Chapter 6: From function to use – Web 2.0 Knowledge Technologies and the Enterprise


From function to use

The notions of spaces, flows and games are heuristic objects which help make a transition from general assertions about how useful wikis and blogs are to specific functional capabilities which can make a contribution to business. Spaces and flows do this by providing an explanatory vehicle to managers which helps them conceptualise how a particular group can conduct a certain type of activity more effectively using Web 2.0 technologies. But projects which introduce new technologies, irrespective of their usability and usefulness, usually fail to meet expectations. Failure statistics from many sources underpin a general litany of disappointment and methodologies to ameliorate poor performance and critical success factors are legion – and yet projects continue to disappoint. However, change and improvement in certain dimensions of performance are critical to business survival – and technology is at the core of many such changes.

If we continue to approach such projects in the same way, the same kinds of problems will lead to disillusionment. Therefore I’m suggesting here that we look at this particular species of technology using a different theoretical lens. In Plato’s words, perhaps there can be no end to the ‘troubles’ of failed and ‘challenging’ projects, until managers become philosophers and philosophers become managers. In other words, ways of framing the implementation of Web 2.0 tools are required that are richer and more insightful than day-to-day operational logic and to this end, there is ‘nothing as practical as a good theory’.

This approach is depicted in Figure 6.1, which shows how business systems succeed only insofar as they are supported by social systems of organisational memory, knowledge building, identity formation, the use of transactive ‘knowledge’ directories and so on. These alternative perspectives are important because they describe the interpersonal and informational systems which drive the effective adoption of knowledge-based tools such as those contained in Web 2.0. In the diagram, we see that it is business systems and work routines that deliver outcomes which are assessed for high or low performance: the number of goods produced per worker, the rate of rework or the responsiveness to customer problems. But without an organisational memory which can be built and reused by staff, and without staff who identify in some way with the work that is done, those performance criteria will either decline or not be sustainable at high levels. Corporate knowledge building, the formation of identity and the exercise of power constitute other, less visible, systems within the overall ecology of the workplace. These systems must also be maintained at a high level of performance.

Figure 6.1 The social systems supporting Web 2.0 tool use

At the same time, being largely social and institutional, these are the elements which are difficult to change and which only change relatively slowly and under certain conditions. The creation or changing of social habits and ideas requires a kind of reprogramming of what is shared rather than what is personal: a long, fragile and complex process. This is one of the reasons that technology often disappoints in the short term but exceeds expectations in the longer term: operational benefits begin to become visible when underlying social systems have co-evolved with the technology and other changes in the environment.

Space and flow constitute the point of departure in trying to make Web 2.0 work: a space, once defined, articulates an institutional topology which users and managers will navigate to achieve organisational, group and individual objectives. So beyond the notion of space, we need mechanisms to understand what is happening within the space and how to optimise the flows between the players. This chapter therefore describes some appropriate social-theoretical perspectives which can be used to understand the challenges of implementing Web 2.0 facilities in social terms and how to make them work in business organisations.

We are taking the view here that Web 2.0 is knowledge technology: it supports the creation, sharing, storing and classification of information. But in contrast to current methods of knowledge creation such as e-mail, teleconferences, conversation and face-to-face meetings, it is hoped that strategically implemented Web 2.0 will make information exchange persistent, structured, asynchronous and available to the entire organisation as part of a series of natural flows and interactions between intelligent people. This results in organisational memory, the shared, more-or-less coherent, firm-wide knowledge of how to get things done. It is axiomatic that the quality and accessibility of this corporate knowledge are key determinants of organisational performance and competitive advantage. So this chapter deals with the application of Web 2.0 in the context of corporate knowledge.

We start by asking what exactly is organisational memory and how we can describe the types of knowledge it ‘contains’, as the type of knowledge which is involved will determine the most appropriate storage technologies to be used to manage it. Then we move to how this knowledge is created, shared, found and used using theories of social constructivism and transactive memory systems: to be fully effective, Web 2.0 function must support the social processes employed by people in everyday interactions to build and share knowledge and must provide capabilities for maintaining, finding, classifying and retrieving knowledge.

If theories of knowledge tell us why and how the Web 2.0 tools build organisational memory and support knowledge-building processes, we then need to understand how to motivate people to adopt these technologies. We use institutional theory to understand what norms drive people to contribute to organisational memory: ways of organising work, personal networks and supporting technologies already exist in organisations for creating and sharing information, so why would anyone migrate to methods which benefit the organisation but not necessarily the individual? In order to understand how to move people to change habits, overcome institutional inertia and understand the impact of these tools on power relationships and managerial control, we draw on critical theory. We conclude by using identity theory to understand what concepts of self and group prototypes might drive people to participate in organisational memory processes using these tools. In the following chapter we combine these perspectives with spaces and flows to arrive at a method for assessing, designing and implementing Web 2.0 in business organisations.

Organisational memory: storing knowledge

Organisational memory is a pivotal notion in the use of Web 2.0 in the enterprise and provides a key metaphor for conceptualising its usefulness. Organisations are social groups which absorb and develop systems of knowledge to the extent that this knowledge serves their purposes. They can be understood as information processing systems within which collective interpretations exist and emerge. Organisations, so perceived, have a particular memory, which is the knowledge of how to do things, how to approach problems and issues, how to treat each other, who to obey and who to command, who is the expert and so on. The instrumental, or operational, view of organisational memory is that it is that knowledge which can be brought to bear on present business activities. It is hoped of course that this will lead to higher levels of organisational performance because ‘lessons learned’ and solid experience will be retrieved and applied, but this is not necessarily the case. Some memories may inhibit higher performance: reluctant attitudes to new ways of doing things because of previous pain, for example, or a lack of concepts to frame innovations (the ‘not invented here syndrome’, ‘core rigidities’, ‘defensive reasoning routines’ to name few from the academic literature). There is another view of organisational memory which says it is the collective system of sense-making, the knowledge which gives structure and meaning to events and allows shared interpretation to emerge within organisations: it is the system of shared understandings which constitutes organisational effectiveness and cohesion, insofar as the organisation is effective or cohesive of course.1

Learning takes place when individuals in the organisation experience a problematic situation or task and resolve it on behalf of the organisation. It becomes organisational learning when that resolution changes the way members of the organisation frame and approach that situation in future, either through being told or shown the new way or through it being captured in some documentation, procedure or schema. It is an activity in which processes such as situation interpretation, innovation, information capture, information storage, and search and retrieval move knowledge from a person’s isolated memory to make it accessible to others in the collective.2

The performance of business activities may have organisational learning as a by-product, when people learn and become accessible as experts for example, or it can be supported by explicit management techniques such as reflection in action or post-project review. Learning might be a straightforward incremental improvement or adaptation (single-loop learning), or it may involve changes to fundamental principles and sense-making perceptions (double-loop learning).3 These knowledge processes can be facilitated through personnel being given capabilities (technology, training, time and space) and motivation (recognition, self-fulfilment, rewards) to contribute knowledge to the organisation as a whole.

Figure 6.2 shows how the organisational learning processes fill and use organisational memory. After a problem is solved, a new method developed or a new standard established through learning on the job or innovation, new knowledge is created. This is then captured in some form (perhaps only in a person’s head). It may then be stored in some repository (which is more appropriate) or simply noted in an organisational directory that a certain person is now an expert on that particular problem. The knowledge will be classified in some way so that it can be located using standard organisational concepts or words, and is made visible to those who need it by them being told about it or being located at the time it might be needed via search. This knowledge can then be used and, sometimes, adapted and placed back into organisational memory. These learning processes can be described in many ways, but the model in Figure 6.2 serves as a simple approximation of how organisational learning might take place.

Figure 6.2 Organisational memory and organisational learning procedures

Organisational memory, the store of organisational knowledge, is said to reside in several different types of physical repository.4 Each repository has particular characteristics and advantages and can play different roles in the production process and therefore contribute in different ways over time to improving the competitive position and effectiveness of the firm. For example, a database is a good organisational memory repository to serve highly structured, routine processes, a person’s head is a good repository for stories of experiences in complex situations, and an intranet is a good repository for organisational documents which need to be shared across distance and time zones. Typical repositories used to store organisational memory are the heads of individual experts and managers, technology and software systems, procedures and routines, organisational culture and behavioural norms and the design and layout of the workplace, such as buildings and signs, and job roles and organisational structure diagrams.

