A Knowledge Management Meta-Model for Systems Development: A Cultural Perspective

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Nov 6, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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A Knowledge Management Meta
-
Model for
Systems Development: A Cultural Perspective


Page, S., Orange, G. & Burke, A. (2000), A Knowledge Management Meta
-
Model for
Systems Development: A Cultural Perspective, in
Information Systems: Research, Teaching
and P
ractice
, Beynon
-
Davies, P. Williams, M. D. & Beeson, I. (Eds), Maidenhead: McGraw
Hill, pp. 332
-
340.

Abstract

Organisational learning and the effective management of corporate knowledge is becoming
more important to businesses, as they attempt to remain
competitive in increasingly
competitive environments. Contemporary organisations rely heavily upon information and
communications technology to enable their business through the use of information systems.
Much of the development of these systems is perf
ormed using some form of structured
methodology. Previous work (Page, 1998) has introduced a cultural meta
-
model as a way of
linking hard and soft approaches to systems development; whereas work by Orange et al.
(1999) has resulted in the COLA model for s
upporting knowledge management activities.
This paper extends the work performed to date by introducing reflection and subsequent
organisational learning (from COLA) into the systems development process using the cultural
meta
-
model. It is envisaged that

these new additions to the model will result in systems being
developed that are accepted by, and acceptable to, both workers and management, whilst
additionally enhancing organisational learning through enabling project participants to learn
from both co
llective experience and the knowledge of individuals.

1.

INTRODUCTION

The traditional perception of systems development is that it is seen as a waterfall flowing
from stage to stage with project information cascading down the system. Development
methodolo
gies allow for little more than single loop learning and 'factual' feedback from these
stages of the development process. For example, when the analyst has made some omission
from the requirements specification, feedback may take place to ensure the requi
rement is
included before the next stage of development takes place. Vary rarely does double loop
learning take place where feedback about the development process itself is provided in such a
way as to provide the means of learning from the experiences of

members of the project team,
both developers and users. This paper sets out to explore the feasibility of uniting two
approaches that evolved separately but can be used in a complementary way to improve
systems development by encouraging processes of ana
lysis and reflection. An approach by
Page (1999) discusses the importance of developing an awareness of organisational culture so
that organisational failures can be avoided when developing information systems. Work by
Orange, Burke et al. (1999) has dev
eloped a model for designing and implementing a Cross
Organisational Learning Approach (COLA)
1
. Through analysis, reflection and discussion
COLA facilitates processes for review, learning, knowledge generation and dissemination.



1

The COLA process was developed as part of the B
-
hive research project that was jointly funded by EPSRC and
DETR under IMI LINK
-
IDAC. More information may be

found at
http://is.lse.ac.uk/b
-
hive

.

This paper discusses the
amalgam of these two approaches to form the knowledge
management meta
-
model for systems development.

2. SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT & KNOWLEDGE
MANAGEMENT

Academic research in the area of knowledge management has focussed on using systems
development methods to a
nalyse, design and build knowledge based systems. This paper
concentrates on exploring approaches relevant to managing the knowledge generated by the
systems development process itself. The current topicality of the terms


“knowledge
management” and “or
ganisational learning” reflects the interest in developing information
systems which go beyond merely storing information which is comparatively easily structured
towards areas which cannot be readily analysed and modelled. Although it is not easy to draw

a clear distinction between knowledge management and information management, use of the
term often marks an awareness of a move into the ‘softer’ areas of the intellectual capital
upon which enterprises depend.

Perhaps it is useful to differentiate know
ledge from information. On one level “information”
can be used as a synonym for “knowledge” but it can be argued that it justifies an elevated
position because it often carries a much greater weight of meaning. This extra weight of
meaning can be further

explored by drawing upon a distinction philosophers often make
between propositional knowledge and practical knowledge (Landesman 1970). Propositional
knowledge is concerned with knowing the truth of a proposition


“this computer is much
quicker to use
than that one because it has a faster chip”


whilst practical knowledge is
concerned with how to do something


“I know how to manage this systems project”, or "I
can draw an entity model”. However we cannot see them as entirely separate categories, as
k
nowing how to do something entails having propositional knowledge allowing us the liberty
of concluding that the concept of information seems to be close to what we understand for the
concept of propositional knowledge.

