The influence of social interaction on knowledge creation

Publication Date01 Dec 2002
AuthorAlton Chua
SubjectAccounting & finance,HR & organizational behaviour,Information & knowledge management
The influence of
social interaction
Journal of Intellectual Capital,
Vol. 3 No. 4, 2002, pp. 375-392.
#MCB UP Limited, 1469-1930
DOI 10.1108/14691930210448297
The influence of social
interaction on knowledge
Alton Chua
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore
Keywords Knowledge, Development, Interaction, Curriculum, Higher education, Singapore
Abstract Examines the influence of social interaction on the process of knowledge creation. A
cross-sectional study was conducted in an Institute of Higher Education to determine the
relationship between the level of social interaction and the quality of the knowledge created. The
knowledge creation process was operationalised for the curriculum development process while the
quality of the knowledge created was operationalised for the quality of the modules developed. The
findings show a positive correlation between the level of social interaction and the quality of the
modules developed. Among the three dimensions of social interaction, the relational dimension
was shown to be the strongest predictor to the quality of the modules developed. Practitioners are,
therefore, advised to prioritise the development of the relational dimensions of the social
interaction. In addition, the findings confirm the difficulty associated with knowledge
measurement. Suggests that in measuring knowledge, meaningfulness and context take
greater importance over objectivity.
It has been widely accepted among scholars and practitioners that
organisational knowledge creation is heavily influenced by social process.
In the widely quoted SECI model (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995), three of the
four distinct phases in knowledge creation, namely, socialisation,
externalisation and combination, involve social interactions among
organisation members. A well-published case study on Chaparral Steel
(Leonard-Barton, 1995) also reveals that the characteristic activities that
engendered the creation of knowledge necessitated social interaction among
organisation members.
Social interaction takes place through various settings. Examples of such
settings include the informal networks formed in the organisation (Davenport
and Prusak, 1998; Yavuz and Heidelman, 1999; Inkpen, 1998), within the
community-of-practice (Brown and Duiguid, 1991), informal chats during the
social events in the organisation (Von Krogh, 1998), interpersonal relationships
and everyday sensemaking activities among a group of individuals (Richter,
This paper posits that the level of social interaction among organisation
members positively influences the quality of the knowledge created. The
subsequent sections review the literature surrounding social interaction and
knowledge measurement. Next, the methodology of an empirical study is
detailed. Following that, the data collected are analysed. Finally, the
implications of the research are discussed.
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Social interaction
There are at least three important dimensions related to social interaction
among organisation members. They are structural, relational and cognitive
dimensions (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998)
Structural dimension
The structural dimension concerns the properties of the social system
(Granovetter, 1992) and it refers to the impersonal configuration of linkages
between people or units. The structural dimension influences the creation of
knowledge through ways which directly impact the condition of accessibility to
information and knowledge (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998). For example, when
organisation members are connected socially through physical means (such as
being involved in brain-storming sessions, meetings and task forces) or
through electronic means (such as engaging in e-mail and on-line discussions),
the opportunity to access information and knowledge among themselves is
enhanced. This in turn affects the knowledge eventually created.
Among the significant facets of structural dimension are the presence or
absence of social ties with other organisation members (Scott, 1991;
Wasserman and Faust, 1994) and the network configuration (Krackhardt, 1989)
which describes the pattern of linkages in terms of measures such as density
and connectivity (Coleman, 1988).
Social ties provide access to resources and provide a valuable source of
information benefits. For example, ``who you know'' affects ``what you know''.
Coleman (1988) noted that information is important in providing a basis for
action but it is sometimes costly be gather. However, social relations, often
established for other purposes, constitute channels that reduce the amount of
time and investment required to gather information and knowledge. The
network configuration properties such as density and connectivity are features
associated with flexibility and ease of knowledge exchange through their
impact on the level of contact or accessibility they provide to organisation
members (Krackhardt, 1989).
Relational dimension
The relational dimension describes the kind of personal relationships
individuals have developed with each other through a history of interactions
(Granovetter, 1992). The focus is on the particular relations people have, such
as respect, friendship and the bond they have built among themselves. There
are three key facets of the relational dimension, namely, the level of care
(Putnam, 1993; Von Krogh, 1998), the norms of cooperations among
organisation members (Coleman, 1990; Putnam, 1995), and the sense of
identification to a group (Kramer et al., 1996).
Care in organisational relationship gives rise to an aggregation of
behaviours manifested in mutual trust, active empathy, access to help and
leniency in judgement (Von Krogh, 1998). First, care leads to trust. McAllister
(1995) further divided trust into cognitive and affective aspects. Cognitive trust

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