Can knowledge be retained in informal organisational networks?

Moheeb Abualqumboz, Iain Reid, Marina Papalexi, David Bamford

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Taking a constructivist view of knowledge where it is viewed as a 'process of knowing', the literature on knowledge sharing assumes that it can be retained through embedding within institutional routines, structures, and systems. However, this concept is challenged in the context of informal organisational networks where membership is voluntary, temporary and organisationally unsanctioned. Such challenges have predominately focused around: 1) behavioural aspects including organisational and individual defence mechanisms to protect knowledge and opportunistic behaviours such as free-riding; or 2) social aspects including lack of mutual trust and asymmetric power relations. We therefore consider the mechanisms and theoretical underpinning of socially constructed knowledge across a number of informal networks. This paper investigates the challenges to knowledge retention in knowledge-sharing networks, reporting on data collected from a case study of four informal organisational networks in the UK (two photography networks; women entrepreneurship network; and a construction network). There is a significant amount of literature addressing such challenges on an organisational level, however, less research exists on the network level. In particular, the challenge of knowledge retention within networks. This research adopts Social Exchange Theory in order to develop the theoretical underpinning and data interpretation. The paper also presents an explanatory model to inform theorists and practitioners on how to improve knowledge retention in networks. A qualitative approach was used through an ethnographic lens consisting of 18 months participant observation study that produced 28 semi-structured interviews. The study also utilised data from network archive network spanning two years. This paper argues that knowledge shared in the networks largely remained inside them and that less knowledge was shared with networked organisations making the network knowledge "ontologically" separate from knowledge created in organisations. The data also revealed that 'boundary spanners' found it difficult to share knowledge between their formally contracted organisation and the informal network, due to issues related to trust and unbalanced reciprocal exchanges. Our investigation of knowledge sharing in those networks demonstrates the difficulty in retaining it on a network level due to blurring organisational boundaries and the temporary nature of such networks.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 18th European Conference on Knowledge Management, ECKM 2017
PublisherAcademic Conferences Limited
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781911218487
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Event18th European Conference on Knowledge Management - International University of Catalonia , Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 7 Sep 20178 Sep 2017
Conference number: 18 (Link to Conference Details)


Conference18th European Conference on Knowledge Management
Abbreviated titleECKM 2017
Internet address


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