Epistemology has centred on proposit
ional knowledge and the problem establishing whether
something is true or false (Hospers 1967). For the purposes of knowledge management far
more attention needs to be given to the nature of practical knowledge and the social
construction of knowledge. I
t can be argued that two significant features which set this kind
of knowledge apart from information are: the extent to which this knowledge is wrapped up
with our own personal and collective identities and our sense of self worth; and secondly, the
fact
that claims to practical knowledge are judged according to the intelligence shown in the
performance of a task or activity. Information is a more neutral concept that does not carry
this extra weight of meaning. It is important to realise that believing
knowledge, or at least
certain categories of knowledge, to be socially constructed makes it a dynamic commodity
that is not easily captured and structured. For example, knowing how to do something in an
organisational setting is often a complex activity w
hich requires not only knowledge of
formal procedures but also of: informal procedures, individual and collective capabilities,
organisational roles, expectations about behaviour, and the values which are used to judge
performance in roles
-

organisational

culture. This kind of knowledge is constantly being
reappraised and refined as the organisation carries out its activities. Thus the culture of the
organisation is dynamic
-

but probably constrained within a set of acceptable, unwritten 'rules'
as defi
ned (perhaps unconsciously) by the organisation’s stakeholders.

An alternative categorisation of knowledge allows us to classify it as either explicit or
implicit. Explicit knowledge is that which is readily structured and codified and may be
stored i
n a number of repositories
-

databases, spreadsheets, architects’ drawings, libraries
-

and imparted through the use of traditional learning methods (Snyder and Wilson, 1998).
Knowledge that is readily codifiable is more easily captured, stored and dissem
inated than the
‘softer’ types of expertise that is embedded as tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge has a role
in the learning process and contributes to the individual’s armoury required for his/her
effectiveness within the organisation. However this al
one is insufficient since business
decisions often rely heavily on tacit knowledge which informs judgement, expertise, values
and perceptions. Tacit or 'implicit' knowledge is that which is stored in peoples' heads and is
often communicated informally. T
his is often the most valuable to an organisation. It is
personal, being based on an individual's perceptions, values and intuition and is a significant
part of the knowledge that defines an individual as an 'expert'. As such, it is more difficult to
for
malise and record.

Day (1993) considers reflection and identifies a number of assumptions:



Engaging in reflective practice involves a process of solving problems and
reconstructing meaning.



Reflective practice is manifested as a stance towards inquiry.



The demonstration of reflective practice is seen to exist along a continuum or
‘reflective spectrum’. That is, it reflects different stages of development of the
individual on a scale from non
-
reflective to reflective.



Reflective practice occurs within a
social context.

Day states that individuals spend most of their time planning and acting, much less on
observation and reflection, and even less on justification of their actions. Reflection
necessitates translating public theories into personal ones a
nd vice versa. The Systems
Development Meta
-
Model for Knowledge Management enables this action to take place.

Reflective practice can occur not only in relation to individual experience but also in relation
to collective experience. Barlow and Jashaparal

(1998) suggest that for many organisations
the experiences gained are at an individual rather than an organisational or corporate level.
However, reflection is not just an individual process (Harvey et. al., 1998); it can be seen as a
social process (Elt
on et. al., 1989; Day, 1993). According to Carr and Kemmis, 1986 quoted
in Schratz, (1993, p. 115), it is:



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through discussion and reflection upon past experience and future expectations. Such

knowledge, when it is generated, does not belong to an individual but can be seen to exist
collectively within the group and it is subject to constant re
-
negotiation.

Reflective practice can have benefits for groups and consequently the organisation as a
whole,
since it contributes to individual learning and, when seen as a social process, it contributes to
organisational learning. Individual learning on its own is not sufficient for the organisation or
the systems development team to maximise the benefit
s to be gained from reflection (Jones et.
al., 1998), as individuals move around the organisation from team to team. Thus, they do not
necessarily share their knowledge and experience with colleagues because, in many instances,
the mechanisms do not exist

to support sharing, or the culture of the organisation does not
encourage or permit it.

