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International Journal of Project Management 21 (2003) 177187 www.elsevier.


Knowledge sharing: context, confusion and controversy

Scott Fernie*, Stuart D. Green, Stephanie J. Weller, Robert Newcombe
The School of Construction Management and Engineering, The University of Reading, Reading, UK

Abstract Project managers in the construction industry increasingly seek to learn from other industrial sectors. Knowledge sharing between dierent contexts is thus viewed as an essential source of competitive advantage. It is important therefore for project managers from all sectors to address and develop appropriate methods of knowledge sharing. However, too often it is assumed that knowledge freely exists and can be captured and shared between contexts. Such assumptions belie complexities and problems awaiting the unsuspecting knowledge-sharing protagonist. Knowledge per se is a problematic esoteric concept that does not lend itself easily to codication. Specically tacit knowledge possessed by individuals, presents particular methodological issues for those considering harnessing its utility in return for competitive advantage. The notion that knowledge is also embedded in specic social contexts compounds this complexity. It is argued that knowledge is highly individualistic and concomitant with the various surrounding contexts within which it is shaped and enacted. Indeed, these contexts are also shaped as a consequence of knowledge adding further complexity to the problem domain. Current methods of knowledge capture, transfer and, sharing fall short of addressing these problematic issues. Research is presented that addresses these problems and proposes an alternative method of knowledge sharing. Drawing on data and observations collected from its application, the ndings clearly demonstrate the crucial role of re-contextualisation, social interaction and dialectic debate in understanding knowledge sharing. # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Context; Socialisation; Knowledge sharing; Construction; Aerospace

1. Introduction It seems logical for project managers to learn from practices enacted within other industrial sectors. In the absence of knowledge sharing mechanisms for application within and across sectors, project mangers in each sector are doomed to re-invent the wheel. This notion of learning from other industries is especially prevalent amongst project managers in the construction industry following the Egan Report Rethinking Construction [1]. Indeed, the notion of learning from other industries is increasingly central to the construction best practice agenda. The underlying assumption is that the capture and transfer of managerial knowledge between industrial contexts is unproblematic. In contrast, the emerging academic literature on knowledge management
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-118-931-8201; fax: +44-118931-3856. E-mail addresses: (S. Fernie), (S. D. Green), (S. J. Weller), (R. Newcombe).

recognises that managerial practices are invariably embedded within unique contexts. In developing an approach to facilitate learning across business sectors, it is initially necessary to challenge often taken-for-granted assumptions regarding knowledge sharing. Initially, the relevance of knowledge management to project managers is established with reference to the prevailing discourse of the knowledge economy. The broader academic literature is then reviewed to highlight the problematic nature of knowledge and its inseparability from context. Interpretations and insights are presented which are rarely debated within the project management literature. Having established the underlying concepts, ongoing research is reported that seeks to facilitate knowledge sharing between project managers from the construction and aerospace sectors. The comparison between these sectors is especially pertinent because they are so dierent. Finally, general conclusions are drawn and implications for the project management community suggested. The overriding objective is to challenge the way in which knowledge is currently conceptualised by practising project managers.

0263-7863/03/$30.00 # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. PII: S0263-7863(02)00092-3


