'Memories Are Made Of This': Explicating Organizational Memory

harpywarrenSoftware and s/w Development

Dec 14, 2013 (7 years and 10 months ago)


'Memories Are Made Of This': Explicating Organisational
Knowledge And Memory.

Dave Randall
, John A. Hughes
, Jon O'Brien
, Mark Rouncefield

and Peter Tolmie

Manchester Metropolitan University;
Lancaster University;
Xerox Research Centre


It is a commonplace that in the 'Information Age', knowledge is the most important factor in the long
term success of an organisation. Such an emphasis is increasingly important as businesses confront a
series of intransigent organisational problems
connected with the retention and provision of
organisational histories, knowledge and skills. ‘Organisational memory’ and its sister concept,
‘knowledge management’, are common glosses for the analysis and treatment of these problems. In
recent years there

has been increasing interest in ways of conceptualising the problem of ‘memory’
and ‘knowledge’ with a view to embedding these properties in systems and the Computer Supported
Cooperative Work (CSCW) community have embraced a variety of techniques, method
s and theories
from the social sciences. Such conceptual and empirical stances have a direct relevance to the problem
of ‘organisational knowledge/memory’ and provide a way through the confusions inherent in the
concepts. We are concerned with what needs t
o be known and remembered, and the occasions that
generate such activities. Exactly

and precisely

knowledge is remembered and used is the
critical issue for the concept of organisational knowledge. We analyse some of the conceptual and
empirical i
ssues that must precede attempts to provide support for ‘memory’ and ‘knowledge’ in the
wider organisational context. The success of ‘distributed’ solutions, through some structured
knowledge base, will in the main be a matter of not only making available
to others what is
individually known, but also what led to the need for remembering in the first place.


In recent years, there has been a significant growth of rhetoric concerning the ‘Information
Age’ and the ‘Knowledge Economy'; paralleled

by proposals to implement these rather vague
concepts into something which is consequential for organisations. That is, having identified,
at least putatively, some shift in the nature of our economic and social foundations towards a
new dependence on ‘kn
owledge’ or ‘information’, various attempts have been made to
identify organisational problems in terms of aspects of information/knowledge, and thus
provide solutions in the same terms. Concepts such as ‘knowledge management’ and
‘organisational memory’ c
an be understood in exactly this way. The kinds of problem that
can be said to typify the ‘knowledge management’ stance have to do with the retention and
provision of organisational histories, knowledge, competencies and skills in order to provide
ity across the organisation and across time. Both ‘knowledge management’ and its
sister concept, ‘organisational memory’, are common glosses for the analysis and treatment of
these problems.

Three main problems that relate to this can be identified. First
ly, there are a set of conceptual
problems, which have to do with characterising skill, competence and knowledge in such a
way that their organisational relevance can be considered and understood. ‘Knowledge’, of
course, like ‘memory’ is a concept that has

occasioned much disagreement, particularly
between those who regard it as a fundamentally cognitive concept and those who see it as
culturally derived (Ackermann and Halveson 1998; Randall et al 1996). The tensions
between the two are evident in the

concept of Knowledge Management/Organisational
Memory (KM/OM), insofar as various dimensions of ‘knowledge work’ can be identified;
some of which imply an organisational/cultural element. Thus and for instance, Ryle’s
original distinction between ‘know
w’ and know
what’ has been rehearsed in a number of
ways by, for instance, Coulter (1979), Polyani (1962), and Winter (1999). Underpinning such
arguments, and despite the widely differing auspices under which these issues are discussed,
is always the probl
em of the degree to which knowledge can be understood as a cultural and
organisational phenomenon. Winter’s (ibid; p168) taxonomy, for instance, points to issues
such as ‘tacit’ knowledge and the various ways in which it may or may not be
able according to the different organisational senses in which knowledge can
be ‘tacit’ (ibid: p169). In any event, what is being pointed to is the principle that knowledge is
a matter of organisational relevance; of the context in which things are known r
ather than
simply one of ‘how little’ or ‘how much’ of it there is. We have no objection to such an
argument, and indeed would generally support it. Nevertheless, and as Ackermann and
Halverson (1998) point out, theorising about these concepts is often, ‘a
t a very grand scale,
not relying on empirical data’ (see also Randall et al, 1996; Kovalainen et al, 1998). This, we
would add, is particularly true of the argument from context. Exactly how we are to construe
‘context’ for the purposes of KM/OM is largel
y unexamined.

