The Evolution Of Business Knowledge
UK businesses are struggling to cope with the competitive pressures of the global economy. A key component of their ability to survive is the need to exploit their knowledge-base more effectively. This means finding new ways to develop products, to absorb new technologies and to exploit the potential of their managers and employees to handle change. In the process, old habits, attitudes and structures will need to be jettisoned. The ESRC’s Evolution of Business Knowledge (EBK) research programme developed new insights on these challenges by focussing on firms’ ability to create and exploit knowledge and learning.
EBK studies addressed four major themes:
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Management knowledge in action
The impact of relationships on knowledge-sharing
Organizing knowledge for innovation
Making knowledge an asset
EBK studies were made possible by:
A major new publication from the EBK programme:
Harry Scarbrough (Editor) (2008), The Evolution of Business Knowledge, Oxford University Press: Oxford
The EBK programme involved a major investigation into the challenges confronting UK firms in the way they acquire and exploit knowledge. Many of these challenges stem from the fact that knowledge is not an object or commodity. It is ‘sticky’ – that is, it is closely tied up in social roles, relationships and learning processes. This makes it difficult to transfer from one setting to another, limiting the spread of best practice and the development of innovations. Given this, existing organizational forms and management practices are proving to be ineffective in gaining the business benefits of knowledge and learning. Even new approaches such as ‘Knowledge Management’, which rely heavily on the use of IT systems to capture knowledge, may be of limited value. Through the EBK programme, researchers challenged existing thinking, placed the UK’s experience in a wider international context, and provided guidance on the new policies and practices required by a dynamic knowledge economy.
Studies highlighted the different knowledge processes involved:
Integrating knowledge from different groups, inside and outside the firm
Sharing knowledge through the development of trust and social networks amongst different groups.
Representing knowledge through objects which make the experience of one group more visible to another
Studies varied in their scope from the innovative role of technology in business to the measurement of intangible assets. They focussed on new ways of learning and innovating, but also on how knowledge drawn from history or from outside pressure-groups can help to sustain the firm in difficult times.
Professor Harry Scarbrough, Director of the EBK programme