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2. Knowledge management and the project manager The importance of knowledge management or, more precisely, the need for organisations to manage knowledge, is a consequence of the perceived link between competitive advantage and knowledge. This link is frequently highlighted in the knowledge management literature [29]. Further weight to this assertion, at least within the UK, comes from the domain of government policy makers such as the UK Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) [7,10]. Indeed, the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) raises the importance of what it calls the knowledge economy in its revealingly entitled white paper Competitive futures: Building the Knowledge Driven Economy [11]. Knowledge, it would seem, is clearly too important to be left to serendipityit must be managed. The discourse of knowledge management is increasingly evident within the project management literature. Turner [12] observes that project teams consist of knowledge workers. This clearly resonates with widespread notions of a knowledge economy discussed previously. The issue of how better to share knowledge across teams and between knowledge workers therefore becomes of central concern to project managers. The issue of knowledge sharing also becomes increasingly important to many project based organisations as they turn themselves into service companies that are increasingly divorced from the physical work of construction. The epistemological orientation of the project management discipline tends towards a functionalist, managerialist framework of knowledge that readily accepts the link between knowledge and competitive advantage perceived elsewhere [13]. From this perspective, the challenge is how knowledge can be captured, acquired or appropriated [1416]. Lanzarra and Patriotta [13] criticise this orientation for its lack of scrutiny on knowledge per se and its tendency to conceptualise knowledge as an objective, transferable commodity. Much eort has also been expended on the codication of project management into bodies of knowledge [17,18]. The underlying assumption is that such bodies of knowledge retain any meaning once divorced from context. Most project managers would readily concede that there is little substitute for experience; thereby implying that knowledge derived from experience cannot easily be codied. Here lies the issue for project managershow can project team members better collaborate through knowledge sharing? If this challenge is to be addressed, the nature of knowledge must be addressed. 2.1. The problematic nature of knowledge On the basis of the current interest in tools and techniques of knowledge management, it would seem sen-

sible to presume that there is some clarity as to what is knowledge. This question however has plagued philosophical debate since the beginning of philosophy itself [See Ref. 19]. Most notable is the frequently cited philosophical distinction between the source and method of acquiring knowledge. This distinction is revealed in notions of empiricism and rationalism, or to give them their distinct philosophical heritage, Aristotle and Plato, respectively. Arguably, and despite the longevity and richness of the debate, the question of what is knowledge still remains unanswered and hotly debated. Indeed, as with Deep Thoughts calculated answer of 42 to the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it, the answer itself may be disappointing [20]. However, Deep Thoughts pronouncement that the answer will only make sense once we understand the question, may be what underlies attempts to address the questionwhat is knowledge? Ultimately the answer will only make sense once we understand what it is that we are asking. Similarly, Legge [21], proposes that in addressing such dicult philosophical questions it is the search for a satisfactory answer that reveals that the question is not as straightforward as it looks and that to achieve an answer that is not only neat in form but satisfactory in content requires the unpacking of the substance of the question. Thus, the value in proposing the question may not be about nding an answer but rather to focus our attention on understanding what it is we are asking. In doing so we bring to bear upon this problematic question a greater understanding of what it is we are asking. We begin to unpack, unpick and deconstruct our own assumptions about the question. 2.2. The personal nature of knowledge The inability philosophically to answer the question what is knowledgedoes not seem to have hindered attempts to dene knowledge. Indeed, the Collins English Dictionary has not shied away from this task; describing knowledge as an organised body of information. Essentially, this denition attempts to dene knowledge by making a distinction between information and knowledge. The problem with the denition is that it does not indicate how or even who conducts the organising, on what basis it is conducted, in what domain (physical, mental or both) the organising takes place, and what form knowledge takes. This diculty with distinguishing knowledge from data and information concerns many writers on knowledge [2,2225] and information systems [26]. However, what they do seem to share is the notion that all three involve interaction with the human, or as Bell [22] puts it, they all reect human involvement with and, the processing of the reality at hand. Indeed for Bell, the distinction lies in the level of human involvement and

