Teknika HBA - Université de Sherbrooke
Knowledge Transfer Strategy
A Complex Adaptive Systems View
(Second Order Knowledge Transfer)
Las Vegas Nevada
Dynamic knowledge transfer research laboratory
Université de Sherbrooke
Frames of reference?
• What is knowledge transfer?
• What we mean by first and second order
• What we mean by concerted action
– Systems approach
• Dynamic Knowledge Transfer Capacity Model
• Learning Histories
A few definitions of
Szulanski (2000) "Knowledge transfer is seen as a process in which an
organization recreates and maintains a complex, causally ambiguous set of
routines in a new setting."
Argote et Ingram (2000) "Knowledge transfer in organizations is the process
through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by
the experience of another. This definition is similar to definitions of transfer
at the individual level of analysis in cognitive psychology
Knowledge transfer and learning, Goh (2002). "… a critical factor in
knowledge management, the ability of the organization to transfer
knowledge. Knowledge transfer is also a key dimension of learning
(Goh, 1998; Garvin, 1993). Learning occurs when knowledge in one part on
an organization is transferred effectively to other parts and used to solve
problems there or to provide new and creative insights”
An example of knowledge transfer in the
Canadian Healthcare Research
Knowledge (transfer) translation is the
exchange, synthesis, ethically-sound application
of knowledge – within a complex system of
interactions among researchers and users – to
accelerate the capture of the benefits of
research for Canadians through improved
health, more effective services and products,
and a strengthened healthcare system.
2004-2009 CIHR, knowledge translation strategy
For Gherardi and Nicolini (2000)
To transfer is to transform.
First order knowledge transfer
Knowledge is considered a thing or object.
It is reified;
it can be captured, codified, sent, circulated, transferred, accumulated, converted, and
The importance of tacit knowledge is only recognized when it can be
codified or converted to a form that is manageable and controllable.
The process of knowledge transfer and exchange has focused largely on
the capacity to codify knowledge through the use of appropriate formats,
conventions, and media.
Knowledge transfer and exchange is linear.
Methods to bridge the gap between evidence and practice.
We are looking for the knowledge transfer and exchange silver bullet:
knowledge exchange officer;
knowledge transfer and exchange evaluation and measurement;
First order knowledge transfer takes a
reductionist, mechanistic view
It assumes that knowledge may be reduced to its constituent parts,
optimised and fitted together again to achieve the desired outcome.
Healthcare workers are expected to be like structural engineers or
Daytona 500 mechanics of the human body.
In some cases this works fine:
– this part is broken replace it with this new one, or take this pill and you
will be okay;
– undergo this operation and you will be fine;
– follow this diet and you’ll be fine;
– exercise and all will be well.
However, this is not sufficient because it does not address the
complexity associated with human actors who are constantly
engaged in thought, and hence are engaged in sensemaking and
interpretation at every instant, meaning that knowledge is constantly
being regenerated afresh.
Two Types of Knowledge
So, where’s the problem?
Where does most of your competitive advantage come from
Explicit or Tacit Knowledge?
A Question Of Propor
Yet, most of our knowledge transfer
attention is focused on Explicit
How do we:
access the complexities of tacit
knowledge in organizations in such a
way as to ensure that workers have the
best knowledge available to them when
they are involved in the decision making
We need to change the way
we view organizations
“If a system is behaving badly, consistently over
a long period of time, and in spite of many
variations in surrounding conditions, then
something more than marginal tinkering is
required to bring about improvement. Something
within the system itself must change, to a new
structure that brings forth a new behaviour.”
Meadows and Robinson (2002, p.291)
Second order knowledge transfer
Implies a fundamental shift in this static reductionist view of knowledge.
It views knowledge transfer as a dynamic process with multiple feedback loops.
In reality, human actors are constantly engaged in thought, and hence are engaged
in sensemaking and interpretation at every instant, so knowledge is constantly being
The phenomenon of constant thought and action means that there is perpetual
regenerating of knowledge.
The entire organizational system is constantly regenerating knowledge and therefore
needs to be viewed not only from a reductionist perspective (as pieces) but also from
a systemic perspective as a whole and to do this we need to focus on:
We need to view the organizations and it’s environment as a complex adaptive
The shift to viewing organizations
and their environments as complex
• Organizations need to move beyond a primary and
almost exclusive preoccupation with the ordered,
measured, mechanical, rational, analytical (this is no
• make room for a certain level of tolerance for ambiguity,
subjectivity, creativity, risk taking, innovation, flux and
the transient and complex nature of knowledge and life
Different Knowledge Transfer
A vast concept that includes all the steps
from the identification of existing
knowledge, recognition of knowledge
needs or gaps, creation and discovery of
new knowledge, diffusion of that new
knowledge and absorption of that
knowledge by end users in a concerted
effort to inform the best possible decisions
A question of capacities!
What do we mean by
concerted effort around an issue,
A Typical Issue (e.g. healthcare)
• A group of independent but interrelated people
(interested in an issue) comprising a unified whole.
• Every issue has its social system of independent but
interrelated people comprising a unified whole.
• No one person can understand the whole system, nor
does any single person or small group of people direct
the behaviour of the system. The behaviour of the
system emerges from the interaction of people through
multiple, non-linear feedback relationships.
Within The System
Within The System
A Model to Help Us Understand
Knowledge: What the system
knows about the issue under
Need: What knowledge gaps
exist within the system? What
knowledge would the system like
Refers to the ability to discover or improve
knowledge and the processes, technologies,
products and services that
derive from it.
