014 and the edition of this special issue: Jean-Louis Ermine (Head of AGeCSO), Ariel Mendez (Head of LEST), Bertrand Pauget (European Business School Paris) and Catherine Gosselin (Aix-Marseille University, LEST).


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