Application of the Syllk model wiring an organisation for the capability of an online community of practice

Publication Date09 May 2016
Date09 May 2016
AuthorStephen Mark Duffield
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Application of the Syllk model
wiring an organisation for the
capability of an online
community of practice
Stephen Mark Dufeld
Department of Business, Education, Law and Arts,
University of Southern Queensland, Springeld, Australia
Purpose – This paper aims to demonstrate how to apply the systemic lessons learned knowledge
(Syllk) model to enable the organisation for the capability of an online community of practice (CoP).
Design/methodology/approach The research method consisted of multiple spiral “action
research” cycles (plan, action, observe and reect) within a government organisation. The initial
planning stage consisted of interviews followed by two focus groups to identify the facilitators and
barriers that impact the initial design of the Syllk model within the organisation. Established
knowledge management practices were aligned with each of the Syllk elements to address the
identied barriers and facilitate learning as the action cycles progressed. Online CoP initiatives
were implemented with two action research cycles completed. Actions were observed, monitored,
evaluated and reected on using an after action review process.
Findings The results from this research shows how the capability of a CoP can be “wired”
(distributed) across organisational systems, and how the Syllk model can be used to conceptually
facilitate this. The research highlights the importance in understanding organisational knowledge
facilitators and barriers and the associated practices to reect and learn from past experiences.
Research limitations/implications – The paper demonstrates an application of the Syllk model,
and that action research can benet project and knowledge management researchers and practitioners.
Practical implications – This study contributes to practice by highlighting how to use the Syllk
model to “wire” an organisation for some know-how capability.
Originality/value – This study applies a conceptual model enabling management to understand how
organisational know-how is distributed (wired) across various systems of an organisation for an online
Keywords Communities of practice, Learning organization, Action research
Knowledge management, Lessons learned, Swiss cheese model
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Governments and businesses need to successfully manage projects and day-to-day
business activities, to learn from success and failure, and to capture, disseminate and
The study was part of a doctoral research program partially funded by an Australian
Postgraduate Award scholarship. The author would like to thank the peer reviewers for their
constructive feedback and support for an earlier draft of this article.
Conict of interest: there is no conict of interest.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Application of
the Syllk
Received 13 September 2015
Revised 26 January 2016
Accepted 2 March 2016
VINEJournal of Information and
KnowledgeManagement Systems
Vol.46 No. 2, 2016
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VJIKMS-09-2015-0052
apply lessons learned (Burr, 2009;GAO, 2002;Klakegg et al., 2015;Ministry of Defence,
2010;NASA, 2012). An organisation needs to consider its current knowledge and
determine how to acquire and access additional knowledge (ISO, 2015). In practice,
organisational learning from projects rarely happens, and when it does, it fails to deliver
the intended results (Atkinson et al., 2006;Kerzner, 2009;Klakegg et al., 2010;Milton,
2010;Schindler and Eppler, 2003;Williams, 2008;Williams et al., 2012). Nevertheless,
some organisations in the sectors of healthcare, nuclear power, rail and aviation have
demonstrated their ability to apply lessons learned by way of Reason’s (1997,2000)
Swiss cheese model. This model enables these organisations to conceptualise how safety
and accident prevention know-how is not stored in one spot but rather distributed across
a network of interconnected organisational faculties and systems.
In this paper, we demonstrate the application of a conceptual model, hereafter
referred to as the systemic lessons learned knowledge (Syllk) (pronounced Silk) model
(Dufeld and Whitty, 2012;Dufeld and Whitty, 2015), which is a variation of Reason’s
(1997,2000) Swiss cheese model. Whereas the Swiss cheese model appropriately ts
accident causation, the Syllk model is better suited to the organisation managing
projects and day-to-day business activities. Put simply, in aviation, the Swiss cheese
model enables lessons learned data to be collected from aviation events so that the
aviation industry can improve the safety of how planes y tomorrow. For organisations,
the Syllk model will enable lessons learned to be disseminated and applied so that the
organisation can improve its future project and day-to-day business delivery
performance (Dufeld and Whitty, 2015).
At the centre of this research is a government organisation that identied a need for
a trial online community of practice (CoP). The trial focused on conducting a single
online CoP in a controlled environment implementing a governance framework. The
trial identied the barriers and success factors for conducting a successful online CoP
within the organisation and the robustness, appropriateness and applicability of the
governance framework for future ongoing online CoPs. The organisation considered
that the application and implementation of the Syllk model would benet the
organisation to understand the knowledge management (KM) lesson learned barriers
and facilitators associated with an online CoP approach. The literature indicates that the
KM practices of an online CoP are effective ways to identify, disseminate and apply
organisational knowledge and lessons learned (Egbu, 2004;Jugdev, 2012;Jugdev and
Mathur, 2013;Lee et al., 2015;Milton, 2010;Williams, 2007). Association for Project
Management (2012, p. 82) states that a CoP “enables project, programme and portfolio
(P3) professionals to be part of a virtual department that shares experiences and
contributes to improving future practice”.
The paper begins with a literature review that explores CoP and the Syllk model that
leads to the research question, description of the study and the applied action research
methodology. The ndings are discussed within the framework of the literature. Finally,
the limitations and challenges are identied, followed by speculation on other practical
applications of the Syllk model and future research opportunities.
2. Literature review
The scope of the literature review is contained to what is already known about CoP
mechanisms and the Syllk model, as it pertains to organisational knowledge and lessons

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