From codified knowledge to action in practice : knowledge mobilisation by professionals

  • Zeena Alsamarra'I

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis sits within the Knowledge Management (KM) field of study and explores the phenomenon of ‘knowledge mobilisation’. Within the context of this research, knowledge mobilisation is defined as interactions that take place between a knowledge domain where codified knowledge resides (including theoretical knowledge and organisational knowledge) and a practice domain where knowledge is applied in action.

One of the objectives of knowledge management is facilitating knowledge availability to those who need it. Previous research has established that while people in organisations may have access to the knowledge resources needed to support their practice, their actions and behaviours are not always consistent with that knowledge. This observation has been referred to as a ‘knowing-doing problem’, ‘knowing-doing gap’, or ‘knowledge-application gap’. These terms point to the problem of misalignment between available knowledge and the application of that knowledge in action. This misalignment is believed to contribute to suboptimal practices.

This research aims to explore the phenomenon of knowledge mobilisation and use this understanding to account for the factors that can bring about a ‘knowing-doing gap’ when knowledge is mobilised into action. By doing so, the study aims to answer the question of ‘What conditions influence knowledge mobilisation by individuals and account for inconsistencies between knowledge and action when knowledge is mobilised?’. The research is motivated by the need to design a yearlong post-graduate work-based educational program to improve knowledge mobilisation for ICT graduates entering the Australian Public Service (APS). It aims to better ground the design of the program by exploring the nature of knowledge and its mobilisation.

A review of current KM theories and models was conducted and analysed to produce an initial conceptual framework of a knowledge mobilisation instance. A qualitative case study research approach was adopted with graduate students from three consecutive cohorts. The experience of students across ten APS agencies was studied using a range of techniques including semi-structured interviews, students’ portfolio document analysis, observation of meetings and presentations with participants, discussions with academics and consultation with the graduates’ supervisors and agency support group. The qualitative data was analysed using iterative interpretative textual analysis.

The study findings can be organised into three groupings of factors that are observed to affect knowledge mobilisation. First, the social nature of knowledge work drives individuals to heavily rely mostly on other peoples’ subjective knowledge rather than on higher level codified knowledge forms. To that effect, socialisation is believed to be an integral part of the knowledge seeking activities demonstrated in knowledge mobilisation. This finding points to the necessity for trust and relevance of knowledge of applied in practice.

Second, elements of the operational environment and knowledge ecosystem have been observed to be present and play a dual role whereby they can facilitate or hinder knowledge mobilisation. Therefore, knowledge mobilisation can be said to be largely influenced by the knowledge ecosystem elements of people, process, culture, artefacts, technology and others where these elements can at times support knowledge being mobilised, and at times, hinder the process. Finally, the study findings also indicate that ontological differences in the nature of different types of codified knowledge impact how the knowledge content is mobilised to support action in practice. An observed dependence on practical knowledge and the disconnect from theoretical and high-level explicit knowledge is believed to be driven by the attributes of the knowledge content and its relevance to situations in practice.

These findings have been used to modify the initial conceptual framework. The main theoretical contribution of the study is a model conceptualising a knowledge mobilisation instance which captures what knowledge mobilisation looks like as well as the conditions that influence it. This is believed to address one of the shortcomings of KM which is not particularly concerned with knowledge access and use. These aspects are believed to be important. From a practical point of view, the study findings have implications for the participating APS organisations and other organisations in broader sense who design and run programs aimed at mobilising knowledge. The findings advance an understanding of how knowing-doing gaps can potentially emerge when staff in APS organisations respond to their agency specific work situations.

These contributions are significant as they deepen our knowledge of the process of knowledge mobilisation, a key component of effective knowledge management and knowledge management systems design. More generally, the proposed model serves as basis for developing praxis mechanisms as a way to resolve the misalignment between theory and workplace practices so that knowledge and action are better aligned.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDale Mackrell (Supervisor) & Masoud Mohammadian (Supervisor)

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