Positive correlations have been found between strong organisational memory and organisational performance,5 organisational learning,6 improvisation7 and speed of decision-making.8 Quite simply and intuitively, an organisation which can make available to others what one person or group has discovered or resolved will not repeat the mistakes of the past – at least not as much. This ‘learning curve’ is widely accepted as a key factor in efficiency gain, not just from cumulative production experience, but ‘from the application of expertise culled from sources other than experience in producing the affected product’.9 Organisational memory can improve productivity by improving routine work, developing better control over production, logistics and service delivery, and identifying the best skills for a job.10

Organisational memory is an emergent property of organisations and can be consistent and coherent or fragmented and contradictory. Generally, management will seek to standardise and develop practices to achieve the former state, so organisational memory is a kind of permanent ‘work in progress’. It is the appearance of routine over time that distinguishes the organisation from other social collectives. It forms a sequence of cognitive, normative and regulative patterns in which members partake. It is cognitive, in that it is the way the world is perceived and ordered; it is normative, in that it provides the standards and values that reflect this is how things should be done; it is regulative, in that it describes the routines and practices which the firm has evolved in order to get things done. These are often formulated in a private organisational language and in proprietary sequences of activities and recognisable patterns of behaviour. Organisational memory is what makes those patterns special and distinctive, and worth utilising in contrast to other collectives.

Organisations offer the opportunity to participate in the memory. This participation is mediated through capabilities to draw down from and to contribute to the common stock of knowledge. We talk to our colleagues, we use standard procedures stored in document management systems, we update the databases of ERP systems, and we ask the experts and managers for advice. Structurally, the memory can be fragmented, for example when there are many different ways of doing things and we get different answers depending upon who we ask. Or it can be monolithic, when there is great regularity, control and consistency. The capabilities for maintaining and using organisational memory can be informal or formal.

Web 2.0 offers enhanced capabilities to manage and develop organisational memory. These technologies provide easily searchable storage capabilities which are available to the entire organisation and functions which support contribution and application. They support the movement of memory which would otherwise remain isolated and local, from personal minds and small groups to entire organisations.

Figure 6.3 shows where various Web 2.0 technologies might connect into the processes of organisational learning which supply and utilise organisational memory. In the figure we see that all the organisational learning processes of capturing, creating, classifying and so on have some technology support through a Web 2.0 tool of some kind. Some of these tools, like wikis and blogs, might also be repositories as they actually store information, videos and images, but it is their software function which provides an entry point to contribute to or use the memory. Because of this, the system of organisational learning is continuous and uninterrupted. But we need to understand the storage repositories in which the knowledge is kept and the directories which enable us to find that knowledge. So in the next section we proceed to look at the directories which let us order and find the relevant piece of memory when we need it and the processes by which those directories are maintained and used.

Figure 6.3 Knowledge processes and Web 2.0 tools

Transactive memory systems: finding and retrieving knowledge

Now we move our attention to understanding the signposts which guide members of firms to the content they need to get work done. It’s all very well to have lots of organisational memory, but how will you find it when you need it? Any system of signposts needs structure and maintenance and must be accessible across the organisation. A psychological theory which deals directly with the concept of ‘knowledge signposts’ (or directories) and which is highly applicable to understanding how to manage the directories of organisational memory is Daniel M. Wegner’s theory of Transactive Memory.11

While originating in research into studies of dyads and small groups, the concept of Transactive Memory Systems (TMS) has been extended to describe knowledge storage and retrieval in organisations. TMS describe the processes which are employed to maintain and use directories of knowledge within groups. Through knowledge specialisation, members of a group develop specific responsibilities for expertise. When knowledge enters the group it is allocated to the responsible member. In the process, it is encoded by group members into their personal directory structures that this expert has that piece of knowledge, and they subsequently retrieve that piece of knowledge from the expert responsible for that general area when they need it.

In small groups, like families or couples, responsibility for cooking or repairs might be divided up between husband and wife (respectively): they specialise and information gets allocated to the responsible person (new recipes, a window not closing, a new kind of putty). When a child cooks, they ask the mother for ‘that new recipe’ or where the pots are kept. The members of the group get to know who knows what and manage things accordingly. In larger commercial organisations, similar processes occur, although they might be more complicated and the media upon which transactive directories are stored might be a loosely linked network of personal brains, paper, organisation structures and roles, and electronic databases. These media are maintained and used via a variety of modalities: chatting, updating personal pages or going to meetings for example. The key point here is that a well-developed TMS turns personal or local memory into organisational memory by making it findable, available and retrievable. And this is done without having to capture the actual content in some explicit, shareable medium or technology such as a database or ‘lessons learned’ report.

TMS describes social cognition which is driven by information about the characteristics of group knowledge and the associated processes of maintaining and using that metadata to retrieve and store knowledge. It separates the knowledge which group members have about a particular area from knowledge that groups members have about each other. It describes how a group exchanges information about the specific expertise of each member, thereby facilitating access to expertise when it is needed. A TMS is characterised by specialisation of expertise, which develops as members of the group differentiate themselves from each other through capability or particular interest. The respective specialists need to be credible in order for the directory to be of any use and the processes which then lead to the knowledge in the group actually being used need to operate in a coordinated fashion.

TMS can be seen as a key component of ‘group mind’ and explains how a group can appear to have a collective consciousness without needing to fall back on telepathy or metaphysics to explain the apparent single-mindedness.12 The purposeful and coordinated nature of groups and the patterns and regularities in task execution convey the impression that there is a single organism at work. The information-based TMS approach goes some way to explaining the coordination and consistency in group function while remaining solidly materialist. Metadata about group knowledge is collected in group processes (where information is exchanged) and this data is maintained in the personal minds and artefacts of group members. The social nature of these processes means that there will be a general consistency in the content of directories (‘We all know that Fred is the expert on project management’), while leaving room for personal preferences (‘I find Fred difficult to deal with so I won’t ask him for advice’).

The research shows that a well-developed TMS can decisively improve group capability. In one experiment, a TMS developed through group training improved group performance far more than individual training with team-building exercises – good news for those who hate group hugs and just want to do a good job.13 There is a strong positive correlation between strength of TMS and knowledge-worker team performance.14Group performance is believed to reflect the ability of a group with a well functioning TMS to store and recall more knowledge than any individual,15 to use the knowledge of others better,16 to match problems with the person most likely to resolve them,17 to coordinate activities more effectively because of better anticipation of the capabilities of others and appropriate allocation of roles and tasks,18 to make better decisions through the recognition and evaluation of the expertise contributed by group members,19 and to reduce cognitive load when others act as external memory stores and allow greater specialisation.20 TMS is a theory of group activity which focuses upon cognition and the transfer of information rather than culture, communication or motivation.

Transactive directories are maintained automatically or as a by-product of online activity in Web 2.0 and are searchable and navigable electronically. One can hyperlink from an author to a personal contact page or vice versa. Wiki entries are searchable based upon the knowledge they contain or can be found by navigating conceptual (or ‘category’) hierarchies. Each editorial change to a Wiki page is linked to a specific, identifiable editor. That editor may have a personal page describing their contact details, role, preferences and interests, and prior experience. The page may show links to other ‘friends’ with similar interests and knowledge.21 So the directory maintenance functions and the information retrieval functions are well supported. Wiki and blog pages can be made RSS capable or ‘watched’ for changes, so that individuals or groups can subscribe and be notified of new knowledge entering the system. This of course is direct support of the allocation process of TMS.

Transactive memory systems are strongly supported by Web 2.0 technologies through their directory and link capabilities and the fact that a wide range of information is being digitised and made searchable. Figure 6.4 shows the interaction between the TMS processes and various Web 2.0 capabilities and how the key transactive processes of (1) building and maintaining a directory of group knowledge, (2) distributing new knowledge to the responsible repository and then (3) retrieving the knowledge when it is required by using the directory can be supported by Web 2.0 tools.

