Knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer in the fields of organizational development and organizational learning is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another (or all other) parts of the organization. Like Knowledge Management, Knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. It is considered to be more than just a communication problem. If it were merely that, then a memorandum, an e-mail or a meeting would accomplish the knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer is more complex because (1) knowledge resides in organizational members, tools, tasks, and their subnetworks (Argote & Ingram, 2000) and (2) much knowledge in organizations is tacit or hard to articulate (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). The subject has been taken up under the title of Knowledge Management since the 1990s.


Argote & Ingram (1999) define knowledge transfer as "the process through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by the experience of another" (p 151). They further point out the transfer of organizational knowledge (i.e., routine or best practices) can be observed through changes in the knowledge or performance of recipient units. The transfer of organizational knowledge, such as best practices, can be quite difficult to achieve. [Szulanski's doctoral dissertation proposed that knowledge transfer within a firm is inhibited by factors other than a lack of incentive. How well knowledge about best practices remains broadly accessible within a firm depends upon the nature of that knowledge, from where (or whom) it comes, who gets it, and the organizational context within which any transfer occurs. Stickiness refers to a concept that derives from the difficulty of circulating fluid around an oil refinery (including effects of the fluid's native viscosity).

It is worth noting that his analysis does not apply to scientific theories, where a different set of dynamics and rewards apply.

Szulanski, Gabriel (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practice within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 27-43]

Three related concepts are "knowledge utilization," "research utilization" and "implementation," which are used in the health sciences to describe the process of bringing a new idea, practice or technology into consistent and appropriate use in a clinical setting (Greenhalgh et al., 2004). The study of knowledge utilization/implementation (KU/I) is a direct outgrowth of the movement toward evidence-based medicine and research concluding that health care practices with demonstrated efficacy are not consistently used in practice settings.

Knowledge transfer within organisations and between nations also raises ethical considerations particularly where there is an imbalance in power relationships e.g. employer and employee or in the levels of relative need for knowledge resources e.g. developed and developing worlds (Harman C. & Brelade S. 2003).

Knowledge transfer between public and private domains

With the move of advanced economies from a resource-based to a knowledge-based production [OECD (1999), Managing national innovation systems, OECD publications service, Paris] , many national governments have increasingly recognised ‘knowledge’ and ‘innovation’ as a significant driving forces of economic growth, social development, and job creation. In this context the promotion of 'knowledge transfer' has increasingly become a subject of public and economic policy.

The underlying assumption that there is a potential for increased collaboration between industry and universities is also underlined in much of the current innovation literature. In particular the Open Innovation [] approach to developing business value is explicitly based on an assumption that Universities are a “vital source for accessing external ideas”. Moreover Universities have been deemed to be “the great, largely unknown, and certainly underexploited, resource contributing to the creation of wealth and economic competitiveness” [ G. Holland (1999), Foreword, in University and the creation of wealth, edited by H. Gray, the society for research into higher education and open university press] .

Universities and other public sector research organisations (PSROs) have accumulated much practical experience over the years in the transfer of knowledge "across" the divide between the domains of publicly produced knowledge and the private exploitation of it. Many colleges and PSROs have developed processes and policies to discover, protect and exploit intellectual property (IP) rights, and to ensure that IP is successfully transferred to private corporations, or vested in new companies formed for the purposes of exploitation. Routes to commercialisation of IP produced by PSROs and colleges include licensing, joint venture, new company formation and royalty-based assignments.

Organisations such as AUTM in the US and [ The Institute of Knowledge Transfer] in the UK and the Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals in Europe have provided a conduit for knowledge transfer professionals across the public and private sectors to identify best practice and develop effective tools and techniques for the management of PSRO/college produced IP. On-line Communities of Practice for knowledge transfer practitioners are also emerging to facilitate connectivity (such as [ The Global Innovation Network] and the knowledgePool).

Business-University Collaboration was the subject of the Lambert Review in the UK in 2003.

Types of knowledge

Knowledge is a dominant feature in our post-industrial society, and knowledge-workers comprise an enterprise. If knowledge is the basis for all that we do these days, then gaining an understanding of what types of knowledge exist within an organization may allow us to foster internal social structures that will facilitate and support learning in all organizational domains. Blackler (1995) expands on a categorization of knowledge types that were suggested by Collins (1993), being: embrained, embodied, encultured, embedded and encoded. It is important to note that these knowledge types could be indicative of any organization, not just those that are knowledge-based heavy.

Embrained knowledge is that which is dependent on conceptual skills and cognitive abilities. We could consider this to be practical, high-level knowledge, where objectives are met through perpetual recognition and revamping. Tacit knowledge may also be embrained, even though it is mainly subconscious.

Embodied knowledge is action oriented and consists of contextual practices. It is more of a social acquisition, as how individuals interact in and interpret their environment creates this non-explicit type of knowledge.

Encultured knowledge is the process of achieving shared understandings through socialization and acculturation. Language and negotiation become the discourse of this type of knowledge in an enterprise.

