Why all this fuss about codified and tacit knowledge?

  • Johnson B
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Abstract

Our point is that any body of knowledge might be codified to textsl(a certain extent), while it is very seldom that a body of knowledge can be completely transformed into codified form without losing some of its original characteristics. Finally, we are not convinced that codification textsl(always) represents progress, something that seems to lie behind most of Cowan textsl(et al).'s argument. P. 246 A distinction is made between data, information and knowledge. Information is defined as a `message containing structured data, the receipt of which causes some action by the recipient agent' (p.216)- The nature of the action is determined by the agent's knowledge, which the authors define as her `entire cognitive context'. P. 247 Cowan, David and Foray also argue, more interestingly, that the view that (inherently) tacit knowledge is important may undermine the basis `not only for standard micro-economic theory but also for any attempt to model human behaviour' (p. 218). Firms can access tacit knowledge by hiring experts and taking over other firms, and this knowledge can be protected by long-term contracts with employees. Codified knowledge may be bought in the market and be protected by patents and other forms of intellectual property rights. Codification processes may aim at transforming tacit elements into a codified form. P. 249 Clearly, if increased codification, or making knowledge xplicit, would make it easier to transfer knowledge in these countries that would make codification critically important. P. 249 Individual knowledge consists of `know-what', know-why, know-how and know-wo. On the orgianizational leval these categories correspond to `shared information databases, shared models of interpretation (including company stories), shared routines and shared networks. P. 250 (alles in `' und ohne relevance fur codification) In this context there are interesting complementarities between codified and tacit knowledge. Firms often publicize their scientific research results in journals or present htem at conferences. In this way the send signals about their specific knowledge resource sand competencies and selectively invite collaboration in more tacit knowledge areas (Hicks, 1995) p. 251 Know-who involves information about who knows what and who knows what to do. But it also involves the social ability to co-operate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts. Know-who is highly context dependent. Its character and usefulness depend on social capital in terms of trust, networks and openness. It follows, that it is rather difficult to codify. P. 251 Academics have strong incentives to publish and make their results explict. P. 252 To gain access to scientific know-why, it is necessary, under all circumstances, to pursue R&D activities and to invest in science. This is true for individuals and regions as well as fro firms. Completely free `spill-overs' are much less available than assumed in standard economics (Cohen and Levinthal, 1990) p. 252 Know-how is the kind of knowledge hwere information technology faces the biggest problems in transforming tacit or non-explicit knowledge into a explicit, codified format. P. 252 Attempts to use information technology to develop expert systems show that it is difficult and costly to transform expert skills into information that can be used by others. The failures are legion, as are the often exaggerated claims made by the proponents of these systems (Dreyfus and Dreyfus, 1986: 106-117). It has also been demonstrated that writing an expert system always involves changes in the content of the expert knowledge (Hatchuel and Weil, 1995). P. 252 Whittly emphasizes factors having to do with trust and the capacity to build extra-family collective loyalties (Whitley, 1996: 51). This is also an important aspect of the concept of social capital (Woolcock, 1998). Especially in situations where technological opportunities and user needs are rapidly changing or wher the knowledge base is not well documented, it is necessary to meet face-to-face from time to time in order to solve problems. P. 253 Taking our starting point as know-how-type knowledge, we have argued that it is exceptional for human and organizational competencies to be fully transformed into codes. But, at the same time, it si almost always possible to transform aspects of them into a codified form. Textsl(Differences in the amount of competence that is lost) in the transformation process are crucial for its attractiveness. P. 253 You can certainly write down some basic rules how to play tennis and to make love, but you cannot make explict the full capability of the skilful behaviour of Hingis and Casanova. Here, codifiability is very low and knowledge transfer includes a lot of interactive learning. P. 254 The scientist who makes a laboratory experiment may get much closer to documenting the process fully and to doing so in such a way that others can repeat it with an almost identical outcome. P. 254 This illustrates that codification can capture more fully causalities, procedures and descriptions than it can capture actual skilss and competencies. It is easier to codify a description of the world than it is to codify ways to manage and change the world. P. 254 To argue, as CDF do (p. 228), that only very little knowledge is impossible to codify, indeed so little that it can be safely ignored when discussing the economics of codification, seems to be an unhelpful exaggeration. P. 254 It is important to note that when it comes to both the creation and utilization of knowledge, tacit and codified knowledge are complements. P. 256 It is more useful to refer to a `tacit dimension' of knowledge rather than to a `knowledge stock' divided into a tacit part and a codified part, and then decide if the border between the two parts should be moved. P. 256 Parts of local tacit knowledge never get codified at al but rather are inactivated, and after a time forgotten and lost. P. 256 In the CDF paper codification is mainly seen as a process transforming knowledge into a format that makes it possible for knowledge to be stored and transferred as information. It is implicitly assumed that codification always involves a process that makes more accessible to a collectivity of agents. This might not always be the case however. If you want to avoid others getting access to your personal email, you would typically group mails under misleading labels. .. Furthermore, in radio and telecommunication, codes are often used for cryptograms. P. 258 In fact, according to the texsl(Oxford English Dictionary), a code is `a system of symbols used to represent assigned and often secret meanings'. A more general phenomenon that is recognized in the CDF paper is that organizations and professional communities develop local codes that make communication more efficient but exclude outsiders from understating what is going on -- this is one side of `epistemic communities'. P. 258 We also recognize that codification initiatives in organizations and communities may be one way to trigger and stimulate processes of learning. P. 259 Another type of learning process, leass locked into the codification discourse and trajectory, could be one where the collective reflection, explication and documentation of practices raises awareness of alternative ways of doing things and thereby contributes to institutional and organizational change. P. 259 We are critical to the proposed conceptual framework, however. Much of it appears to be little more than a sophisticated language game with limited practical implications. P. 259 Yet one can easily see how the tacitness of knowledge needed to `read' the displaced code-book implies some stickiness in knowledge flows. P. 260

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  • B. Johnson

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