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processing. Knowledge is thus ultimately an individuals ability to make judgements, or as Tsoukas and Vladimirou [27] propose, it is the individuals ability to draw distinctions within a collective domain of action, based on an appreciation of context or theory, or both. All knowledge is therefore, for them, personal and is used to make judgements and distinctions in placing meaning on, and in interpreting, information. Information can then be considered a medium to initiate and formalise knowledge [23]. Whilst a universal denition of knowledge remains elusive (and perhaps even the distinction between knowledge, data and information), it is necessary for the development of knowledge sharing theories to have at least a working denition to inform development. For our purpose we draw from above and follow Bell [22], Tsoukas and Vladimirou [27] and Baumard [23] in adopting the standpoint that knowledge is personal. In this sense, any knowledge sharing method must hold at its core the notion of the interaction of individuals. This goes against the dominant tendency in the construction related literature that assumes that knowledge can be codied, captured and manipulated [1416,2830]. 2.3. Explicit and tacit dimensions of knowledge There have been various attempts to carve up and typify knowledge, although these all seem to share a common theme that knowledge, its creation and usage is undoubtedly a human endeavour [31,32]. Thus, individuals use knowledge, and its utility can only be realised through their interaction. One of the most common distinctions of knowledge frequently quoted is explicit versus tacit [2,32]. Explicit knowledge is described as knowledge that can be easily expressed or codied, whilst tacit knowledge is personal and context dependent, and as such diers from explicit since it is very dicult to express, formalise or communicate. This distinction is frequently cited as being captured in the phrase we know more than we can tell [33]. Indeed Polanyi [34] is often quoted as being the rst to make this distinction, although recent interpretations of his work by Pritchard [35] reveal that Polanyi himself ultimately seemed to reject the notion of explicit knowledge: The ideal of a strictly explicit knowledge is indeed self contradictory. Deprived of tacit co-ecients, all spoken words, all formulae, all maps and graphs are strictly meaningless. [34] Despite this less cited caveat to his theory, the notion of explicit knowledge is readily accepted and popularised in the knowledge management literature [2]. Thus, although tacit knowledge has become a central tenet of the debate surrounding knowledge [9,3538], the current discourse on knowledge management is

mainly directed at explicit knowledge [39]. However, attempts to capture and manage only explicit knowledge are the most recent and frequently cited criticisms of knowledge management within the literature [3841]. Generally, if we accept Goldblatts [32] notion that explicit knowledge represents only the tip of the iceberg of the entire body of knowledge, then that 80% of the iceberg that lies underwater remains largely ignored by a narrow focus on explicit knowledge. Similarly, the IT focused assumption that knowledge (codiable and thus explicit) can be captured and manipulated in databases also ignores this awkward hidden part of the iceberg. Drawing on the tacit and explicit knowledge split, Nonaka and Takeuchis [2] knowledge creation theory seeks to address and capture both. Central to their theory is a view that tacit knowledge (inherent in individuals) can be converted to explicit knowledge and thus exploited for commercial gain by the organisation. However, if it is possible to codify and capture an individuals tacit knowledge then the question of how this destabilises the individuals exchange value within the organisation must be addressed. This brings to the fore a professional ethics issue surrounding who owns (and controls) that tacit knowledge inherent within individuals and forms one of the criticisms surrounding the notion of organisations intellectual capital [42,43]. Conversely, whilst arguing that tacit knowledge is gained and exchanged through interpersonal contacts, McKinlay [44] notes that tacit knowledge is the currency of the informal economy of the workplace. Attempts by management to appropriate this knowledge are considered to devalue the currency since it abstracts it from its social and temporal context. He also found the ecacy of such a drive to be reected in his survey that indicated that the primary repository for knowledge is continually considered to be within the brains of the employee despite eorts to the contrary. Thus tacit knowledge for them cannot be illuminated; it remains elusive from the corporate gaze [44]. The focus for the management of knowledge can therefore be considered to lie outwith the current drive to create databases of explicit knowledge, or attempts to make tacit knowledge explicit. Indeed, appropriating tacit knowledge may be absolutely inappropriate for improving competitiveness. Knowledge sharing in this paper is therefore focused on personal (or tacit) knowledge. The research makes no attempt to codify or manipulate what is described as explicit knowledge, and whilst it makes use of certain parts of Nonaka and Takeuchis [2] knowledge creation model, the notion of knowledge conversion is dismissed. 2.4. The need for socialisation Whilst codied explicit knowledge may lend itself easily to sharing, the sharing of tacit knowledge is