The cultural meta
-
model discussed in Page (1999) is designed to develop systems that are
liked and used by stakeholders in addition to meeting organisational goals.

The literature of
organisational theory is corpulent with definitions of organisational culture (e.g. Peters &
Waterman (1982), Sathe (1985), Schein (1985), Denison (1990), Frost et al. (1991), Johnson
& Scholes (1993), Pheysey (1993), Stacey (1993), Brow
n (1995), Page (1998)). These
definitions vary, but importantly they also have several common attributes, specifically:
values, assumptions and beliefs. Thus it would seem that, in essence, it is these components
that make up an organisation's culture.

T
he authors concur with Smircich's (1983) view of organisational culture as:

(i)

an adaptive regulatory mechanism, uniting individuals into social structures; and,

(ii)

a necessary means to create adaptive organisms operating within their
environment.

Organisation
al culture is, in effect, a shared view of reality held by a group of individuals. It
has been termed a 'social glue' by Siehl & Martin (1981), holding together an organisation.
The culture of an organisation essentially 'is' the organisation, rich in ar
tefacts and symbolic
rituals.

We suggest that it is probably not possible to 'link' hard and soft methodologies, due to the
underpinning philosophical differences. Rather, encouraging co
-
existence, through
incorporating
organisational culture analysis

int
o the development process, should prove
fruitful. Cultures are about shared reality, i.e. group epistemologies. Nurturing this and
encouraging the system stakeholders to reflect on the project should enhance the systems
development process through the pr
oduction of new 'knowledge'. Linking the cultural meta
-
model and COLA will facilitate the capture of this new knowledge and enhance
organisational learning.

3. LINKING COLA AND THE CULTURAL META
-
MODEL


The cultural meta
-
model (see figure 1) is designe
d to be used in conjunction with structured
systems development methodologies that deal with the technical requirements associated with
the development process.


Cultural Meta-Model
Organisational
Cultural Stance
Relevant Symbols
& Artefacts
Organisational
Goals & Business
Strategy
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Structured Systems Development Methodology (any)
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage ...
Stage n
Relevant Stakeholder
Groups
Stakeholder Involvement At All Stages Of Development & Implementation
Stakeholder Involvement At All Stages Of Development & Implementation
Delivers
Delivers
Culturally Acceptable
& Organisationally
Useful Information
System
Issues
Issues

Figure 1: A Cultural Meta
-
Model For Information Systems Development.

Source: Page, S. M. (1
999), 'The Ontology/Epistemology Dichotomy in Information Systems
Development: An Ethnographic Contribution' in
Evolution and Challenges in System
Development,
Zupancic, J., Wojtkowski, W., Wojtkowski, W. G. and Wrycza, S. (Eds), New
York: Plenum Press, pp
. 34
-
44.


The meta
-
model contains the following elements:

1.

Consideration of organisational cultural stance, consisting of:



Stakeholder values



Stakeholder beliefs



Stakeholder assumptions


2.

Use of relevant symbols and artefacts to represent the:



Social n
eeds of proposed system stakeholders



Suitability of proposed system to company culture


3.

Identification of:



Organisational goal(s) the delivered system should achieve



Closeness of alignment of proposed system to business strategy


4.

Identification of re
levant stakeholder groups

5.

Involvement of identified stakeholder groups at
all
stages of development and
implementation to encourage:



Elicitation of stakeholder attitudes and true needs (technical
and

social)



System 'ownership' by stakeholders



Positive imp
act of delivered system


6.

Delivery of:



IS that is culturally acceptable to the stakeholders;
and,



supports them in performing their job


Report to
partners
Project
Briefing
Agenda
formulation
Project
performance
standards
Project Feedback Loop
Value & Action Tracking
Organisational Knowledge Feedback Loop
Value & Action Recording
Partnershi
p
acquired
knowledge
COLA REVIEW
Actions
agreed
Individual
organisation
memory
Review Trigger
Review
profile
Individuals’
experiences
on the project
Information
systems
Individual
discussion
Project
Data
Project

Figure 2: The COLA Review Process.