Secondly, there is the very real problem of whether issues of skill and competence are subject
to managerial ownership and direction. KM/OM is very much predicated on the view that it
can be made so, despite some grounds for caution. As Win
ter (op cit: p157) puts it; “In
general .... it is decidedly problematic whether the realities denoted by such terms as
knowledge, competence, skills, know
how, or capability are the sorts of things that can
adequately discussed as items of property.” If,
as is substantially the case, the aim is to embed
knowledge properties in systems, either organisational or technical, then such organisational
knowledge needs to be captured and managed in a way that will make it accurate, available,
accessible and effect
ive. Such a task is hardly trivial, and our concerns are precisely with the
conceptual and empirical issues that need to be understood before such projects are to become

Thirdly, and before we can begin to characterise ‘knowledge’ with any confi
dence or
determine its tractability we need to examine in some detail by whom, where, and how
organisational knowledge is deployed. That is, there is a need for empirical substance
concerning the kinds of ‘knowing’ that in practice take place in an organis
ational context.
Examination of such material may provide some small pointers towards ending the
conceptual confusions inherent in the concepts. (Bannon and Kuuti, 1996)

Organisational ‘remembering’ as a practical accomplishment

Our own work owes an inte
llectual debt to ethnomethodology and Wittgensteinian sociology
(see Lynch, 1992a; 1992b; Woolgar, 1987), and specifically to Coulter on the philosophy of
mind (1979, 1983), whose sustained critique suggests that cognition is better conceived of as
a socia
l and grammatical phenomenon rather than a 'mental' one. We could not do justice to
what is a complex argument in a paper such as this, but it is worth identifying some key
points, specifically because they relate to the problem of organisational knowledge

memory. Working in an interdisciplinary field (Computer Supported Cooperative Work)
where computer system design has placed ‘the social’ as central to its concerns, and
predicated the design problem on the ordinary, ‘situated’, and mundane activities
organisational members (see Harper et al, 2000 for a review), we have been interested in the
way in which ‘knowledge’, ‘memory’ and other related concepts which carry a cognitive
baggage can be treated as culturally accomplished phenomena. In this way,
we suggest that by
identifying knowledge as contextually arrived at in and through the practical work activities
of members, we can provide, conceptually and empirically, some more rigorous
underpinnings for the investigation of organisational knowledge. U
nderstanding 'knowing and
remembering' as contextual requires us not to provide specifications of context on behalf of
organisational members but to understand context as the accomplishment of members. Our
position, based on extensive observations in a var
iety of organisations, is that recovering what
individuals were thinking requires considerably more than a gloss on social context. Instead it
involves a fundamental recognition that 'remembering' is, on many occasions, a process where
work has to be done
by participants to the exchange in order to identify 'how to remember'.
Such arguments are closely related to those offered by Anderson and Sharrock (1993) in their
discussion of ‘organisational knowledge’ and its relationship to action where they assert

“The connection between knowledge and action is defined in constitutive terms. Patterns of knowledge and
patterns of action define each other. Hence knowledge is seen as social through and through”

The problem, then, is not so much what people know
and remember as how do they decide, or
accomplish, what it is that they need to know and remember and for what purposes. Managing
organisational knowledge is a matter, then, of identifying what it is that occasions acts of
knowing and remembering. We use o
ur ongoing ethnographic studies in a clearing bank to
furnish some examples of the conceptual and empirical issues involved.

Building on Ryle’s distinction between ‘know how’ and ‘know that’, we examine three
distinct ‘knowledge acts’ with a view to under
standing what it is that prompts members to
remember things in ‘just this way’, and subsequently to suggest what relationship these acts
have to the problem of managing knowledge. Knowledge acts may have many forms, and in
suggesting three we are doing no
more than providing some sensitising concepts. One such
concept is an expertise that we term 'knowing how'. The practical value of such a concept is to
refocus attention on the gap between codifications of procedure and what is actually required
to ‘get t
hings done’.

'Knowing how'

For an institution which is popularly characterised as the epitome of bureaucratic
organisation, it was hardly surprising to discover that the Bank had several procedural
manuals that might be viewed as formal and 'binlike' (Wal
sh and Ungson, 1991) aspects of
‘organisational memory’. These repositories of information such as the 'PIF' (Products in
Focus), the ‘Action File’ or the Action Sheets were commonly regarded as the ‘Bible’ of
Bank products and procedures, and were univers
ally available. It was rare, however, to see
them actually being used or being used with any great fluency or expectation of success, and
below we see why:

1. Transferring an account...looking at follow up screen..Transfer Associate

2. Looks at

PIF for Enquiry code...