Figure 6.4 Transactive memory systems and Web 2.0 tools

It’s useful to divide transactive directories of organisational memory into two parts: a part which tells you where things should be and a part that tells you were something actually is. The first is the normative part and the second is an instance part. The normative part is prescriptive metadata, the formal model (or ‘ontology’) of the organisation describing what counts as knowledge. You would find these official signposts in glossaries, thesauri, keywords, procedures, role statements and departmental responsibilities and also in the language that some groups have developed to manage their work. Of course those groups will have brought such words into the organisation as part of their professional training as well: accounting or engineering concepts for example. This is a model of how management and experts wish the organisation to be. It facilitates a coherent understanding of the organisation as a whole: it is its semantic web.

The instance part is specific knowledge gained as work is done, is particular, sometimes chaotic, and is not necessarily categorised or even registered using standard organisational nomenclature. So where the normative part of an organisational transactive directory will tell you what a project is and where (you ought to able) to find project knowledge, the instance part will tell you where to find the information you need about ‘Project 4711′ (which was managed by Fred who is now working in the Human Resource Department). Without systems which support the development of normative and instance transactive directory entries, the power of the information and knowledge embedded in your Web 2.0 tools is unlikely to gain full traction and organisational memory will remain hidden.

Figure 6.5 shows the transactive paths that may be followed in organisations through the use of formal and instance transactive metadata. We see that:

Figure 6.5 Transactive memory in organisations

1. The concepts and facts that describe cognitive and routine systems are grouped into domains, so a set of concepts like machine, maintenance schedule, tools and repair can be seen as being in the ‘Maintenance’ domain.

2. These domains are the responsibility of departments and roles, so the maintenance department is the place to go for information about the maintenance schedule.

3. These standard departments and roles can be used as links to find knowledge holders. Within the maintenance department there is a group responsible for scheduling and they have a manager, Fred, who can be approached for information or further ‘directing’.

4. The use of a standard concept, like ‘maintenance schedule’, to search through networked drives or the document management system, or simply by asking, leads us to specific content about maintenance schedules for machine ABC or factory XYZ.

5. The creation of instance content, for example who has engaged in specific maintenance activities or who developed a specific maintenance schedule, creates metadata pointing to the author, repository or other relevant knowledge repositories, whether it is a wiki, a blog or a person.

Transactive memory has many positive implications for organisations other than the obvious informational and cognitive ones. Further to the research in small groups, a well-structured, maintained and supported TMS will function to reduce social uncertainty in organisations. It will do this prior to and during situations characterised by change or disruption. An effective TMS will give confidence and capability to staff in an organisation to achieve the level of certainty they require when they require it.

In summary, TMS is not only a descriptive theory explaining group cognition; it also points a path towards performance enhancement. The storage and maintenance of metadata about group expertise is an effective method of managing specialisation and division of labour, storage and retrieval, and task allocation. Further, TMS processes are social activities which can build useful connections between people, increasing group coherence and integration.

Social constructivism: building knowledge

Having looked at the key types knowledge that exist in organisations and the directories that point to them, it makes sense at this stage to outline how this knowledge is created, accepted, shared and reinforced because this sets the scene for what kinds of technology tools can support what we call ‘knowledge transformation processes’ in organisations. The knowledge transformation processes around receiving orders (proprietary prescriptive, normative) is quite different to a sales offensive (proprietary descriptive) or solving problems with deep-sea drilling equipment (emergent) or assessing why a power substation built thirty years ago is subsiding (distinctive, original expert) and result in a different set of knowledge outcomes.

The theoretical base we use to understand knowledge is called social constructivism, or the ‘sociology of knowledge’. It characterises knowledge as the sets of beliefs or mental models people use to interpret actions and events in the world. This way of looking at knowledge contrasts with empiricism, a philosophy of knowledge which tells us the way we see the world is pretty much how it actually is. Social constructivism tells us we build knowledge as ways of understanding the world, and that these ways of understanding are a subset of how the world could be understood. When we consider the wide diversity of world views, this seems a very sensible idea, if a little more complicated. A shaman’s knowledge of the spirit world allows him to interpret naturally occurring phenomena as portents or signs. Moral knowledge allows us to assess behaviour as right or wrong, criminal, unethical or fair. Knowledge of invoice processing allows a programmer to generate automatic reminder letters. Social constructivism does not judge whether or not there are actually such things as ‘spirits’ or ‘right and wrong’ or even ‘invoices’. ‘What is ‘real’ to a Tibetan monk may not be ‘real’ to an American businessman (or even a Trappist for that matter).

This reality is constructed by individuals within social groups over periods of time, whether Pathan tribesmen or Wall Street bankers, mostly in conversation and through social rituals, which are ways of bridging the gaps between the personal consciousnesses of different individuals. Language, artefacts and symbolic behaviour are the shared, physical embodiment of a group’s collective, permanent solutions to its ongoing problems. These solutions persist in groups as interpretive structures which are continually articulated, enacted and thereby re-created in processes of social behaviour.

The process model in Figure 6.6 seeks to capture the core elements of social constructivism. The terms in the boxes in the model are those used by seminal writers on social constructivism, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, while those outside each box are our translation into more everyday expressions.22 We explain these in more detail below.

Figure 6.6 The knowledge transformation processes in social constructivism Source: Jackson and Klobas (2008).

What an individual knows is (1) personal knowledge, consisting of ‘typificatory schemes’, which are the frameworks used to interpret and make sense of the actions of other people and the physical world (writers like Peter Senge and Chris Argyris call these ‘mental models’ or ‘theories in use’) and recipe knowledge, which is ‘know-how’, or ‘knowledge limited to pragmatic competence in routine performance’. This personal knowledge is constructed through a number of processes. One can absorb knowledge in a process of (2) internalisation, which describes the absorption of knowledge by a recipient. Or one can (3) create new knowledge by combining existing knowledge in one’s own head or through habituation (the development of knowledge into useful routines through repetition of work or tasks) and transformations (radically changing subjective reality and creating new ideas). The new knowledge one absorbs or creates can be (4) externalised, which is the expression of knowledge in a symbolic form such as speech, artefacts or gestures into the physical world, such that others can perceive and internalise it. Once externalised, (5) objectivation is the creation of shared, social constructs that represent a group rather than an individual understanding of the world. This objective knowledge is ‘stored’ in physical symbols such as language, behaviour or artefacts which are endowed with social significance and which can be shared. Objectified or shared concepts are then subject to (7) legitimation, a process whereby knowledge is authorised by people or groups who have power and meanings are validated and accepted as ‘correct’ or ‘standard’ by others. They become ‘institutions’. Finally, over time, (8) reification acts upon legitimated concepts to make them unquestionable and self-evident. Reification is ‘the apprehension of human phenomena … as if they were things.’ It is a process in which concepts (such as witchcraft, incest taboos or loan approval) harden in the minds of the group and attain an existence, apparently independent of human beings, which can no longer be challenged.

There are processes which combine together to form recognisable suites: (9) socialisation is the ‘comprehensive and consistent induction of an individual into the objective world of a society or a sector of it’. It is the internalisation of role-specific language and knowledge that comprise the objectified knowledge of a group. This process shapes the individual’s behaviour and interpretation of organisational meaning. Internalisation of objectified social structures and externalising oneself into that (and being corrected and guided in the case of wrong moves) involves newcomers directly in the knowledge transformation processes of a group. Individual identity is formed as people recognise and adopt roles and behaviours. (6) Institutionalisation is the process over time of establishing predefined ‘patterns of action’ which cause certain actors in certain roles to behave in certain ways, thereby setting up systems of control and behaviour vis-a-vis an objectified and shared typification or concept. Institutions ‘consist of cognitive, normative and regulative structures that provide stability and meaning to social behavior. Institutions are transported by various carriers – cultures, structures, and routines – and they operate at multiple levels of jurisdiction.’23 Institutions are shared between actors; they are not personal preferences or ideas. People are habituated into roles, which define the relevance of an institution to one’s own or other people’s behaviour. Roles are linked to typificatory schemes which define acceptable modes of interaction and which define the degree of ‘sharedness’, objectivity and authority of knowledge.