Disseminative capacity denotes the ability to
contextualize, format, adapt, translate and
diffuse knowledge through a social and/or
technological network and build commitment
Adaptive and responsive capacity refers to the
ability to continuously learn and renew
elements of the knowledge transferring system
in use, for constant change and improvement
Absorptive capacity is defined here as
the ability to recognize the value of new
external knowledge, assimilate it and
apply it to address relevant issues for a
Learning Histories - a technique for
working with second order
A product :
A process :
Jointly told tale
Dissemination of JTT
Kleiner & Roth, (1996) at MIT
What are the roots of Learning
The challenges of Learning Histories
The system’s challenges
Getting the support
Requires time and courage
Building an I/O team
Brings forth contradictions
Bringing out the issues
without blaming anyone
Shifts focus away from a
simple reductionists view
towards a more complex
Solving conflicts within
the I/O team
The two-column format
Benefits of Learning Histories
• helps make their work available
• is a collective and inclusive
process regarded as safe
• is a structured and transparent
way to analyze case study data
• builds trust and a sense of
• contributes to body of
• helps measure improvement and
identify learning opportunities
• generates spin-offs
• makes visible what is hidden
More benefits of Learning Histories
For special interest
• breaks with traditional social science (active
role in supporting a learning cycle )
• provides a new
• goes beyond usual AR by :
¾letting them immerse themselves without
¾bringing researchers and practitioners
¾using text as an anchor for conversations;
¾creating a captivating document, that
belongs to both.
• is meaningful, since it
is based on the stories
Role of employees in second order
• There are no easy approaches to second order KT;
• no recipes;
• no formulae;
• it implies an addition to the traditional role of employee
by requiring everyone to also be a full participant in
shaping the system and context within which
organizational knowledge emerges and evolves and
taking responsibility for knowledge transfer.
Obstacles to second order KT
Stakeholders (e.g. researchers, policy makers, practitioners, patients,
suppliers, clients, managers, etc.) belong to different worlds with vastly
different needs… For example:
The speed requirements of practitioners are often
seen by researchers as unrealistic and exaggerated.
The quality requirements for scientific rigor appear
exaggerated to those with a need for clear and
immediate responses to pressing issues.
Researchers may not see knowledge transfer as
their responsibility (not their primary job to push the
Practitioners may not see knowledge transfer as
their responsibility (not their primary job to pull the
Researchers are not always willing to do what is
required for KT. It is time consuming and
unpredictable and unlikely to lead to a high
production of articles in refereed journals and its
somewhat “messy” nature means it is less likely to
attract competitive research funding.
Practitioners don’t always have time to do what is
required for KT.
In fact knowledge transfer is everyone’s responsibility.
The quality of research is important, but other factors also come into play including:
• the motivation of policy makers, special interest groups, researchers, practitioners and
• timeliness and appropriateness of the research findings;
• trust between researchers and practitioners;
• population is increasingly better informed;
• other sources of knowledge: ie. knowledge resulting from practice.
The Knowledge Transfer
Employers and employees need to:
encourage a climate of trust and celebration of diversity between
stakeholders (e.g. researchers, practitioners, suppliers, clients, etc.);
build collaboration, dynamism and trust among stakeholders within
the entire organizational system;
make space for ambiguity, subjectivity, flux, innovation, mistakes,
encourage co-production of research and knowledge;
encourage strong multi-disciplined networks;
support communities of practice;
foster a culture of continuous learning and exchange;
recognize and encourage knowledge exchange initiatives among
pay attention to how people learn and create learning opportunities
Canadian healthcare system
Levels of analysis?
federal and provincial governments;
ministries of health;
Special interest groups:
IRSST, CSST, IWH, etc.
scientific group on work-related musculoskeletal disorders
representatives (ie.: unions, medical associations, hospitals,
– Researchers, healthcare professionals, patients, family and friends.
Canadian healthcare system
Levels of analysis (focus)
Federal and provincial
ministries of health,
funding agencies, etc
divide the pie
Scientific group on work-related
representatives: (ie. unions,
medical associations, hospitals,
Stay in contact with
special interest groups;,
publish for researchers
A category of
patients, family and
Healthcare needs of the population
Canadian healthcare system
levels of analysis (shift in focus)
• Develop strategies and funding opportunities for healthcare knowledge to emerge
and evolve throughout the entire system;
• adapt grant assessment and research performance evaluation methods to include
assessment of the ability of a researcher to engage with communities and bring
about real change to their quality of life and health status;
• encourage multi-disciplined collaboration and trust;
• make room for tolerance of ambiguity, subjectivity and flux;
• encourage research into complex adaptive systems and Learning Histories.
• Help manage the obstacles to second order KT& E by encouraging the research
community to adapt its grant assessment methods and its assessment of research
performance to ensure that they engage in studying complex adaptive systems;
• celebrate diversity as learning opportunities;
• foster a culture of continuous learning and exchange;
• encourage and support communities of practice and networks;
• encourage and support research into complex adaptive systems and Learning
• Keep up-to-date with developments in your field;
• share your knowledge;
• develop you ability to engage with communities and bring about real change to the
quality of life and health status;
• develop your own network;
• pay attention to how patients learn and create learning opportunities;
• champion change;
• participate in Learning Histories.
Healthcare Needs of the Population