3. Enters Customer Product History Screen...

4. Looks at PIF again..

5. Writes details on form..

6. Uses print screen facility ...goes to printer..

7. Types into Update Account Transfer screen..error ..quits it..

8. Types into Tran
sfer Accounts Between Branches screen..gets same error
message as before..’get lost’..

9. Looks at PIF again..

10. Types into Update Associate Product screen...Transfer Customer..

11. Crosses fingers.

12. ‘It works’

Here a clerk is methodically and labor
iously using the PIF to deal with a ‘routine’ enquiry,
transferring an account from one branch to another. In contrast, and on numerous occasions,
our fieldwork showed examples of personnel extracting ‘knowledge’ by a rather different
expedient, that of si
mply asking someone else. Indeed, we would argue that there is a general
preference among workers in this context to ask a local expert rather than interrogate
manuals, computer screens, or any other form of official knowledge support. In the extract

two Lending Officers are chatting across the lending desk about an issue that has just
arisen concerning the easiest way of setting up a lending facility for a £400 loan for a week.
The concern is with balancing the requirements of the audit inspectors w
ith the needs of the
customer in particular centering on the fact that obtaining the necessary permissions and
doing the paperwork will actually take longer than the term of the loan:

A: .. Its a business account .. we have to issue an ABT (advice of borr
owing terms)
letter .. and they have to sign that before we can set it up..

B: with a personal account they can do it over the phone?

A: Well no, with a personal account .. they have to complete an application form
before we can set it up .. because they
have to sign for the terms and conditions. (B
looks quizical) . ".. no, don’t tell me they've changed it again?..

B:"I dont think they do that .. I think they've changed it now.."

A: " .. no .. you've still got to with an overdraft .. if you've got a credi
t zone and
you want to increase or decrease it .. you don’t have to sign a new form .. but if its
a new credit zone or a new overdraft facility then you have to sign .. because the
inspectors brought that up.."

B: " .. because there were various interpreta
tions of those instructions.."

This relatively simple example disguises several complexities, including the relevance of
‘economy’ to any potential solution to a problem

this method of acquiring knowledge is
simply quicker. Secondly, however, a key to
this strategy for remembering lies in the
observation that the remembering is as much to do with identifying the question

what kind
of account is it and is it a new or existing account

as it is with providing an answer. That is,
for a sensible answer
to be given, the hearer must be able to correctly determine what it is
exactly that the speaker wishes to know. The response, whether providing by pre
material or orally, can also contain instructions as to what kind of thing it is that one is tr
to remember. A third and pertinent issue concerns the availability of this local expertise. We
have referred elsewhere to what we call the ‘Mavis’ phenomenon (Randall et al 1996),
whereby in the context of offices, experienced (normally female) worker
s act as a de facto
repository for any amount of organisational knowledge, often entirely unacknowledged by
management. That such people are valuable knowledge workers is precisely because they
provide economic answers to questions of the form, 'what kind

of situation am I in now such
that I can identify the appropriate instruction’. Consequently, the shouted question, 'how do
you do XYZ' followed with some qualifying comment, such as, 'you know, when ...' can be
answered either with a potential solution,
or with a relevant question, 'what do you mean? ....
X or Y?' The 'Post it' note or equivalent paper resource typically found in office spaces,
suggests exactly the same kind of issue. People provide for themselves 'at a glance' memory
aids which point to
a solution to their problem. The point is that the ‘at handedness’ of these
resources is a function of the fact that they have been
organised by the person who is using
, in accordance with their knowledge of ‘things they need to know or remember’ in
ppropriate contexts.

The relevance of computer support, in other words, resides not so much in whether people
sometimes forget, but in the 'at handedness' of expertise and the organisation of solutions to
problems. This, in turn, relies on a gamut of fact
ors, including the geographical and temporal
distribution of knowledge; the moral and status consequences of ‘asking’; and the relationship
to customer ‘confidence’. Our observations highlighted a number of examples where clerks
did not know the answer to
a customer's problem but made excuses to the customer in order to
justify 'going to ask'. In this case, that is, appropriate computer support would be a question
not only of allowing the clerk to find solutions to a 'remembering' problem but also of
ing solutions that disguise the problem from the customer. Clerks routinely complain,
in using the kinds of information system available to them, that the search strategies they are
forced to use generate 'gaps' in their interaction with customers which ca
use a loss of
customer confidence.

Knowing 'who'.

