Developing an inter-organisational knowledge transfer framework for SMEs
This thesis aims to develop an inter-organisational knowledge transfer (KT) framework for SMEs, to help them have better understanding of the process of the KT between a SME and its customer (or supplier). The motivation is that knowledge management issues in SMEs is very neglected, which is not in line with the importance of SMEs in the UK national economy; moreover, compared to KT within an organisation, between organisations is more complicated, harder to understand, and has received much less attention. Firstly, external knowledge is generally believed to be of prime importance for SMEs. However, there is little empirical evidence to confirm this hypothesis. In order to empirically evaluate the hypothesis, and also specifically to identify SMEs' needs for external knowledge, a mail questionnaire survey is carried out. Then, based on the key findings of the survey, some 5MB managers are interviewed. The conclusions triangulated from both the key findings and the interview results strongly support the hypothesis, and demonstrate that SMEs have very strong needs for inter-organisational KT, and thus provide very strong empirical underpinning for the necessity of the development of the framework. Secondly, drawing support from a process view, a four-stage process model was proposed for inter-organisational KT. Then a co-ordinating mechanism underpinned by social networks and organisational learning is developed. The process model, co-ordinating mechanism together with cultural difference between organisations constitute an initial framework. Through interviews with SME managers, the initial framework is revised a final framework. The framework validation exercise shows that the final framework could help SMEs have better understanding of the KT. In order to remind and help SMEs to address the 'boundary paradox' embedded in interorganisational KT, and further reflect its complexities and difficulties, the important factors related to each stage of the framework are identified from a strategic perspective, with the help of the co-ordinating mechanism and relevant literature. The factors are also verified by interviews in SMEs. As a result, the initial factors are revised by removing the factors that are perceived as unimportant. The interview results demonstrate that the important factors, as a checklist, can remind and help SMEs to address the 'paradox', and are thus very useful for them.