Embedded knowledge is explicit and resides within systematic routines. It relates to the relationships between roles, technologies, formal procedures and emergent routines within a complex system.

Encoded knowledge is information that is conveyed in signs and symbols (books, manuals, data bases, etc.) and decontextualized into codes of practice. Rather than being a specific type of knowledge, it deals more with the transmission, storage and interrogation of knowledge.


What complicates knowledge transfer? There are many factors, including:
* The inability to recognize & articulate "compiled" or highly intuitive competencies - tacit knowledge idea (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995)
* geography or distance (Galbraith 1990)
* limitations of ICTs (Roberts 2000)
* lack of a shared/superordinate social identity (Kane, Argote, & Levine 2005)
* language
* areas of expertise
* internal conflicts (for example, professional territoriality)
* generational differences
* union-management relations
* incentives
* the use of visual representations to transfer knowledge (Knowledge visualization)
* problems with sharing beliefs, assumptions, heuristics and cultural norms.
* previous exposure or experience with something.
* misconceptions
* faulty information
* organizational culture non-conducive to knowledge sharing (the "Knowledge is power" culture)
* motivational issues
* lack of trust
Everett Rogers pioneered diffusion of innovations theory, presenting a research-based model for how and why individuals and social networks adopt new ideas, practices and products. In anthropology, the concept of diffusion also explores the spread of ideas among cultures.


* identifying the knowledge holders within the organization
* motivating them to share
* designing a sharing mechanism to facilitate the transfer
* executing the transfer plan
* measuring to ensure the transfer
* applying the knowledge transferred


* mentoring
* guided experience
* simulation
* guided experimentation
* work shadowing
* paired work
* communities of practice
* narrative transfer

Incorrect usage

Knowledge transfer is often used as a synonym for training. Furthermore information should not to be confused with knowledge, nor is it, strictly speaking, possible to “transfer” experiential knowledge to other people. [Robert E. Stake, “Qualitative Case Studies,” in The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2005), 456. ] Information might be thought of as facts or understood data; however, knowledge has to do with flexible and adaptable skills -- a person’s unique ability to wield and apply information. This fluency of application is in part what differentiates information from knowledge. Knowledge tends to be both tacit and personal; the knowledge one person has is difficult to quantify, store, and retrieve for someone else to use.


See also

* Institutional memory
* Instructional theory
* Knowledge Management
* Communities of practice
* Transfer of learning
* Media Richness Theory


* Fan, Y. (1998) "The Transfer of Western Management to China: Context, Content and Constraints", Management Learning, 29:2, 201-221, available at
* Argote, L., P. Ingram (2000). "Knowledge transfer A Basis for Competitive Advantage in Firms." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 82(1): 150-169.
* Argote, L. et al (2000). “Knowledge Transfer in Organizations: Learning from the Experience of Others.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 82(1) (May): 1-8.
*Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, Knowledge Work and Organizations: An Overview and Interpretation. Organization Studies(6), 1021-1046.
*Castells, M. (1996). Conclusion, The Rise of the Network Society and the Information Age, Economy, Society& Culture, Volume 1. (pp. 469-478). Oxford: Blackwell.
* Galbraith, C. S. (1990). "Transferring core manufacturing technologies in high-technology firms." California Management Review 32: 56-70.
* Greenhalgh, T., G. Robert, F. Macfarlane, Bate, P., and Kyriakidou, O. (2004). "Diffusion of innovations in service organizations: Systematic review and recommendations." Milbank Quarterly 82(4): 581-629.
* Harman, C. and Brelade, S., (2003) "Doing the Right Thing in a Knowledge Transfer", Knowledge Management Review Vol 6 Issue 1 pp 28-31, Melcrum Publishing.
* Kane, A. A., L. Argote, J. Levine (2005). "Knowledge transfer between groups via personnel rotation: Effects of social identity and knowledge quality." Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes 96(1): 56-71.
* Nonaka, I. and H. Takeuchi (1995). The knowledge-creating company. New York, Oxford University Press.
* Leonard, D and Swap, w. 2005 Deep Smarts. How to cultivate and transfer enduring business wisdom. HBSP. ISBN 1-59139-528-3
* Roberts, Joanne (2000), "From Know-how to Show-how: Questioning the Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Knowledge Transfer." Technology Analysis & Strategic Management Vol. 12 (4), 429-443.
* Shaw, M (2001). "Integrating Learning Technologies" Teaching and Learning with Technology, Issue 6
* Szulanski, G. (1996). "Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practice within the firm." Strategic Management Journal 17: 27-43.
* Trautman, Steve (2006). "Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader's Guide to Knowledge Transfer. Addison Wesley
* Thomas H. Davenport, Laurence Prusak (2000). "Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know." Boston Massachusettes, Havard Business School Press.

External links

* [ Project of knowledge transfer of the CIPRA "Future in the Alps"]
* [ "Integrating Learning Technologies: The social-cultural, pragmatic and technology design contexts" (Shaw, M. 2001)]

* National Library for Health [ Knowledge Management Specialist Library] - collection of resources about mobilising knowledge.

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