This next section is concerned with ‘displays’ of knowing which feature the deployment of
'local knowledge' and 'local logics', terms which we prefer to ‘tacit’ knowledge, and where the
emphasis is on the
characteristics of individuals involved in the process. Such examples are
interesting in many ways, not least because they are frequently enlisted to circumvent or
speed up otherwise cumbersome procedures by, as it were, invoking the 'spirit' rather than t
'letter' of the procedure through ‘gambits of compliance’ (Bittner, 1965). It is a commonplace
but nevertheless potent observation (e.g. Suchman 1987) that official routines are rarely
simply and slavishly adhered to but generally involve, and typicall
y require, the use of
judgement. Specifically the circumstances under which the routine is to be strictly followed
and the circumstances under which modifications or ‘short
cuts’ may be employed through
the utilisation of informal teamwork or ‘local knowle
dge’ is a matter for ‘occasioned
determination’ in the course of the work. Our point is that organisational memory or
knowledge as a concept needs to include this knowledge of ‘who’. In the bank study, striking
examples of the deployment of local knowledge


encapsulated in the phrase "He's a God to
this Branch" (see Randall et al, 1996)

occurred, but more mundane instantiations were a
regularly observed feature of the accomplishment of work. In the extract below, for example,
the clerk is chasing a serie
s of phone calls from a large bookmaker about some missing cash.
Although the amount is relatively small, long experience of this customer motivates the clerk
to swiftly resolve the problem because "otherwise alarm bells start ringing":

Chasing up phone
calls from bookies

wrong addition by cashier in branch re:

Using machine

to find phone No for chief cashier

using screen

On phone

giving details (asking cashier if their count was wrong and by how
much ) ‘14th October £360? ... well, they’re
going to want £400

can I fax over a
copy of the credit?’

Faxing details

has to fax copy of giro credit (obtained from Service Centre) to

Phoning WH

to tell them

‘because otherwise alarm bells start ringing and they
start calling in their se
curity people because its a betting shop..’

On phone ‘.. its being adjusted today..’

The important point, given the customer facing aspect of much change management
philosophy, is that in this case, and many others like it, local knowledge is routinely us
ed for
the customer’s benefit to meet the substance of their requests.

This simple example raises issues of the appropriateness of systems to support 'organisational
memory'. Here the relevance of system intervention is striking particularly as retail fi
services move towards customer service based on knowledge of the ‘customer in the
machine’ (Hughes et al 1999). Additionally, although this example pertains to knowledge of
customers, the general argument holds true for knowledge of colleagues. Var
ious pieces of
research have illustrated this problem vis
vis, for instance, project management. The point
is that regardless of the existence of procedures for managing, the real world problem is often
to do with ‘who knows’, or ‘who decided’.

ring cases as being 'like this'.

A third, and conceptually distinct case is that of remembering cases as being ‘like this’, or
remembering similarity and difference. It has a direct resonance with, for instance, ‘pattern
matching’ and ‘data mining’ appro
aches to KM/OM software insofar as the main claim for
such techniques is their power to reveal to organisations previously unrecognised regularities.
Statistical tendencies identified can then be used to provide metrics for decision
Indeed, within
the Bank, the mnemonic ‘CAMPARI & ICE’ supposedly constituted the ‘Ten
Commandments' (character; ability; means; purpose; amount; repayment; insurance; interest;
commission; extras) of lending decision
making. Although it was a formal, sanctionable
sm for assessing lending proposals

occupying centre
stage in the lending manual;
our observation suggested that attention to its details, as opposed to its general spirit, was
relatively rare. What was notable was the way in which these factors were orie
nted to and
used with skill and judgement to assemble a 'case' (often to Regional office) for a lending
decision. We found that Lending Managers often used CAMPARI & ICE retrospectively to
justify a decision already made on 'gut feeling' or on their appare
ntly 'intuitive' deployment of
lending ‘lore’ developed over the years. The work then becomes accounting for a decision, or
'making a case' in ways that can be seen and understood as manifestly complying with
organisational objectives and ‘rules’.

The f
ollowing extract instantiates the manner in which lending judgements are made and
supported by the kind of local and informed knowledge of their customer that is, and
arguably, in the spirit of CAMPARI & ICE.

