Knowledge Sharing through Information and Communication Technology Mediated Social Ties

Project: Research

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In today’s knowledge economy, organizations have increasingly come to represent social communities specializing in speed and efficiency in the creation and sharing of knowledge [46]. Individual employees in an organization play a central role in the knowledge-sharing process because specialized, valuable knowledge usually resides within individual employees [32, 63]. The effective sharing and use of such knowledge among employees become especially important in enhancing the competitiveness of the entire organization in the marketplace [5, 32]. While there are abundant, documented resources for storing and accessing knowledge in the contemporary organizations, such as knowledge repositories [1, 35], research has long indicated that people are more likely to directly interact with other people for knowledge [3, 17], for example, through informal social ties [e.g., 8].While knowledge sharing through social ties has traditionally been understood in the context of face-to-face (F2F) interactions [e.g., 8, 51], it has become commonplace for employees in contemporary organizations to socialize with colleagues using various communication media [e.g., 8, 51], even if they are often collocated [44]. The number of these information and communication technologies (ICT) available to employees is constantly increasing and becoming varied. There are pagers, mobile phones, instant-messaging systems, email, telephone, and voice mail, which are most commonly seen in offices. As a result, social ties enabled through the use of ICT (in addition to F2F interaction) are prevailing in contemporary work environments and may have significant implications for knowledge sharing among employees.The objective of this project is to investigate the role of ICT-mediated social ties in knowledge sharing among employees in organizations. Specifically, we will answer the following research questions: To what extent and how do ICT-mediated social ties affect knowledge sharing compared with F2F social ties? An answer to this question has not only practical relevance but also academic importance. Despite the pervasive use of ICT-mediated social ties for knowledge sharing in practice today, related research efforts on ICT-mediated ties in the literature have been very limited [e.g., 16, 41, 67]. A few studies that focused on ICT-mediated ties presume that such ties are weak (based on the assumption that ICT tools are lean media, and interaction through them occurs infrequently). They explained the effect of ICT-mediated social ties on knowledge sharing based on the theory of weak ties [30]. However, this is a theory developed in a societal context and later adopted for a business context when ICT-mediated communication tools were quite limited. We observe that today, employees connect with each other frequently using ICT tools, implying that ICT-mediated social ties may already be considered strong. If this is the case, the theory of strong ties [51, 79] may also apply. Given this important gap in the literature, it is imperative to revisit the conceptualization of the strength of ICTmediated social ties and develop a more complete understanding of how such ties affect knowledge sharing among employees.We will address this research question by integrating the computer-mediated communication (CMC) literature with the theories of strong ties [51, 79] and weak ties [30]. First, we conceptualize that ICT-mediated social ties can be either strong or weak, depending on the frequency of the interaction occurring through the ties. Then, we propose that ICT-mediated strong/weak social ties are more heterogeneous and trustworthy than corresponding F2F social ties and, therefore, are more valuable for knowledge sharing among employees. To test our hypotheses, we will collect social network data from three organizations using the survey method.This project will be undertaken by an established team of two academic investigators (Fang and Qureshi) and one PhD student who will serve as a senior research assistant. Over the past few years, the team has been committed to the conduct of research on knowledge sharing, social network, and other related areas, such as computer-mediated communication in virtual environments, and has had proven records using the proposed research method. The investigators’ credentials are detailed in the proposal.


Project number9041588
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1131/03/14