We maintain social reality and co-create knowledge with others in the most basic of all human interactions, face-to-face conversation. Conversations occur within a space (work, pub, family) within which we adopt and act out our allocated or adopted roles. We not only exchange information flows on multiple channels (facial expression, gestures) but do so with great rapidity. Intended and unintended distortions can occur regularly in communicative interaction and are caused by differences in social background and status, uncertainty and fear, purposeful manipulation, personality biases. In face-to-face conversation we are not just exchanging information with our partners in conversation, we are creating, forming and legitimating views of the world. We are not allowed to stray, we are constantly being corrected and correcting others, bringing each other to the belief that these are the things that exist (love, duty, trees and politicians) and this is the way they are. It’s a little like sketching – we do not draw by moving our hand to the perfect form of what we observe, but by correcting deviations in our hand as we move the pencil to the paper.24

Web 2.0 tools are social software, supporting conversations which are time-delayed, open and public and without physical presence. The processes in the model and the associated conversational signals are moved to new media. They take a number of forms, and these usually dictate the characteristics of the resulting knowledge outcome, for example:

 A legitimating process that includes the CEO will usually result in a carefully controlled and polished final artefact whereas approving a new tolerance benchmark on a machine might be done by a mechanic with a blue sticker.

 Announcements to an entire department will be externalised via an announcement on the corporate intranet but externalisation to a small maintenance team will be done verbally in a team meeting.

 Externalising a best practice method might be done by an expert on a blog but externalising that practice as a procedure will be done by the quality manager.

Understanding the knowledge transformation processes provides a toolbox for asking important questions about the most appropriate type of technology support, security and scope of access: How is this knowledge created – who should participate? How and to whom can it be externalised? Is this knowledge objectified (i.e. commonly understood) or is it a work in progress? What level of legitimation does it require to be expressed? How will these things translate to a wiki or a blog? In particular, we can express these transformations in terms of the game played within the space we have defined: Who are the players and what are the roles they adopt? How are we to socialise players into their roles? What constitutes an act of legitimation or objectivation?

The modern business environment, with higher turnover, physical dispersal of staff and outsourcing changes these knowledge transformation processes, often making them more difficult. E-mail is the currently preferred method of overcoming time and space asymmetries in business, but open Web 2.0 tools like wikis provide a persistent, public and more integrated means of executing social processes around knowledge development and exchange. Knowledge transformation processes are moved to a medium not requiring physical presence. It certainly is one that is far more public and permanent than conversation, but it is nonetheless emerging knowledge. Procedures, mission statements, reports and other fully legitimated documents do not appear from nowhere – they are the result of conversations which mirror the constructivist processes of externalisation, internalisation, legitimation, objectivation and so on. These conversations can now take place in a forum using Web 2.0 tools which overcomes the difficulties of dispersal, coordination, lack of persistence and structure.

Institutional theory: influencing organisational behaviour

In the previous section we saw how certain processes led to the formation of new concepts (‘objectivations’), norms and institutions, in terms of which the world is perceived, according to which social patterns emerge and through which normative pressure is exerted on the behaviour of organisational members. This normative pressure is often identified as ‘culture’: implementation problems and the lack of take-up of new methods, tools or innovations are often explained in organisations with a shrug of the shoulders and the appeal to ‘oh well, it’s the organisational culture’. But this culture, while appearing monolithic, is the result of perpetual co-creation by participants via micro-interactions within social situations. These are the processes of knowledge transformation and reality construction we identified in the previous section. The change to a new method of working, such as that inherent in Web 2.0, requires changes in routines and behaviour and how people see the world. There will be a move from an e-mail to a wiki, from the corridor discussion to a wiki threaded discussion, from a heated outburst at a meeting to an incendiary blog, from a management initiated discussion to a grassroots argument.

Successful change implementation is the transfer of a desired routine or pattern of behaviour into an environment such that the new pattern becomes sustained and perceptible. Social routines and patterns are institutional structures which have an existence independent of the behaviour of any particular individual: managing change from an existing (presumably lower-performing) routine aims to not just change a particular individual, but to change sufficient individuals within a target set such that their amended behaviour pattern becomes salient and constitutes a desired pattern. In this way the pattern becomes the norm, a new or adapted institution. New members coming into the target set are socialised into this institution and the target set can withstand turnover or loss of a certain number of individuals before the pattern disintegrates. Where there is incongruence between existing behavioural structures and patterns, and new tools and technologies, the outcome will generally be low or ineffective adoption.25

In the previous section we saw how institutions emerge in the face-to-face interaction between people in conversations and rituals within a space. Institutional theory, building on approaches like that of Berger and Luckmann,26 argues that organisations are to be understood through their regulative, normative and cognitive institutions which define how the world is perceived and how one is expected to behave and respond to symbolic expressions of facts defined in terms of institutions.27

 The cognitive system reflects the development and codification of dimensions of meaning and the constructs within an organisation which are material to production and service delivery.

 The regulative system embodies the rules of routine action, procedure and response to facts or configurations of objects

 The normative system is that of values and norms, of acting upon a state of affairs as the right thing to do, or attacking a task in a certain way because it is the right way to do it.

The institutional approach has generally taken a ‘substantialist’ view, where social structures are regarded as having a strong ontological status, being really out there in some sense. Duty, morning coffee, invoices and promotion are clearly socially constructed and yet so massive in their impact on everyday life at the firm that they are given the status of existing in some sense. An emerging institutional approach influenced by Giddens is to view institutions as structures which build and are built by individuals in processes of co-construction.28 This places more emphasis upon the process of conception of institutions and the dynamics of institution creation and enactment. The professions, engineering, law and medicine, for example, are social groups which create and patrol institutions relating to the performance of work in that profession.29

Weber in his classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism describes the results of increasing set piece-work rates for harvesters of grain in Germany in the early twentieth century in order to accelerate the harvest.30 At harvest time, the employer has a strong interest in increasing the intensity of work due to the impact of bad weather. But increasing the set piece rate from 1 mark per acre mowed to 1.25 marks very often led to less being harvested rather than more, as harvesters chose to work less and continue to earn what they had previously earned per day. In the absence of other needs to satisfy, a man ‘by nature’ will simply chose to live as he is accustomed. Weber calls this ‘traditionalism’. Other institutions such as acquisitiveness, prestige in wealth and the shame of poverty developed to provide the incentives to increase work intensity.

This analysis resonates with much current experience in the introduction of Web 2.0. The use of Web 2.0 requires new modes of working, which may either conflict with existing institutions or require new ones to form. Why should someone switch from e-mail to wiki-mediated communication or submit their knowledge to the free-for-all marketplace of a wiki article? To get knowledge workers to use Web 2.0 tools in their workflow may require that the structure of the work is made to fit the capabilities of the tool – this means workers need to understand and engage with the features of the tools. This is a process which may take some time. The focus of change management has often been on rewards and incentives, but knowledge work is tightly bound up with internal motivation and commitment. To get knowledge workers to contribute to Web 2.0 memory, there needs to be some kind of institutional drivers, for example the existence of a behavioural norm that it is a desirable thing to improve one’s own productivity and that of the organisation as a whole for their own sake.

At the very least there should be no traditionalist institutions which actively militate against the adoption of new technology. To use Weber’s example, consider the likely consequences of increasing efficiency in harvesting: an increase in work intensity, a possible reduction in hiring and the bitterness of colleagues who are revealed to be less zealous. Coercion and material rewards such as those offered to the harvester don’t work because of the inertia of traditionalism. This suggests that institutional changes are needed to provide a set of constructs which support the adoption of new modes of working to overcome the inertia of traditionalism in the modern workplace.

Institutions and Web 2.0 technology

Let’s first consider institutional facilitators and inhibitors to the adoption of Web 2.0 to accomplish knowledge transformation processes. Figure 6.7 shows how institutional theory helps us understand the relative chances of success in firms.

Figure 6.7 Institutional theory and contributing to Web 2.0 tools

Figure 6.7 looks at the relationship between pattern change and reward. Any tool which supports existing routines or which conforms to existing norms will generally be far easier to introduce than one which requires the simultaneous amendment of cognitive, regulative and normative systems. It will be judged to be ‘ready at hand’ because the expectation of what constitutes usefulness is formulated in terms of established operational or social structures. The early generations of transaction processing systems did this, automating existing processes (‘bituminising the goat tracks’ as Michael Hammer said), replacing paper with electronic records, but not providing great increases in productivity. Recognising the limitations of this form of implementation, firms which subsequently attempted ‘business process re-engineering’ achieved less than exalted results, with most such projects failing or achieving limited success. Exploding and reconstructing social life-in-progress is an extremely complicated process, but one that is necessary in some form if the fundamental opportunities within computer tools are to be realised.