“..this ..is a limited company account and it
works very well.. I did look at the 836
and the 838 printout again to see this utilisation of an account, see what its doing
(looking at printout) ...it works very well, no excess there is there at all, no excess
days, ..thats a very important part of info
rmation produced from the computer
system,.. number of days in credit is important so its not in overdraft all the
time,..so in discussion we go down and we talk to them about how the company
works, ...the modus operandi of their trading businesses so that

I could get a feel
and get a handle on how it operates, get a feel of what the management is like, ..
because seeing the operation, talking to them, trying to ask questions and get a
feel as to how good they are, and they’re pretty switched on these guys.
..they know
what they’re doing and its difficult to get that picture over to an obscure lender
who’s stuck up there in Regional office"

The important point about this extract is the recognition that the application of lending rules
effectively takes place

after a decision has already been made on ‘gut
feeling’ because,
"they're pretty switched on these guys". Much of the activity is then primarily concerned with
developing a persuasive 'account' for that lending decision to Regional Office, based on the
nowledge that these are precisely the kind of indicators that officials at Regional Office will
be looking for and expecting. In this sense then CAMPARI & ICE is less a device for making
lending decisions than a template for accounting for them, in much th
e same way as Garfinkel
(1967) portrays the process by which juries account for their decisions. As such it resembles
an active process of ‘remembering’ a 'folk logic' whereby, "negotiating and coordinating
diverging logics is more complex than simply appl
ying a general rule to a particular
situation."(Buttny 1993:167)

Equally, irregularity rather than regularity is, in banking, of some importance and a kind of
organisational knowledge that turns out to be germane is that which causes certain cases to
nd out’. Business or Lending Managers do not need total recall of CAMPARI & ICE to
get a sense of when lending decisions are ‘wrong’ and the suspicion and discovery of 'fraud'
provides particularly instructive examples of the remembrance of similarity, of
cases as being
'like this'. The Bank's 'Action sheets' outline a whole series of possible frauds including
money laundering and 'cross
firing' and the various warning signs that staff should be alert for

such as

large cash transactions; sudden large a
ctivity over dormant or previously inactive
accounts; and so on. In this extract a Lending Officer is discussing a recent suspected case of
money laundering:

".. she came in ..supposedly a company director with a salary of 20 thousand ... with no
bank account .. it just didn't add up .. she told the branch she was on 20 grand a
month .. she had an American passport and said she was the director of an American
company .. and she wanted investment advice and all the rest of it .. and I didn't like
the look
of it .. and I said we ought to report it to Fraud .. because she also said that once the account
is open .. wanted to pay in some cash and draw out a draft to pay for a BMW .. and I didn’t
like it ...and the Manager at the time his eyes were all

lighting up because he saw all these
sales in the background he said its alright .. I phoned directory enquiries 'never heard of it' ..
it was just a number of things ..why hadn’t she got an account or a letter of introduction? ..
the fact that she want
ed a draft so quickly, it stank of money laundering.."

This is very much in the fashion of Orr's (1996) 'war stories', anecdotes of experience that
serve as a vehicle for remembering

"because of their situated quality .. the war stories are
situated i
n that they combine ... with the context of specific situations. The contextual
information demonstrates the claimed validity of the facts of the story, guiding the integration
of those facts to the hearer's model" (1990: 175). Following Sacks (1972) we ca
n see the
Lending Officer’s methods as comprising at least two components; the organisation of the
field of operation as a 'territory' of normal appearances' and the deployment of an 'incongruity

a set of expectations as to what is not 'typica
l' for the setting.

Conclusion: 'Thanks for the Memory'.

KM/OM can perhaps be regarded as an example of the application of 'systematic
management' techniques; as an extension, or merely perhaps an alternative and more
optimistic formulation, of Yates' (1
989) notion of 'control through communication'. In this
case, KM/OM consists of the downward communications from management, conveying
information, procedures, rules, etc., to control and coordinate processes at a lower level, and
upward communication from

lower levels to facilitate monitoring, control and evaluation. In
this sense, the proposal of KM/OM, and the variety of computer applications introduced in its
support, are not some natural outgrowth of technological or organisational change so much as
e imposition of a particular managerial philosophy. As Yates suggests, organisational
memory in this view consists in the systematisation of procedure:

‘Only by replacing individual idiosyncrasy with system, individual memory with
organisational memory, a
nd personal skills with firm

specific skills at all levels
did the systemisers feel that they could achieve the current and future efficiency
they sought.’