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argued to be of a more complex nature. This is testimony to the notion that tacit knowledge is dicult, if not impossible, to extract from the knower. Putting aside notions of extracting tacit knowledge, notions of individuals sharing tacit knowledge is argued to be a product of socialisation [2,13,44]. Focusing on the Nonaka and Takeuchi [2] model, socialisation as a means to share tacit knowledge is quickly followed by a process to convert that tacit knowledge. However, socialisation as a mechanism to share (not transfer) tacit knowledge nds synergy with others [23,32,45] and is argued here to be central to any method of knowledge sharing 2.5. The importance of controversy Accepting socialisation as a mechanism of knowledge sharing leads to the question surrounding the ecacy of various types of social interaction. On this note, Lanzara and Patriotta [13] argue that knowledge is always the outcome of interactive and controversial social processes. Central to the sharing of knowledge is therefore debate, dialectic and collective enquiry and thus a focus on controversy. For knowledge sharing between industry sectors, such controversy may be as simple as the disparate use and interpretation of managerial processes and practices. 2.6. Linkages within social networks Granovetter [44] highlights the characteristics of linkages between actors or nodes in a social network to be highly inuential in knowledge sharing. Links or ties are considered to be the bridges by which knowledge sharing occurs between nodes. Furthermore, the strength or weakness of the tie determines what type of knowledge is shared [45,46]. Therefore strong ties, identied by high-trust, lengthy timeframes and close relationships, are ideal for the sharing of tacit, complex knowledge. Weak ties, on the other hand, limit the exchange of knowledge and even information. However, it is also conceded that the knowledge created by highly socialised (strong ties) groups is unlikely to be innovative. Nevertheless, through the concept of ties, the importance of social networks to knowledge sharing becomes apparent.

sector. Secondly, an organisation itself is historically the product of its own politics, economics and social factors that contribute to the use of processes, practices and philosophies. It is precisely this understanding that leads Pettigrew [49] to suggest an outer and inner context that collectively helps to determine the features of a practice. We can also deduce from this systemised view of knowledge and context that any analysis of an organisations processes and practices must be executed in full awareness of the context within which the practice is embedded [44,49]. Even taking a snapshot in time of both context and process may be inadequate to provide a basis for understanding the nature of process. History will have played a part in shaping and developing both context and process and will be carried forward in the human consciousness [49]. Therefore, an insight into the historical events that have shaped both context and process will reveal a better understanding of the current process and practices. Given Pettigrews [49] understanding detailed earlier, this is achieved through interaction between individuals who have shaped and been shaped by this history. Notwithstanding the importance of the structural characteristics of context, it is also necessary to recognise that dierent industries may well possess dierent ways of thinking. Kuhn [50] famously proposed that within science, each scientist views the world through the current paradigm, and that a paradigm shift will alter the view of the entities comprising the relevant universe. It can therefore be argued that tacit knowledge is paradigm dependent. Any knowledge created within a paradigm will inevitably reect associated deep-seated rules and assumptions. If the paradigm is then viewed as a social model, or a collective mindset, the notion of generality to other networks becomes even more problematic.

4. Knowledge sharing and context From a knowledge sharing perspective, the importance of context is a double-edged sword. Both the host context and receiving context present particular methodological problems. 4.1. The host context

3. The importance of context When comparing organisations from dierent sectors, issues of industry context must not be overlooked. Firstly, any investigation or comparison between managerial processes in dierent sectors must consider the political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental and structural factors inherent in each

In challenging the use of various competing paradigms as the basis of inquiry or research, a critique of functionalist methods reveals what is termed context stripping [51]. This refers to the consequences arising from a research design that uses what is termed a precise quantitative approach. Such an approach focuses on a specic set of variables and excludes from the data collection and subsequent analysis the impact of other

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potentially inuential contextual factors. More importantly, however, is the criticism surrounding the relevance of the ndings from such a study to other contexts. Contextually stripping potentially important factors from a study limits the generality of the ndings to other contexts. In the use of cross-industry benchmarking this criticism becomes crucial since the dierences in context may be insurmountable. 4.2. The receiving context Knowledge extracted from one context to be converted and adapted to another context is addressed and described as recontextualisation by Gavigan et al. [52], Thomson et al. [7] and Hull [37]. What is proposed is an understanding of the need for high degrees of recontextualisation for tacit knowledge when sharing occurs between industrial sectors. It may also be argued that recontextualising knowledge is more akin to a process of knowledge creation [2]. Adapting and altering knowledge (tacit or explicit) to other contexts alters the knowledge itself in such a way that it represents new knowledge and not necessarily tinkered old knowledge in a new context. Whichever way this is viewed, the notion of the receiving context in knowledge sharing being independent from the knowledge itself must be questioned and addressed. Altering the context rather than the knowledge, whilst most likely improbable in the majority of situations, must also not be overlooked by practitioners. Indeed, in some cases this may be the easier of the options to generate the change required.

