Motivation to share hospital building design knowledge by information technology in Hong Kong

AuthorRita Yi Man Li; Rita Peihua Zhang

Rita Yi Man Li. Lecturer, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, editor of the International Journal of Project Finance and Construction (e-mail:

Rita Peihua Zhang. Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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1. Introduction

In the olden days, knowledge sharing relies on face-to-face interactions, letter writing and phone call. Birth of information technology symbolizes a new era in knowledge management – the scene of someone who peeps from the window to see if the postman has brought us letters is less likely to be observed in our daily lives. Sitting in front of a notebook computer not only allows us to read tabloid magazine, but also enables us to know more about our world via email, websites etc. Reading books and professional magazines are no longer sufficient for building designers. To keep updating their knowledge, studying the latest design from other side of the globe has become a necessity. Whilst the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong was a sad story, it has fastened the development of IT in knowledge sharing. Virtual classroom, websites etc had suddenly gained importance (as people avoided going outside at that time). The recent H1N1 incident has also touched the nerve of many hospital building designers again: is there any better way to prevent the spread of airborne pathogens in wards?

2. Knowledge and knowledge sharing

Knowledge is a broad and abstract notion that has brought epistemological debate in western philosophy since the classical Greek era (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). Current knowledge management literature has revealed that researchers define knowledge from different perspectives. For example, Baskerville & Dulipovici (2006) point out that knowledge can be regarded as valuable commodity for an organization in the context of knowledge economy and can be manipulated internally (e.g. create within organization) or externally (e.g. buy from outside). Knowledge, from thisPage 359 perspective, can be regarded as an object. Fong (2003) concedes that knowledge is a set of shared beliefs resulting from social interactions and embedded in the social context where it is created. This indicates that knowledge is contextual-dependent which contradicts the object view of knowledge. Alavi and Leidner (2001) summarize previous research and point out that knowledge can be regarded as a process, where people apply their experiences and gain continual knowing. Therefore, knowledge is closely related to human action. Similarly, Nonaka & Takeuchi’s (1995) define knowledge as “dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the truth”. The relationship between knowledge and human action is also stressed. In this research, Nonaka & Takeuchi’s (1995) definition will be adopted as building designers develop part of their knowledge by practical working experience.

Knowledge classification is another issue mentioned by researchers. The most well-known one is explicit-tacit classification. Explicit knowledge is defined as a concept which can be “expressed in words and numbers, and easily communicated and shared in the form of data, scientific formulae, codified procedures, or universal principles”. On the contrary, tacit knowledge is “highly personal and hard to formulize”. Tacit knowledge has its root in an individual’s action, experience and ideals and it is quite context embedded. Hence, it is difficult to communicate or share tacit knowledge with others. Tacit knowledge can be further developed into technical dimension and cognitive dimension. Technical dimension is also known as “know-how” knowledge, which is “informal and hard-to-pin-down skills or crafts”. Know-how knowledge is mainly acquired through long-term experience. That is the reason why senior workers are usually more skillful than junior workers in work place. Cognitive dimension concerns “schemata, mental models, beliefs and perceptions” which are integrated in our mind and we usually take them for granted (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Cognitive tacit knowledge shapes the way we perform and see the world. Only understanding the detachment of explicit and tacit knowledge is not enough, attention should also be paid on how to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. Highly personal knowledge has little value to the work team or companies until it can be converted into explicit knowledge and shared with the others. This research focuses on both explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge may contain work procedures, documentations, etc. Tacit knowledge of designers mostly refer to the know-how knowledge which are gained through experience and understanding of the design work (Koskinen, et. al., 2003).

Knowledge sharing is an activity by which individuals mutually exchange their knowledge or ideals and collaboratively generate new knowledge (Magnini, 2008). In working teams, knowledge sharing refers to the process where team members share task related ideas, information, and suggestions with each other (Srivastava, et. al., 2006). De Vries, Van Den Hooff, & De Ridder (2006) conceptualize the process of knowledge sharing into two sub-processes: knowledge donating and knowledge collecting. Some researchers define knowledge from the perspective of single direction, for instance, Ding et al (2007) define knowledge sharing is the behavior by which ‘individuals collectively increase other’s understanding through the articulation and demonstration of personal knowledge’. This definition is defined from the perspective of knowledge donator. This study looks at not only designers donating knowledge to others but also designers seeking knowledge from others. Thus knowledge sharing is a mutual process in this study.

According to Bakker et al (2006), knowledge sharing is mainly used in two ways in previous research: exploitation and exploration process. In exploitation process, exiting knowledge is captured, transferred, and used in other similar situations. Exploration is the process where old knowledge is shared, synthesized for generating new knowledge. Here, new knowledge refers to knowledge which is synthetically created and do not exist in collective before. It is also found out that knowledge sharing is more related to knowledge exploitation way in new productPage 360 development team (Bakker, et al., 2006). This means that knowledge sharing usually happens in the form of discussion. Hospital building design can also be regarded as new product development since each building designed is unique. Thus, building design teams are also new product development teams. So knowledge sharing is regarded as part of exploitation process in this research.

3. Knowledge sharing by means of IT

The existing literature has shown that “IT” and “human” are the two major middleman in knowledge sharing. The IT-centric strategy emphasis the use of IT tools to “facilitate the capture, access, and reuse of information and knowledge” (Carrillo & Chinowsky, 2006). IT tools are especially good for facilitating storage or retrieving explicit knowledge which can be codified and documented, such as intranets, document management systems, etc. The human resource management (HRM) –centric strategy focuses on the means to “motivate and facilitate knowledge workers to develop, enhance, and use their knowledge in order to achieve organizational goals” (Carrillo & Chinowsky, 2006). This research focuses on the IT-centric strategy to motivate hospital building designers to share their knowledge. It examines how information technologies can facilitate and encourage designers to share hospital and health care buildings design knowledge.

Kankanhalli et al (2005) explain that there are two types of information technology in information system literature: the repository model and the network model. Repository model is more related to codification approach to knowledge management, where knowledge is codified and stored to facilitate knowledge reuse by providing access to codified knowledge. A key technology in this category is...

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