The decision matrix in Figure 6.8 illustrates the key criteria for proceeding with a change such as Web 2.0.

Figure 6.8 Decision quadrant – Web 2.0 adoption

 If the institutional change required to implement and embed a tool is low but the benefits are high, then the decision is almost a no-brainer – just do it.

 If the institutional change required is low but the return is low, then although not urgent, it may still be worthwhile because it replaces an expensive or ageing tool or may position the group to move to other more useful tools in the future.

 If the institutional change is significant and the benefits to be realised are low, then there would seem to be little point in implementing a new tool.

 If the institutional changes required are substantial but the potential rewards are high, then the effort may be worth it. But the risks need to be recognised and the firm’s capability to change must be realistically assessed.

The institutional systems of multiple stakeholders will play a key role in whether or not a system is successfully implemented and adopted. How can we make such prevailing norms explicit and discussable, holding up a mirror to the various organisations, posing the question: ‘With this institution in place in this organisation, is it ever likely that wikis and blogs will work?’

Most rapid and successful adoption of technology seems to be when the change to regulative systems required is low, particularly when there is a high immediate payback. This includes changes to work processes, but also the appropriation of new structures involved in using tools (such as ease of learning or ease of use). For example, using a wiki to store, discuss and distribute video training instead of e-mails or having to conduct training in classrooms is worthwhile and very simple and I have observed very rapid take-up in this area. But the necessity for a slight structural adaptation can cause a quick breakdown in adoption rates. For example, changing user behaviour so that experts write informational responses to questions in a wiki instead of an e-mail seems simple. It has the benefit of allowing others to find answers in the wiki in the future, without the intermediation of the expert. But this change is often too public and indeed of no particular use to the individuals whose behaviour one is trying to change. A similar obstacle lies in moving from file-centric document creation using Microsoft Word to wiki use. MS Office and even Sharepoint users have generally developed a file-centric mentality where content management processes and the very idea of ‘completion’ are bound to the individual file. It is very unnerving for such people that changes are immediate and can be done by anyone: the institutions of completion and responsibility, previously critical to job definition and even satisfaction, become fuzzy and unclear (perpetual beta). This is particularly so in the absence of social institutions which orientate personnel towards improvements which benefit the organisation as a whole.

But there is a more fundamental cognitive institution associated with the adoption and use of Web 2.0 tools, and that is the institutionalised self-concept of the firm itself expressed by the question: ‘What kind of firm are we?’ The self-concept of a firm is a primary, direction-giving institution: it is what is enacted and legitimated by leadership and which pervades decision-making at all levels. Web 2.0 survey data tells us that knowledge-oriented firms not only take up and use these tools at a higher level of sophistication than others, but also that they generally do not bother with a business case: the business case is self-evident and these tools are an assumed cost of doing business. If a firm conceives of itself as a manufacturing company or a mining company, then knowledge will be seen as an input cost for executing manufacturing or mining tasks. Instruments to manage knowledge will tend to be evaluated in terms of their cost-benefit ability to improve those tasks.

Normative structures and habituations can be very effective roadblocks to effective adoption of tools. We need to understand that these roadblocks include structures held not by only the potential users, but also by the potential managers and technologists associated with the changes. Managers in a safety constrained environment or one in which security is important may be concerned about the free flow of non-approved information in a Web 2.0 world. Technologists trying to maintain integrated tool sets will be concerned about the flow of data and conflicting repositories. Outsourcing vendors will be concerned about the availability of cheap tools requiring little or no vendor support, thus threatening revenue streams. These are patterns of thinking, structures which are created with social groups of managers, professionals, vendors and system architects who have purposes and roles and who have developed patterns of thinking, norms and institutions to serve those purposes.

Every social group is defined by the behavioural patterns which represent a limited selection from the totality of potential behaviours, both personal and collective. The selection of these patterns as rules and sanctions is not arbitrary: once a group has been in existence, the selection of rules and the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are made in accordance with a set of dominant and discernible (though not necessarily explicit or codified) values. The group is defined by a set of behavioural patterns and relationships which characterise that group.

In terms of planning Web 2.0 implementations, the guiding norms need to be identified and articulated in a way which allows an empirically based, logical and compelling decision to be made regarding implementation: should one proceed, is the ground fertile enough, and what might need to change in order to make an implementation successful? For this we look to the work of E.A. Hoebel, a cultural anthropologist who studied the development of law among tribal peoples.31 In his work among the Eskimo, Hoebel applied the concept of ‘postulates’, which are deeply held views and assumptions about the nature of the world. These postulates lead to certain behaviour. For example, the Eskimo postulate ‘life is hard and the margin of safety is small’ has the corollary ‘unproductive members of society cannot be supported’ and leads to the consequent actions relating to assisted suicide or even abandonment of elders on snow drifts. Although extremely traumatic for the participants, this is performed as a necessary behaviour. In incredibly moving terms, Hoebel describes how a young Eskimo assisted his father’s death (at his father’s insistence), because the father could no longer contribute. This was devastating for the youth but constituted ‘acceptable’ – indeed ‘necessary’ – behaviour.

Postulates, taken alone or in combination, logically justify or set the ground rules for certain types of action. Hoebel is interested in particular in how these postulates interact with the legal system, but for our purposes, the postulate system serves as a method for articulating the deeply held beliefs which lead to the adoption or non-adoption of a technology type. Technology tools may support the cognitive dimensions of work by allowing definition and expression of the organisation constructs. They may facilitate and even improve the routines associated within the regulative framework of an organisation by supporting workflow. But if the normative constructs, which we can express as postulates, deny the use of the tools as an acceptable means of work, then they will not be used.

What might postulates look like which prevent the adoption of Web 2.0 tools to support knowledge work and the creation of organisational memory? In one long-term study of e-forum implementation we found a number of these.32 It is important to note that these postulates are not only associated with motivations to contribute to Web 2.0 tools – there are also dominant norms concerning the use and reuse of the knowledge and the nature of knowledge itself:

 The project code is king and time is scarce.

 Our work is too individual and personal to be reused effectively.

 Knowledge resides in people, not systems.

 We do not boast about our knowledge.

 We do not reuse knowledge – we are creative.

 Our work and client environment is too simple to need knowledge management tools.

 My first priority is myself and my next job.

Such postulates lead logically to the corollary ‘we minimise time spent on tools which are useful to the organisation but are of no use to ourselves or our projects’ and the subsequent non-adoption of tools such as enterprise wikis or blogs which contribute to organisational rather than personal or project memory.

The impact of Web 2.0 technologies on institutions

Perceived through the lens of the institutional theory of organisations, the successful implementation and adoption of wikis and blogs may influence the normative, cognitive and regulative systems within organisations and vice versa. Reflection on the capabilities of Web 2.0 knowledge tools along with practical experience and case studies suggests the following likely outcomes.

The normative system is probably amplified through the scope and openness of wiki engagement. There is a reinforcement of behavioural norms through watching how others behave (indeed if they use the tools at all, it is an indicator of something), watching how leaders engage with subordinates and the messages they give and embody (for example to make a joke, to spell incorrectly, to admit to being wrong, to dare to put themselves up for criticism) and the occasional making explicit of norms. The successful implementation of the Sun Corporation wiki is at least in part due to the well-known hands-on leadership of their CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Interestingly there is a set of norms which seems to be universally articulated on nearly all wikis, which is to be considerate and polite to others (the rules of behaviour on the wiki). This is a norm not always found in face-to-face situations – many companies (and there are of course differences between national cultures) have a more robust mode of interaction.

The cognitive system will be enhanced. The reason for this is the ready salience of instrumental organisational knowledge in support of a coherent and consistent set of concepts and ‘facts’. People throughout the organisation will learn standard concepts and process information in a more coherent and consistent way. A simple example is the publication of an organisational glossary in a wiki, and the ability to link directly to its definitions as required from other wiki pages. While anyone can place anything in a wiki, the publication of beliefs on ‘the right way to attack truck maintenance’ should lead to greater consistency because of the ability for a dialectic of knowledge transformation to develop around a published idea. The result will be a shared synthesis or one of the parties accepting correction. There at least seems to be a greater possibility of synthesis and uniformity developing than if groups remain physically separated; in isolation, ideas remain entrenched and alternate approaches are not visible. Because of the public forum, objectivation will be supported, leading to the development of more or less uniform concepts.