benet of developing alternative models from dierent viewpoints. SSM has been inuential amongst engineers in demonstrating the limitations of the functionalism that prevails within the engineering disciplines. In this sense, SSM is useful in providing a justication and modus operandi that bridges the gap between interpretative researchers and practising project managers. SSM (especially in its Mode 2 application) provides a process of inquiry that encourages the immersion of the researchers in context, thereby reecting the adopted position on knowledge sharing. The four main activities of SSM can be summarised as follows [53]: 1. Finding out about a problem situation, including culturally/politically; 2. Formulating some relevant purposeful activity model; 3. Debating the situation, using the models; 4. Taking action in the situation to bring about improvement. Although taking action was beyond the responsibility of the research team, it did fall within the remit of the participating industrial partners. The research also accorded with the principles of action research in aiming to contribute both to the concerns of practitioners in a real situation and to the development of knowledge by joint collaboration within a mutually acceptable framework [5456]. As such, the research method was essentially problem driven in response to the practitioners views of where the opportunities for knowledge lay. The approach was further intended for the purposes of sensemaking [57] rather than as a prescriptive guide to action. It is this emphasis on learning that makes the method especially applicable to knowledge sharing within complex, multi-perspective contexts. The research project was divided into six separate applications of the knowledge sharing method described below, each exploring a topic relevant to both industries. Supply chain management (SCM) was chosen as the topic of the rst research cycle and informs the discussion and conclusions in this paper. 5.2. A knowledge sharing method Fig. 1 illustrates the approach implemented for each cycle of the research. Following the selection of the topic of concern, an extensive literature review was conducted aimed at the identication of the dominant schools of thought. The ndings from the literature review informed a selection of semi-structured interviews with practitioners from both sectors. The identied dierences were then analysed within the context of the structural characteristics of two sectors. The preliminary conclusions were then aired during a 1-day participative workshop involving practitioners from

5. Research overview The primary purpose of the research project was to develop and evaluate a participative approach to knowledge sharing between the aerospace and construction sectors. The project was made especially timely by the emerging importance attached to prime contracting in the construction sector. Prime contracting provides a new approach to construction procurement based on supply chain integration, thereby reecting long-standing practice within the aerospace sector. As such there are numerous management practices within aerospace not currently used in construction. The aerospace sector also has signicant experience of integrated supply chain management in the context of prime contracting. The research sought to benet both sectors by providing the opportunity for cross-contextual knowledge sharing. 5.1. Methodological underpinnings The research methodology drew from soft systems methodology (SSM) (Mode 2) [26] by recognising the


