DIVERSITY AND STRUCTURE IN
- an organization-design perspective
Pernille Dissing Sørensen
This dissertation concerns diversity and structure in knowledge
management. The concepts of diversity and structure relates to different
aspects of the dissertation. First, knowledge management is a diverse field of
research, for several reasons, namely the complexity of the phenomenon in
theory and practice, the diversity of the contributing fields, and the diversity
of the underlying knowledge concept. Some form of conceptual structure is
necessary to deal with this diversity.
Second, while the study of knowledge-management processes is well-
developed, the study of knowledge management from a structural perspective
is not. Structures refer to the stable characteristics and patterns of
organizational behavior concerning knowledge management.
The main argument developed through the dissertation is that the
field of organization design is a relevant theoretical frame for addressing
both diversity and structure in knowledge management. The focus of the
project is thus conceptual understanding and development.
The point of departure is the following three research questions:
(1) How can the diversity and complexity of the knowledge-
management phenomenon be embraced in a
(2) Why and how is organization design a fruitful conceptual
frame for developing knowledge-management theory?
(3) How does knowledge management contribute to
developing organization-design theory?
The brief answer is that it is possible to gain a comprehensive
understanding of and structure for the diversity of knowledge management
by applying an organization-design perspective. This understanding and
structure departs at the organizational level of analysis and considers the
diversity of knowledge management as strength.
This is an alternative to a structure based on a paradigmatic
understanding of knowledge management, which limits the understanding of
the multifacetedness of the knowledge concept by emphasizing underlying
assumptions over diversity. Thus, in a paradigmatic structure, the diversity of
knowledge management is positioned as a disadvantage.
Further, the dissertation establishes knowledge management as of set of
organization-design problems that all organizations address in one way or
another. These design problems span the traditional elements of knowledge
management: knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, knowledge retention,
and knowledge application.
An organization-design perspective brings out the systemic and
contextual aspects of knowledge management, for instance, how task are
carried out or how IT systems support tasks. In this project, these aspects are
considered to collectively constitute a property space for knowledge
management. A property space is defined as a set of explicit dimensions
characterizing knowledge management. The focus on context also implies
that knowledge management can take on different manifestations, which
settles with a best practice approach.
The conceptual analysis and the case analysis in the dissertation are
examples of how this organization-design framing of knowledge
management can be made more explicit. In each their way, the two analyses
focuses on those patterns and structural characteristics that shape and outline
the property space of knowledge management.
The conceptual analysis establishes set of explicit dimensions for
characterizing the organizational context of knowledge management (such as
IT for integrative or interactive purposes). The case analysis illustrates the
diversity of the design problem as well as a particular pattern of knowledge
management, which leads to the specification of additional dimensions of
relevance to knowledge management (such as knowledge redundancy and
Finally, the organization-design perspective, with its focus on
organizational context is an alternative to knowledge-based view, which
considers knowledge the primary analytical unit for defining knowledge
University of Southern Denmark
Odense, July 22, 2008