The regulative system will be enhanced. A regulative system, being patterns of work behaviour, is usually partially explicit and partially tacit. An example of a fully explicit regulative system would be a database system with automated actions (‘If a tenant has not paid rent within two weeks of the due date, create, print and send a reminder letter’). On the other hand, an example of a highly tacit regulative system might be schmoozing big-name clients at Christmas. But most regulative systems within organisations will be a combination of procedures and defined processes augmented by tacit knowledge to fill in the gaps (or indeed to ignore the procedures as senseless). The most significant regulative processes are often articulated in computer applications such as order entry, work order management, inventory management or complaints, which again are augmented by the tacit knowledge of experienced users. Placing the ‘tacit knowledge’ explaining the reasoning behind procedures in a wiki or blog can be a very useful way of embedding the desired behaviour as well as reducing the complexity within the procedures themselves.

Critical theory: the role of power

We come now to the role of power in the implementation and adoption of Web 2.0 and the subsequent effect of Web 2.0 tool use on power relationships. If we are convinced that these tools are of potential benefit to organisations, how can we influence people to take the time to learn and use them? We need to understand a little about the nature of power and influence and how these tools might be perceived by knowledge workers and managers. A knowledge worker may baulk at the thought of giving away their hard-earned professional insights, a manager may fear the erosion of their authority through democratic collaboration, and neither might have much interest in changing the status quo. Indeed the Gartner Group states that even many sceptical IT departments push back against Web 2.0, fearing loss of control, security issues and user empowerment.33

It is often claimed in the popular press, industry literature and research, that Web 2.0 provides a more democratic and accessible forum for commercial, political and intellectual expression and the formation of grassroots communities. The low barriers to entry and the simplicity of the infrastructure combined with immediate publication to a universe of potential readers has the capability to disrupt money and information flows, smoothing out information asymmetries and reducing the competitive advantages of accumulated and expensive productive capital and established broadcast networks. When we transpose this to the use of Web 2.0 tools within specific enterprise contexts, it seems clear that disruptive capability is inherent in the immediate publication of ‘non-approved’ material within a wiki, the broadcast of personal opinions via blogs and the self-organising formation of groups through social networks. If we want to understand how power and control will be influenced by the introduction of new interactive technologies though, we need to understand the nature of power and how control is established in the first place. This of course will also help us to understand how to take influence to promote the use of these tools.

So why do people do what is required of them in the workplace? Traditional forms of management have emphasised command and control using procedures, measurement and standardisation. Direct control is the management of a resource towards achieving a goal, in the case of companies towards commercial ends. Systems of control introduce targets, rules, routines and measurements, and monitor conformance to rules and the production of desired outputs. Procedures, quality management, hierarchy, rules, budget, task allocation and discipline are direct forms of behaviour control, where the measurement variables can be directly related to the task. There are also indirect forms of control, such as job descriptions, positive organisational norms, performance appraisals, career development, compensation, training and flexible work arrangements which try to optimise secondary variables in the belief that these steer performance in the required direction.34 Indirect and direct controls are the unilateral exercise of power by those who command resources.

Bauman and May analyse power from the sociological perspective.35The first method of exercising power is coercion: within the workplace, the knowledge worker (irrespective of how smart, powerful or important they may be in other contexts) is forced to work through rules and commands. Their ability to choose is restricted and they lose their personal ‘enabling capacity’. As a result, conformance must be constantly monitored and controlled. The second method is the strategy of enlisting the desires of others towards one’s own ends: the knowledge workers are given the means to achieve what they desire, but what they desire is achieved by following the rules and wishes of management.36

In the case of Web 2.0 technologies, it is possible to use forms of direct control (or coercion) to enforce use of Web 2.0 technologies. For example, it can be made part of a duty statement to update a wiki with a daily report or use a blog to record events that have occurred during a work shift at a mine for the following shift supervisor to read. In the area of librarianship, for example, Deitering and Bridgewater found that wiki updates only seemed to occur when the update was part of a job instruction, and this was confirmed by Ravas, whose analysis of wiki statistics at the University of Houston found that by far the greatest frequency of wiki edits occurred in the ‘evening and weekend duty log’ and the ‘evening gate count stats’.37It was a required part of the student-staff duties to update these pages. But while able to harness and direct work, these forms of organisation are often adversarial and appear to be inadequate in increasingly unstable, non-routine and complex environments where productivity is difficult to measure and compliance is given rather than taken.

A more persistent and reliable form of control than direct control is to enlist the knowledge workers through the institutionalisation of the self, such that they align themselves directly with the interests of the firm. If knowledge is socially constructed by people in groups over time to overcome the persistent challenges to survival or comfort posed by the environment, it is legitimate to ask: why do certain constructions come into being, assert themselves and become the institutional fabric of our group? The Protestant work ethic and the ‘secondary’ virtue of punctuality are two useful examples of such norms that legitimate and enhance work performance in the service of capital. The notion of the secondary virtue was used by Oscar Lafontaine to demonstrate how German bureaucrats could fulfil their Teutonic duty to punctuality by making the trains for Auschwitz run on time.

Peter Drucker says that knowledge work is a volunteer activity, not subject to command and control, with the consequence that ‘the primary means of managerial control of knowledge work is the regulation of the employees’ self rather than work flows or tasks.’38 In other words, to get the most out of knowledge workers, the exploitation and control must come from within.

Institutional control describes the use of social technologies to direct the subjectivity of individuals. What happens in my head – my ideas, thoughts and judgments – is my subjectivity, my private realm, but it is guided in certain specific directions by notions manifest in language and inculcated in me by socialisation. Emotive and evaluative responses to objects of perception are where the objective structure of shared social order reaches into the mind. The institutions which constrain dialogue and guide responses are developed in conversations which are repeated and objectified, consensually and continually co-created between individuals and in groups. To one social order, ‘unions’ are a plague, to another the only hope of salvation in a cruel world. Authority figures and certain symbols legitimate these conversations and imbue the institutions with normative, cognitive and regulative force: this is the way the world is, this is how you must act, and it is good to do so.

As the repetitive use of social software approaches conversational intensity, so the micro-interactions which constitute institutionalisation are able to be computer mediated. Those small, everyday instances where forms of control and judgment become manifest in the ordering frameworks we impose on the world (and which constitute our world) are perpetuated and evolve in every utterance or symbolic expression we give from ourselves.

It is of more than incidental value to consider the genealogies of those technologies of the self which keep the worker attentive and dedicated to their task. In Governing the Soul, Rose describes in detail the genesis of the modern self in industrial psychology, how the emergent self became defined and then retrofitted into the people as the dedicated professional, the expert worker, the company man.39 In In the Age of the Smart Machine, Shoshana Zuboff describes the origins of punctuality and work culture at the time of industrialisation, when on virgin fields it was necessary to not only create the physical factories and means of production, but also the social institutions to get them up and keep them running – institutions to replace the logic of seasonal agricultural workers who would want to work one day and spend the next two drinking the proceeds.40 The institutions that the resulting poverty was bad and that God loves the rich (who of course accumulate their wealth by hard work and thrift) are examples of ethics in the service of capital.

