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Organisational learning in small and medium sized South African energy project organisations

Senthilkumar Venkatachalam (Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Palakkad, Palakkad, India)
Alasdair Marshall (Faculty of Business and Law, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
Udechukwu Ojiako (College of Engineering, University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Hull University Business School, University of Hull, Hull, UK and UNIZIK Business School, Unizik, Awka, Nigeria)
Chamabondo Sophia Chanshi (Department of Construction Economics and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Management Research Review

ISSN: 2040-8269

Article publication date: 29 October 2019

Issue publication date: 21 April 2020




The purpose of this paper is to explore, using fine-grained exploratory multi-case studies, organisational learning practices – and associated constraints – impacting the performance of four small- and medium-sized project organisations which deliver energy efficiency projects in South Africa and whose learning practice mixes are of wider significance for the emerging project society in the region.


The unit of analysis is the Energy Efficiency Demand Side Management (EEDSM) programme; a US$104m grant funded the initiative directed at supporting energy efficient retro-fit projects across local municipalities in South Africa. Thematic analysis is undertaken, based on multiple exploratory interviews with project practitioners working for small- and medium-sized EEDSM project organisations.


Recognising the criticality of tacit knowledge as a focus for learning, within unstructured, novel, non-routine and technically specialised learning contexts in particular, the widespread lack of organisational harnessing through linkages to strategy and performance are noted, and advocacy is offered for the development of appropriate learning cultures linked to communities of practice that bring specialists together from across regional project societies.

Research limitations/implications

The socio-political context of the EEDSM programme, although briefly addressed for its organisational cultural implications, was not given detailed consideration in the exploratory interviews. This would have enhanced the idiographic complexity of the findings, while also reducing prospects for distilling generalisable organisational learning improvement opportunities for emerging project societies. However, the study does not seek to provide evidence for specific learning practice effects on performance as this was not something the interviewees felt able to comment on in significant detail.


Learning practice studies for small- and medium-sized project organisations remains sparse, so are studies of business environments within developing countries, in general, or sub-Saharan Africa, in particular. Looking beyond narrow individual project views of performance, the present study’s project society-based business environment is theorised as both constraining and benefiting from the project-learning practices discussed by the respondents.



Venkatachalam, S., Marshall, A., Ojiako, U. and Chanshi, C.S. (2020), "Organisational learning in small and medium sized South African energy project organisations", Management Research Review, Vol. 43 No. 5, pp. 595-623.



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