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6. Discussion from initial application 6.1. Choosing a topic for knowledge sharing Convening the research group together to focus on problems represents an initial step towards sharing knowledge through socialisation. Each time the group interacts, debate and dialogue occurs which contributes to the understanding between participants and their associated paradigms. Whilst the strength of the ties between these actors was initially weak and not ideal for knowledge sharing according to Granovetter [47], these ties became stronger over the duration of the project and thus progressively enhanced the potential for knowledge sharing. It should be noted that the industrial partners initial interest in sharing knowledge across business sectors was predicated on the quest for competitive advantage. Whether the initial interest is related to the narrow functionalist managerial understanding of knowledge [13] or as part of a wider agenda does not distract from their collective commitment to sharing knowledge during the research. Maintaining the commitment of the industrial participants required a wide debate on which topics should be chosen. This applied equally to the academic team. Thus from an initial generated list of possible topics, the democratised group [58] rst chose SCM as currently the most meaningful and interesting from the list. Given that the construction sector participants are currently involved with prime contracting and the current exhortations of industry policy makers to adopt SCM, this is wholly understandable. However, the rationale for the aerospace participants to focus on SCM was less obvious. The aerospace sector is already considerably more mature regarding its SCM applications than construction. This may be indicative of a desire on the part of those in aerospace to understand better what it is that they do regarding SCM. 6.2. Supply chain managementliterature review In essence, it is the ndings from the former that generate debate and controversy in a social context that is considered crucial to developing and sharing knowledge. The ecacy of the knowledge-sharing method is thus argued to be determined by two inter-related factors: an ability to generate debate and understanding through contextual disparities; and the socialisation of individuals. It should be noted that the application of the knowledge sharing method was conducted within a 3-month period and thus the function of its application is not to exhaustively explore a topic but to bring to bear upon those involved a variety of interpretations for debate. Ultimately, the issue of importance is on the extent to which the practitioners found the process to be useful in terms of providing fresh insights. Drawing on the rst two of the four main activities outlined in SSM (mode 2) [53], the literature review was conducted to initially discover and engage with the problem situation and formulate a variety of interpretations. In doing so the literature revealed a widespread lack of agreement regarding the content of SCM. Many authors from disparate backgrounds and professions provided disparate denitions, historical backgrounds and foci regarding supply chain management. This allowed an understanding of the multi-dimensional view of supply chain management and the generation of specic schools of thought such as lean thinking [59,60], market positioning [61,62] and purchasing [63,64]. These schools of thought are also not entirely mutually exclusive in terms of content since they contain

Fig. 1. Knowledge sharing method.

both sectors. The workshop was designed to generate maximum debate and discussion. While frequent reference was made to the supposed dichotomy between tacit and explicit knowledge, particular care and attention was paid to the theoretical arguments outlined previously. At all times, the researchers sought to be sensitive to the inherent dangers of over simplifying knowledge and the means by which it can be shared. In an eort to fully explain the method described earlier, the following sections detail each step in the application of the method along with discussion regarding the rst research cycle. In doing so, it becomes possible to distinguish between two areas of ndings during the research. 1. The inseparability of knowledge, manifest as processes and practices, from context. 2. The notion that socialisation facilitates knowledge sharing.

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many common aspects, such as trust, that could in themselves represent schools of thought in their own right. For the purposes of the research, each school of thought represents an interpretation of the problem and the exhortation of appropriate solutions based on that interpretation. It is not the purpose of the research to refute or endorse any of these interpretations but to use them as the basis for generating debate and further interpretations from the research group during the workshop. As such, these schools of thought and their constituent parts, such as trust, form the models used to debate situations and also form the integral part of the third activity outlined in SSM (Mode 2) [53]. This discovery and use of interpretation for debate between individuals also holds true to Lanzarra and Patriottas [13] understanding of the need for controversy to encourage and enhance knowledge sharing. 6.3. Interviews Twenty interviews were conducted with SCM experts from within and outside the research collaborating organisations. Interviewees covered a broad range of positions within organisations from operational (devoted to projects) and strategic (concerned with a business orientation to supply chain management). Such a spread allowed the team to investigate and discover a variety of views and opinions regarding supply chain management. The main purpose of the interviews was to explore and uncover actual themes, issues and problems associated with the practical implementation and application of supply chain management. Running parallel to the main purpose was the intention to draw comparisons with the models developed from the literature. In doing so it was then possible to explore possible tensions and dichotomies between espoused theory and theory in use. With regards to SSM, this part of the knowledge sharing method aids in the understanding of the problem situation and the development of plausible models of SCM. In addition, the interviews draw into the research an understanding of some of the underlying assumptions, perceived limitations and various interpretations of individuals enacting and developing SCM. This interview data revealed considerable sectoral dierences in the maturity and enactment of SCM in practice. Most notably, the aerospace sector interviewees were able to describe an approach that had evolved and is currently adopted. Conversely, interviewees in the construction sector were prone to articulate a prescribed approach such as the MoD Building Down Barriers prime-contracting model [65]. 6.4. The knowledge sharing and learning environment This part of the knowledge sharing method brings together individuals from the aerospace and construction