The creation of disciplines, of notions of excellence, of total quality management served by platoons of dedicated professionals, has created an extraordinary alignment between the realisation of self and the realisation of the goals of capital.41 ‘The government of work now passes through the psychological striving of each and every one of us for what we want.’42 This replaces the notion of work as a constraint, an imposition, with a view of work as a means towards fulfilment. This is decisive in its influence in the workplace, not just as a set of ideas but as a set of practices concerned with how work and reward systems should be designed, namely ‘… to create conditions such that the members of the organization can achieve their own goals best by directing their efforts towards the success of the enterprise’.43

And it is in this sense that Foucault writes of the panopticon, an all-seeing means of perpetual observation first envisaged for prisons by the English utilitarian and political radical Jeremy Bentham in Enlightenment England.44While many facets of the techniques of disciplinary power were already in evidence in the workshops of the Industrial Revolution, Bentham introduced the idea that persistent surveillance (the all-seeing eye of the ‘panopticon’) could become a central managerial function in the control of prisons:

It is obvious that, in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose X of the establishment have been attained.45

Foucault uses this as a metaphor transposed into the inner eye of modern industrial and professional man: self-imposed surveillance is an ‘internalised panopticon’, where members watch themselves for indications of deviance and hold themselves accountable to the values generated and maintained by the church, the team, the country and the organisation. As a consequence, ‘He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; … he becomes the principle of his own subjection.’46

So given this more finely-grained perspective on power and control, we are interested in two things. Firstly, given that the knowledge work is a ‘volunteer activity’, what power does it take to achieve successful adoption of Web 2.0 tools such that they serve the interests of the firm? Secondly, how does the new medium and mode of dialectic with these tools influence the prevailing institutions of power and the development of new institutions? Writing about managerial control and the use of Web 2.0, the influential and insightful Internet thinker David Weinberger writes of the need for managers to ‘let go’:

Enterprise 2.0 is not out of control. Rather, it is in control just enough, for Enterprise 2.0 recognizes that while control manages risk, control also carries its own risks.47

This is true of course: the modern workplace demands flexibility, availability and self-organisation which require the locus of decision-making to be distributed and devolved. But we must look beyond direct control.

The adoption of Web 2.0 moves control to a different apparatus. It is the evolution of technologies and interlocking concepts which form self-monitoring and mutual monitoring functions. Paradoxically, the ‘freedom’ of Web 2.0 technologies might only be truly used when the subjection of the individual is complete. Successful adoption implies the higher order of power to which the worker willingly subjects him or herself through the internalisation and acceptance of norms which lead to self-actualisation through high performance in the workplace: in the service of capital on behalf of the firm. Without the exercise of this power, Web 2.0 will be as lifeless as the communities of practice which withered in previous incarnations of knowledge management.

Web 2.0, through the capability of immediate and edited publication, while appearing to be letting go, might also be seen as tightening the noose in several other ways (see Figure 6.9).

Figure 6.9 Power and control and Web 2.0 adoption

 If network density increases as the number of possible contacts a person has in a social network approaches the number of nodes, then that person becomes answerable to a greater number of people and therefore a wider span of norms regarding what is acceptable and discussable.

 Self-organisation, as opposed to managerial instruction, may lead to a tighter exercise of control by close-standing peers whom one is unwilling to contradict or question and where the withdrawal of consent is more obvious.

 The individual contributor, or non-contributor, becomes more transparent in the quality and quantity of (non-)contribution to wikis, blogs and tagging.

When we observe power and influence at the level of the group, then more specific factors become apparent – factors which should be noted by those who wish to implement Web 2.0 technologies. Conformance to organisational norms and rules of behaviour can be illuminated by psychological research into the adoption of group norms. The research of Sherif into the formation and influence of group norms and subsequently of Asch into conformance showed that people will subject themselves to group thinking, even when they know that thinking to be wrong. Sherif’s experiments showed differences between individuals’ judgments of the movement of tiny lights when done alone or in a group (the autokinetic effect).48 In a group, a ‘norm developed’ which was a convergence of the individual judgments. The group norm persists in the individuals, even when they revert to being asked individually for their judgments of the light movement.

Asch’s experiments involved a pre-organised group and one unknowing subject who were asked to choose which of three lines was the same length as a standard line.49 After selecting the correct line a few times, the pre-organised ‘conspirators’ began to choose the wrong one, leading to some discomfort in the unknowing subject. One third of all estimates (which were incorrect) were conformed to by the subject and 72 per cent of all subjects conformed at least once to a decision they observed to be false. On the other hand, it takes only a small amount of dissent (one other ‘planted subject’ for example) to shake off that self-imposed conformance and say what one believes to be correct. It is indeed likely that group norms and conformance will be reinforced by the open articulation of principles on organisation-wide Web 2.0 systems; it is also possible that any published dissent (if it is ever expressed) will make others aware that ‘they are not alone’.

When trying to influence people within a group to adopt a new pattern of work such as using Web 2.0 tools, the role of the group ‘leader’ becomes extremely important. There has been much research in cognitive and group psychology using experiments, action research and case study analysis of situations of power and influence.50 Let’s look at this from two perspectives: that of the leader trying to implement a change, and the person or people who need to adopt the change.

To effect a change, a group leader or change initiator must firstly have resources of power (money, intelligence, the ability to promote or physical presence) and these must be valued by the group. The leader must be motivated to assert power – the gains must be worthwhile, the losses bearable and the outcome likely to be achieved. It must be the generally accepted role of the person to initiate change: the wielder of power should be fulfilling a role which is expected of them. The gains and costs for the subjects of the change should be within the scope of the leader to deliver. The most effective mode of exerting power is through persuasion, not coercion: coercion will lead to the withdrawal of consent and the need for constant performance monitoring. In other words, a manager of a work group who is worth following, who can reward and convince the team and who is motivated to use the Web 2.0 tools is more likely to wield influence effectively in the implementation of Web 2.0. In contrast, managers who are themselves not measured with regard to the improvements that Web 2.0 can bring to work systems (and so may be unlikely to see it as their role to effect such a change) or who cannot articulate them will be unlikely to succeed.

The people in the group who might be influenced to change will also do so under certain conditions. They must desire the rewards that are on offer (reward power) or fear the consequences of disobedience (coercive power): this might take the form of an appeal to one’s values. Or they may want to be like the admired person who is leading the charge (referent power) or just accept that that person has the right to command them (legitimate power). Finally, it may be that it is clear to the group members that the leader is right: that the leader has special knowledge which makes their influence desirable (expert power).51 Given the complexity of the power relations in effecting behavioural change, it is scarcely surprising that it is so often resisted or ignored.

Social identity theory: guiding individual behaviour

Understanding and articulating organisational institutions, their power over social behaviour and the processes that create and sustain them provide a useful mechanism for framing and planning change to Web 2.0. As we saw in the last paragraphs of the preceding section though, one further level of detail is necessary. The modern workplace provides a major platform for the development and enactment of who we are – our identity and self-concept. Social identity is recognised as playing a major role in influencing the degree to which people demonstrate organisationally appropriate behaviour. We are interested next in understanding the conditions under which people will act and adopt behaviours which value the group’s well-being as a good in itself. Not the least important reason for this is that the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies is in the interest of the firm, not the individual. Social identity, by operating at the level of the self-perception of individuals, gives us a level of granularity for observing and predicting behaviours of people in specific groups. This predictive model is more specific than that of the norms and patterns perceptible as the whole of organisational culture, so we look now to social identity theory.

Self-identity is the feeling of the ‘self’, the foundational continuity that makes us ‘us’. Social identity is constructed by the lens we cast inwards to classify and judge our own being. While each of us is clearly many things inhabiting the same shell – parents, teachers, rugby players, engineers and rock musicians – within this there is a persistent self which adopts these roles to a greater or lesser conscious degree. Our social identity is taken mostly from the various groups in which we participate: this is also called the collective self, and generally our social motivation in this context of interdependence is to strive for collective welfare and agreeable relationships. The in-group prototype describes and prescribes the attributes which are appropriate to signify group membership in specific contexts. Our relational self defines us in terms of our dyadic relation to individual others. But we also define our self in terms of our unique traits and in this frame of personal self, motivations are generally egocentric and directed towards self-benefit. Indeed, the greater the strength of this personal self-identity, the lower the commitment of group members to group identity and its behavioural patterns.52

Group membership is characterised by three dimensions: the cognitive, the evaluative and the affective. We understand the criteria and boundaries of the in-group prototypes, we judge whether the group is attractive and gives status, and we feel an emotional bond with the group. The criteria around a particular identity allow a person to categorise themselves and create a subjective belief structure which drives behaviour. Belonging to a group is a strong determinant of how we perceive and act towards other people, institutions and objects.

The socio-cognitive processes around self-identity have two major drivers: the motivation to increase self-esteem and the need to reduce uncertainty around what I am and what I feel. Let us consider some aspects of how identity development influences effectiveness in business organisations:

 Cooperative behaviour, that is the disposition to act in ways that are beneficial to the organisation and refrain from actions which harm the organisation, will be augmented in groups which enhance self-identity through being high-status. There is also a correlation with the group’s size – small groups, or groups that feel small, will tend to be more cohesive.