Source: Orange, G., Burke, A. and Cushman, M. (1999) Proceedings of BITWorld
Con
ference, Capetown, July.


The COLA review process (see figure 2) has similarities with this meta
-
model. It was first
developed as a tool to facilitate organisational learning in the construction industry.
Construction project teams, like information syst
ems development teams, are transient in
nature in that the team exists only for the duration of the project. At the end of a project,
project team members disperse and join other teams working on different projects; indeed
throughout the life of a project

team membership changes. Each time someone leaves, his or
her knowledge gained on the project goes with them. COLA has been designed to elicit tacit
and practical knowledge from construction project teams through a process of workshops
designed to elici
t participants’ knowledge, supported by an information system that captures,
stores and allows the dissemination of that knowledge.

Data relating to problems and issues, arising from the construction project, are collated,
categorised and prioritised ensur
ing that only those perceived to be of major importance by
the participants are presented for consideration in the review workshop. This in turn initiates
the agenda for discussion within the formal review element of the model. During the review
event, a
ctions, decisions and responsibilities are assigned and recorded against each problem
or issue. The information system supports pre
-
workshop, review workshop and post
-
review
activities and will support monitoring of the performance and value of decisions
made and
actions taken.


Cultural Analysis
Organisational
Cultural Stance
Relevant Symbols
& Artefacts
Organisational
Goals & Business
Strategy
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Identifies
Structured Systems Development Methodology (any)
Stage
1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage ...
Stage n
Relevant Stakeholder
Groups
Stakeholder Involvement At All Stages Of Development & Implementation
Stakeholder Involvement At All Stages Of Development & Implementation
Delivers
Delivers
Culturally Acceptable
& Organisationally
Useful Information
System
Issues
Issues
Agenda &
Cola Review
Agreed
Actions
Organisation Knowledge Feedback Loop
Organisation Knowledge Feedback Loop
Recording Learning, Actions & Effects
Individual &
Organisational
Knowledge
Results
Results
In
In
Triggers
Triggers
Delivers
Delivers
Feedback to
Project Briefing
Project Feedback
Project Feedback
Loop
Loop
Future
Projects
Results
Results
In
In
Repository of
Acquired
Knowledge

Figure 3: A Knowledge Management Meta
-
Model for Systems Development


The resultant 'actions' for future projects are fed back to individuals and teams via project
briefings and are formally recorded
in the organisation's repository for individual and
organisational knowledge (a database). The COLA review process takes the resultant
information system and the individuals' experiences of the project process to build a
'knowledge profile'. This informa
tion is then used to feedback into the project documentation
resulting in organisational learning and knowledge that is available to future projects.

Within the construction industry the COLA model has resulted in demonstrable success, in
the B
-
hive projec
t, as an instrument for knowledge transfer. Its strength is that it engenders
an atmosphere of trust and collaboration amongst project team members in an environment
that is traditionally adversarial. One of the key outcomes of the research is identifiab
le
improvements to the construction process and working relationships.

Whilst B
-
hive centred on the construction industry as a vehicle for the development and
implementation of the COLA method it is appropriate to many other situations and in
particular to

that of information systems development. For example, the authors have
enriched the model by combining it with the cultural meta
-
model as a means of improving the
information systems development process (see figure 3). In doing so we have developed a
mo
del that helps to ensure that the systems development process is one that has a ‘cultural fit’
to the organisation.

CONCLUSIONS

Through linking these two models the authors have produced a model that is designed to
develop information systems that are acce
ptable to the organisation and its stakeholders, meet
organisational goals, and capture the informal 'organisational learning' resulting from the
systems development process to produce the repository of 'knowledge' that may be used as the
starting point fo
r future development opportunities. The model is as yet untested. We are
currently seeking collaboration with industrial partners to try out the enhanced model. The
results of this work will form future stages of this ongoing research.

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