sectors to discuss and debate the variety of interpretations (models) and enactments of SCM uncovered by the research team. The research team act as both facilitators and participants in the ensuing discussions and debates. The research therefore maintains one of the main tenets of action researchthat theory and action are not separated and the research is directed toward resolving real life problems [58]. This environment acts to socialise the individuals involved and encourage knowledge sharing through interpretation and subsequent understanding of each others positions regarding SCM. Thus it follows the notion that socialisation is key to knowledge sharing as proposed earlier [13,23,32,45]. Similarly, the presentation by the research team of interpretations of SCM (rather than an idealised or generic view) seeks to provoke the debate required between individuals [13]. This use of interpretative accounts to oer explanations also follows the rationale of action research set out in Stringer [55], Winter [66] and Friedman [67]. However, one of the earliest presentations from the research team described the structural characteristics of the aerospace and construction sectors. In short, the UK aerospace sector is highly consolidated and dominated by BAE Systems (previously British Aerospace). The only other remaining independent major player is Rolls Royce. In contrast, the UK construction sector remains highly fragmented with the top 30 contractors accounting for only 17% of output. The two sectors also dier hugely in terms of their client base. Whilst there are relatively few clients for aerospace systems, every household is potentially a client of the construction industry. These dierences provide a context within which various interpretations and debates surrounding SCM can be grounded. They do not, however, capture all aspects of context within which SCM is enacted but do act to bring some understanding of contextually embedded knowledge discussed previously [44,49]. What becomes apparent from the following discussion on ndings is that this context, whilst limited, provides enough insight into the practice of SCM to reveal the dangers inherent in excluding it from any knowledge sharing exercise.

7. Findings from initial application By not separating (during analysis, debate and discussion) practice from context, it is argued that all participants to the research have achieved a greater understanding. The initial application of the knowledge sharing method revealed a signicant number of instances where an understanding of the relationship between practice (enacted knowledge). Furthermore, and context enhanced the participants ability to make sense of how and why supply chain management is enacted and implemented in a variety of ways.


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7.1. Context and practice (knowledge) The debate and discussion during the workshop revealed particular contextual factors to have a signicant impact on current supply chain management approaches and the ability to implement it. Firstly, the UK aerospace sector is dominated by BAE Systems. As such, the aerospace supply chain can be shaped and changed along a unied direction from a single source. In essence, the power to shape the sector is held by one single organisation. Conversely, in construction, no single player in the industry is in a position to inuence its suppliers to adopt management concepts. What transpires is a unied and widespread approach to supply chain management in aerospace and a fragmented approach in construction. This contextual factor also has far reaching eects on other aspects of business harmonisation such as information systems, computer aided design software, language and direction. Secondly, the domain within which the application of supply chain management occurred in each sector seemed to dier. Those in the aerospace sector viewed the development and application within the context of businesses working with other businesses at a strategic level outwith the context of projects. However, those in construction principally saw its application on projects. These views have obvious consequences, which inuence the ability to develop and maintain related concepts such as collaboration, trust and good working relations crucial to supply chain management. In essence, in aerospace supply chain management represents a way of doing business. In construction supply chain management is seen to be yet another improvement technique that can be implemented on projects. Finally, the number of players in each market was viewed to inuence both the nature of competition and base levels of trust inherent in each sector. It was noted that the consolidated nature of the aerospace sector is associated with high levels of collaboration, and is therefore characterised by a high level of trust between players. Conversely, construction is a large market with a very high degree of competition, and is consequently characterised by low levels of trust. This statement has consequences for those seeking to transfer practices in aerospace that operate in this atmosphere of high levels of trust into one that is characterised by low levels of trust 7.1.1. Knowledge sharing The application of the knowledge sharing method has certainly uncovered many interesting facets regarding supply chain management for all participants during the research. Indeed, it is questionable whether supply chain management can ever be fully implemented in the construction sector given its fragmented structure and low barriers to entry. In many respects, its implementation would seem to depend upon revised procurement