 People’s affective commitment with a group, where their social identity has a strong emotional component, appears to be a crucial factor in determining whether group members behave in accordance with their group membership.

 The development of identity through effective socialisation (with the associated acceleration of productivity) gains in importance when one considers the trend towards hiring temporary workers.

The exercise of power is intimately connected with self-construal and self-identity.53 A highly salient personal self is more likely to display competitive and assertive behaviour, where collectivist identity will lead to cooperative behaviour in accordance with group norms and values. Both the strength of social identity and the group’s norms are within the sphere of influence of organisational managers and leaders – if they know how. Experience and research show, however, that the relational self (and therefore willingness to cooperate) is enhanced by soft influencers, yet managers persist in using hard tactics.

Web 2.0 is technology which provides communication and collaboration facilities which contribute directly to the stock of organisational memory. It is in the interests of the firm that people adopt the more public and accessible Web 2.0 solutions. How do we mobilise people to adopt technology which leads to better outcomes for the group? We need to understand what motivates people to engage in any behaviour which is a good outcome for the group. For example, if the in-group prototype, or self-concept, for an entire firm is one of hard-hatted construction or steel making that disdains discussion, innovation or openness, then the desirable in-group attributes will militate directly against the adoption of Web 2.0 tools at the firm level.

From a Web 2.0 perspective we should also attend to the capability of these social software tools to facilitate positive in-group prototypes and provide access to participation in such groups. Figure 6.10 shows how we might use the social identity construct to predict the likely adoption of Web 2.0, the behaviour within the Web 2.0 nexus and how the use of Web 2.0 might influence social identity.

Figure 6.10 Social identity and Web 2.0 adoption

So why do certain groups of people adopt the wiki and start writing and not others? Who will start to use social networking software in your firm? Will it be the young, scientifically oriented males? Broad demographic features are insufficient: demographic analyses show that 30 per cent of 40-year-old web users have a MySpace or Facebook profile and around 20 per cent are in LinkedIn, the professional networking site – so we cannot restrict ourselves to a specific generation. Social identity theory provides insight upon which we can build expectations of who will use the systems and how. Self-categorisation occurs through the application of an in-group prototype: this prototype includes certain behavioural expectations, some of which are instrumental (for example to generate certain outcomes such as reports or accounts) and some are affective or modal (aloofness versus familiarity, self-promotion versus modesty). Observations of successful and unsuccessful wiki implementations (or of disparities between groups within the same organisation) suggest that a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of adoption is a group identity profile which aligns with blog and wiki functionality. The sorts of characteristics we would expect would be dispositions to:

 participate in non-directive, evolving behaviour;

 accept group norms;

 produce imperfect ‘works in progress’.

For example, take managers as a group with social identity and a standard in-group prototype. The very leadership behaviour required to transform a group to use Web 2.0 software to enhance knowledge growth might contradict managerial in-group prototypes which require a manager to be aloof, authoritative and above critique – not very Web 2.0, in other words.


So why have we taken this excursion through a bevy of social theories which reveal some of the mechanics of social behaviour and knowledge construction? I drive a car and don’t need to understand machinery, so why do I need to understand the combustion engine of knowledge? Well, my answer is simply this: if you think your car will break down, it’s a good idea to check it before you decide to head off on a long journey. And by the way, you should also have a pretty good knowledge of the inside of cars – just in case. These perspectives provide explanations at a social level: they are something managers and users can understand and do something about. Similarly, if researchers are seeking to find the factors which influence effectiveness or uptake and the impact of these technologies, then these theories seem to me to be a good place to start.

Web 2.0 has enormous potential for use in organisations. It is very simple software, with enormous flexibility. While it must be fit for purpose, and while there are certain functional and information design features which need to be considered and executed well, we need to understand what it is that contributes towards individuals and groups actually investigating, adapting, adopting and using the software. As Figure 6.11 shows, there are a number of theoretical perspectives that help us to do this.

Figure 6.11 Theories which help explain Web 2.0 social software

1.Some key readings on organisational memory theory include Ackerman and Halverson (2000), Anand et al. (1998), Krippendorf (1975), Leonard-Barton (1995), Stein (1995) and Walsh and Ungson (1991).

2.Some key readings on organisational learning are Argote (1999), Argyris (1999), Argyris and Schön (1996), Huber (1991) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995).

3.While used in organisational learning theory by Argyris and Schön, the concepts of single- and double-loop learning are taken from the work of Ashby (1956) in cybernetics. Argyris and Schön express it like this: ‘Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives’ (Argyris and Schön, 1978).

4.Boisot (1998), Davenport and Prusak (1998), Leonard-Barton (1995), Walsh and Ungson (1991).

5.Zhang et al. (2004).

6.Cross and Baird (2000).

7.Moorman and Miner (1998).

8.Haseman et al. (2005).

9.Sinclair et al. (2000: 31).

10.Argote (1999), Stein and Zwass (1995).

11.The key resources for TMS are Wegner (1995), Wegner et al. (1991), Wegner et al. (1985).

12.For a detailed description of social cognition see Hutchins (1995).

13.Moreland et al. (1998), Moreland and Myaskovsky (2000).

14.Lewis (2004).

15.Hollingshead and Brandon (2003).

16.Moreland et al. (1998), Stasser et al. (1995).

17.Moreland and Levine (1992).

18.Wittenbaum et al. (1998).

19.Stasser et al. (1995).

20.Hollingshead and Brandon (2003), Wegner (1987).

21.Müller (2008) found that communities and their cooperation can be derived from wiki entries. The Mediawiki database is also structured to allow a view of people interested in the same topics or who contribute to similar themes.

22.Berger and Luckmann (1967).

23.Scott (1995: 33).

24.A fascinating realisation of this is the MEART project, a cooperation project between artists, anatomists and computer scientists in Australia and the USA. A camera photographs the faces of people who enter an art exhibition in Australia. The photo is digitised and an 8 × 8 encoded greyscale raster sent through the Internet to Georgia in the USA. Here the signals are passed through an electrode array around which rat neurons have been cultured. The adapted signals are then sent back to a robotic hand in Australia which draws on a piece of paper. This drawing is compared by software to the original photo and the difference encoded into the raster and sent again to Georgia and so on. The robotic hand is ‘corrected’ by the remote ‘brain’ – an interesting metaphor for global e-commerce perhaps? (

25.There are several ways of articulating this, but generally people will have the ability to absorb, adopt and adapt a toolset like Web 2.0 in terms of the sense-making social structures available to them. Social constructivism tells us that humans use tools according to how they are seen through the lens of structures which define shared and personal dimensions of social reality. Individuals make sense of a tool and its functions through frames they have developed through a lifetime of personal, social and organisational interactions.

26.Berger and Luckmann (1967).

27.Key readings for the institutional approach to understanding organisational behaviour are Scott (1995) and Scott and Christensen (1995).

28.Giddens (1984b).

29.DiMaggio and Powell (1983).

30.Weber (1930).

31.Hoebel (1972).

32.Klobas and Jackson (2007).

33.Phifer et al. (2007).

34.For example, see Braverman (1974), Thompson (1989).

35.Bauman and May (2001: 62–7).

36.Power is a tremendously important concept in social and behavioural analysis, but often underestimated in research into and implementation of information technology systems. As Giddens says: ‘The study of power cannot be regarded as a second-order consideration in the social sciences … There is no more elemental concept than that of power … Power is one of several primary concepts of social science, all clustered around the relations of action and structure. Power is the means of getting things done’ (Giddens, 1984a: 283).

37.Deitering and Bridgewater (2007), Ravas (2007).

38.McKinlay (2005: 245).

39.Rose (1991).

40.Zuboff (1988).

41.Boje and Winsor (1993).

42.Rose (1991: 118).

43.McGregor (1985: 328).

44.Foucault (1991).

45.Bentham (1995), Letter 1.

46.Foucault (1991).

47.Weinberger (2008: 73).

48.Sherif (1935).

49.Asch (1952).

50.See Cartwright and Zander (1968).

51.This taxonomy of social power is taken from French Jr and Raven (1968).

52.Whetten and Godfrey (1998) and Leary and Tangney (2003).

53.See Wisse and van Knippenberg (2009).