In much the same way, computer applications are seen as embodying data that is susceptible
to a va
riety of statistical analyses, data that is very much an outcome of those procedures.
KM/OM, then, to the extent that it is a management device predicated on new and
sophisticated forms of computer support, depends on the possibility that knowledge and
ory can be operationalised and rendered in a statistical fashion. In pointing out, as we
have done above, that much organisational knowledge is not of a kind that is either visible in
procedure or subsumable into statistical analysis techniques we are not
being critical of the
principle of knowledge management. Rather, we are suggesting that its orthodoxies should
perhaps be accompanied by complementary analysis of a more qualitative kind. What this
points to, and it is connected to the idea of ‘local knowl
edge’ rehearsed above, is the
investigation of the subtle but essential competencies involved in making sense of (and
thereby being able to make it available to others) what is ‘going on’. These could be described
as competencies required for mutual intell
igibility on the part of the members of a work team
and the ways in which, to put it generally, X’s problem can be seen as ‘something I know
about’. As has been shown in other contexts (e.g. Harper and Hughes, 1993), this kind of
competence is essential to

a whole range of informalities involved in performing work
activities including ‘knowing where others are in their work’; ‘getting round the inadequacies
of the system’; ‘knowing who to rely upon to get things done’, and more. Context, in the
mutually ach
ieved sense in which we mean it, implies in our examples the simultaneous
performance of varied, time
pressured, often interrupted, and ‘skilful’ tasks. What
organisational members know and remember is manifest in the resources they utilise to
complete the

Supporting knowledge work in all its contingent aspects, we believe, requires that systems
pay attention to the occasioned character of remembering activities, and, most importantly, to
the fact that knowledge work is no single process, but any of a n

and we have
suggested three

loosely related activities, each raising unique problems. They can all be seen
as implicating some notion of ‘skill’, in respect of the fact that in each of our cases workers
are using a variety of expertises that can
be understood as ‘knowledge based’. This expertise
or knowledge is not constituted as mastery of the organisation’s processes and procedures, but
in whether, when and how to deploy these more standardised forms in the routine
accomplishment of the work in
hand. Other research, as mentioned above, has pointed to the
existence of ‘tacit’ knowledge, and in this respect such a conclusion is not new. Nevertheless,
our argument is not merely

there is such knowledge but that what form this knowledge
take and
the fashion in which it is deployed depends on the job in hand. Further, the job in
hand normally entails the work of others. The practical accomplishment of ‘knowing’ or
‘remembering’ something involves activities such as ‘telling’ or ‘asking’ and these
are recipient designed

what we tell someone is subject to the purposes of the telling, the
audience for the telling and other contextually variable contingencies. That is, if we are to
examine the context
dependent nature of knowledge, we will

have to do more than recognise
the different organisational positions held by its members. We will have to understand what
each of these people do, and how they mutually construe knowledge with others in the course
of interaction at work. So, for example,

when a Bank Manager comes into the back
office and
asks ‘how is Xs account running?’ this is a request for some selective hearer
relevant account
of events

most obviously involving some recollection and telling of whether the account is
overdrawn, shows

excesses and so on. Selectivity in the telling is based on a consideration of
presumed topical and known
common relevances

that is, it is recipient designed so that
"its not come up on the eight" becomes a meaningful response indicating that 'Xs acco
unt' has
not appeared on the daily 'out of order' printout.

To disentangle the issues implicated in the KM/OM web of concepts, strategies, devices, and
recommendations is not easy. In this paper, we have tried to deal with the conceptual and
empirical iss
ues implicated in the idea of ‘knowledge’ and have argued that it can and should
be thought of as irredeemably interwoven with action; that it cannot be separated from
whatever work is being done and how that work is accomplished by its parties. Secondly,
closely following from such a conception of knowledge, we have made an implicit
methodological recommendation

that understanding knowledge requires close and careful
empirical investigation of the way in which knowledge is used. What we have not dealt
here is the issue of whether such knowledge is tractable for management, and specifically
whether it is susceptible to the kinds of logic that would allow it to be embedded in
computing machinery. We suspect that such a task would be difficult if not
impossible, and,
moreover, that the current fashion for AI based solutions to KM/OM does little to support our
understanding of this kind of work. Our point is very much that our studies show consistently
that the kinds of knowledge and memory work we have

identified above are part and parcel of
the ordinary and mundane activities of real
world organisations. KM/OM has done little, so
far, to demonstrate how it is a strategy for supporting or developing these organisational



research for this paper was drawn from the ESRC ‘Virtual Society?’ program project
‘Where the ‘Virtual’ Meets the ‘Real’: management, skill, and innovation in the virtual
organisation’. Additional supporting projects are the DTI/EPSRC funded initiative i
the DTI/EPSRC SYCOMT Project No. GR/J53409; and the NCR funded project ‘Building
the Virtual Bank’.


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