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Title: Knowledge management across boundaries : a case study of an interdisciplinary research project in Thailand
Author: Thumbumrung, Titima
ISNI:       0000 0004 6494 0624
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2017
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Despite existing work, the nature and construction of knowledge boundaries remains little explored. Moreover, previous studies that have examined how knowledge is managed across boundaries, have usually been in the context of new product development in industry. Models developed in this context may be less applicable in the public sector because of its hierarchical structures and requirements for accountability. The aim of this research is therefore to explore the nature of boundaries and how knowledge is managed across them in a public sector context. The research takes a case study approach focusing on an interdisciplinary research project that was set up to develop Computerised Tomography (CT) and Digital X-Ray (DR) scanners in a governmental research organisation in Thailand. This is an ongoing joint project between two different knowledge communities from different disciplines and national research centres. It proposed the first development of the cone-beam CT scanner in Thailand, called DentiiScan. The research adopts an interpretative methodology to explore multiple viewpoints and meanings that actors attach to phenomena. Data were collected through a multi-method qualitative approach based on: face-to-face interview; participant observation; and collection of documentation and other artefacts. Data were analysed through thematic analysis. The findings from this case study suggest, in line with previous research, that there are three progressively complex boundaries: information-processing, interpretative, and political boundaries; and three progressively complex processes to overcome them: transfer, translation, and transformation. However, the findings suggest that knowledge management in such contexts is a more challenging and complicated undertaking than currently portrayed in previous work because: (i.) knowledge boundaries are dynamic and tend to change throughout the project life cycle, often co-existing and overlapping; (ii.) different actors look at the same phenomena but sometimes perceive them as different types of knowledge boundaries; and (iii.) boundaries do not only arise from differences in knowledge and disciplinary perception, but also from ignorance of these differences between interacting actors from different communities. Furthermore, in this case, the hierarchical organisational structures help to clarify differences and dependencies in knowledge and responsibility among members, and create clear lines of communication. This helps overcome boundaries though the chain of command makes decision-making slow. A framework for managing knowledge across boundaries that emerges from the analysis is proposed. This research extends theory and a model for managing knowledge across boundaries, more specifically Carlile’s three-tier model (2004, 2002), and demonstrates their applicability in a new setting. The findings bring into focus the complexity of knowledge management across boundaries by suggesting that sometimes they cannot be categorised easily. There is a need to acknowledge the dynamic nature, blurring, and simultaneity of boundaries; the potential for different actors to perceive the same phenomena as different types of knowledge boundaries; and ignorance of differences in knowledge and disciplinary perceptions between different interacting actors. The findings of this research can be used to identify the nature and construction of knowledge boundaries, the types of knowledge boundaries and processes to overcome them, including boundary-spanning mechanisms and competences that actors, whether they are individuals, groups or organisations, can develop to bridge them. In practical terms, the findings of this study suggest that: (i.) actors should pay attention to flexible and multi-dimensional perspectives for addressing the dynamic nature, blurring, fluidity, overlapping, and simultaneity of boundaries; (ii.) they should broaden their perspectives to understand differences in perceptions of where boundaries lie; (iii.) they should also expand their perceptions to understand the construction of knowledge boundaries from different dimensions such as lack of a full understanding and awareness about differences in knowledge between different knowledge communities; and (iv.) they should consider what are effective organisational structures, which combine both hierarchical and flexible elements, to support knowledge management and collaboration across boundaries.
Supervisor: Vasconcelos, Ana ; Cox, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available