arrangements, such as PFI, where integrated supply chains compete with other integrated supply chains. However, the ethos of mutual dependency that prevails in such contexts cannot be extrapolated across the industry at large. The success of the knowledge sharing method can therefore be seen in terms of propagating a more contextually bound understanding of management techniques such as supply chain management. The research process forced the participants to re-evaluate their initial assumption that the techniques of supply chain management could be transferred from one sector to the other. In many respects, the knowledge of the participants was enhanced in terms of understanding dierent arguments about supply chain management and its relationship with broader contextual factors. Ultimately, the participants ongoing support and participation illustrate the usefulness of this process. Such support and participation will only be achieved if its application can remain meaningful, interesting and continuously generates debate, discussion and insights, which would otherwise remain undiscovered. To this end, the application of the method is currently in its third cycle with enthusiasm, ongoing support and participation largely remaining unabated. Indeed, the linkages between participants should arguably become stronger through repeated interaction.

8. Conclusion This paper has addressed the challenges of knowledge sharing across business sectors. Many of the existing assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge and the extent to which it can be codied have been challenged. Knowledge is not a commodity that can easily be captured and transferred across contexts. It has been argued that the notion of knowledge cannot be separated from the knower. The authors are therefore sceptical of approaches that relate knowledge management to IT systems. An alternative, people-centric view has been developed whereby knowledge is essentially personal. Any approach at knowledge sharing must be predicated on engaging the individual. If knowledge sharing between individuals is to take place, it is necessary to facilitate dialectic debate within a socialised setting. Given the dynamic and ethereal nature of knowledge, it is considered more important to emphasise the learning process rather than any tangible outcomes. It is recognised that this observation will present something of a challenge to the dominant ethos of functionalism within the project management community. Furthermore, it is seen to be important that some element of controversy is introduced into the debate if new knowledge is to be created beyond the collective mindsets, or paradigms. The taken-for-granted assumptions that comprise collective mindsets often relate to a shared context. Knowledge is

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frequently embedded in context such that an understanding of the host and receiving contexts becomes central to any knowledge-sharing endeavour. An approach to knowledge sharing across business sectors has been described that attempts to be consistent with the preceding principles. The approach described draws freely from the established ideas of soft systems methodology, action research and sensemaking. The adopted method was highly participative placing particular signicance on debate. The eective facilitation of this debate is seen to be key to a successful process. However, the background research eort was important in terms of ensuring that the debate was not nave. In this respect, it is essential to draw from the relevant wider literature and a wider analysis of the structural dierences between the host and receiving contexts. In the absence of such inputs, there is a danger that the debate may simply reinforce existing prejudices. In accordance with the adopted interpretative position, there should be no expectation of nding a single coherent model in the literature on topics such as supply chain management. Knowledge should not be assumed to be unidimensional and accumulative. Indeed, the research has deliberately emphasised the identication of alternative dominant storylines. This enabled competing practices to be compared with reference to the dierent contexts. It could be argued that the background research was directed towards accessing both tacit knowledge in the form of interpretations and explicit knowledge in terms of codied procedures. However, although the dichotomy between tacit and explicit knowledge was found to be useful in terms of engaging the practitioners interest, it ultimately made little sense as a means of classifying the emergent understanding. It is further necessary to question how the eectiveness of the advocated knowledge sharing approach should be assessed. It would clearly be epistemologically inconsistent to try to measure the amount of knowledge that has been shared. A much more meaningful measure is to ascertain that extent to which the participants found the experience to be interesting. Based on this criterion, the adopted approach would appear to have been successful. Finally, it is recognised that this paper has not resolved the complexities and confusions that characterise the domain of knowledge management. It is contended that many of these issues are irresolvable. However, what has been described is an approach that seeks to balance a sensitivity to epistemology with the pragmatic requirements of working with project management practitioners.

the feedback from conference participants. The research is also funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and gratefully supported by BAE SYSTEMS, AQUMEN Group Plc, N G Bailey & Co Ltd, Forticrete Limited, Inbis Technology Ltd, Mowlem Defence Solutions, John Mowlem and Company PLC, Scott Brownrigg+Turner.

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