Originally published January 23, 2023
This is the 87th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Chun Wei is Professor in the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Information Studies from the University of Toronto, a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Engineering from the University of Cambridge (UK) (where he was at Christ’s College), and a Master’s degree in Information Systems from the London School of Economics and Political Science (Dept of Management).
His main research interests are information and knowledge management, information behavior, environmental scanning, organizational learning, organizational epistemology, and early warning. In 2022, he received an honorary doctorate from Tampere University, Finland, for his contribution to the study of “the relationship between information science and knowledge management.” In 2021, he received the ASIS&T Research in Information Science Award for his “outstanding contribution to information science research.”
Chun Wei has supervised PhD students in areas such as organizational use of Web information systems, knowledge discovery in Web use databases, information behavior of healthcare providers, health information seeking on the Web, a knowledge-based view of the firm, the public library as knowing organization, customer knowledge management, and group information culture in the use of collaborative information systems. In 2016, he received the JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award for “outstanding performance in the multiple roles associated with doctoral supervision.”
Chun Wei’s articles and papers have appeared in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Financial Times of London, First Monday, Information Processing and Management, Information Research, International Journal of Information Management, Journal of Documentation, Journal of Information Science, Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Journal of Knowledge Management, Library and Information Science Research, Library Management, Management Decision, National Post of Canada, Sloan Management Review, Tijdschrift Management & Informatie, and Wirtschafts Woche. Chun Wei’s articles and books have been translated and published in Dutch, French, German, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.
Chun Wei has worked on research projects with a number of organizations, including Bell Canada, Canadian Human Resource Planners, Clarica, Enbridge, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Human Resource Development Canada, Toronto Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, Ontario Legislative Assembly, Ontario Power Generation, and Royal Bank Canada Capital Markets.
Before moving to Canada, Chun Wei was Director of Planning at Singapore’s National Computer Board (now Government Technology Agency of Singapore), and Manager, Research Planning of the Board’s Information Technology Institute (now Institute for Infocomm Research). Earlier, he was Head Office Systems Group and Head Research Department in the Ministry of Defense.
- PhD, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, 1989–1993
- MSc, Master’s Program in the Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems, London School of Economics & Political Science, University of London, UK, 1983–1984
- Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 1982–83
- Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Science, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 1977–78
- MA, Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK, 1977
- BA, Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK, 1972–75
- 2003-present, Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
- 1998–2003, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto
- 1993–1998, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto
- 1989, Director, Planning Department, National Computer Board of Singapore
- 1987–1989, Deputy Director (IT Planning), Planning Department, National Computer Board of Singapore
- 1986–1989, Manager (Research Planning), IT Institute, Singapore
- 1985–1986, Senior Systems Analyst/Project Leader, Information Systems Department, Ministry of National Development, Singapore
- 1981–1983, Head, Office Systems Group, Systems & Computers Organization, Ministry of Defense, Singapore
- 1977–1981, Head, Research Department, General Staff Division, Ministry of Defense, Singapore
Articles and Papers
The strength of trust over ties: Investigating the relationships between trustworthiness and tie-strength in effective knowledge sharing. Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management [PDF]
Organizational knowledge sharing and trust networks should be analyzed by conducting a social network analysis. If the sociogram reveals too many strong ties (i.e., high closure or density), it may be prudent to add non-redundant weak ties. Possible techniques include moving employees with similar expertise across projects, departments, or divisions. This encourages individuals to transfer their knowledge outside of their immediate closed network. Holding casual and informal “all-hands” social events may create similar effects, with less commitment and risk. On the other hand, a network with too many weak ties may be strengthened by facilitating resource pooling, coordination, and project work between and across weakly tied co-workers.
The Effect of Knowledge Management Context on Knowledge Management Practices: An Empirical Investigation. Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management [PDF]
The results of our survey illustrate that both organizational and personal information behaviors are influenced by the corporate wide knowledge management environment comprising the practices, policies and processes institutionalized and the technologies implemented for KM initiatives. Subsequently, personal information behaviors are also influenced by organizational information behaviors suggesting that an individual’s own behavior towards information and knowledge sharing is influenced by his/her perceptions of others’ commitments and tendencies towards knowledge sharing. Furthermore, our research shows that specific career based demographic variables also impact the relationship between a firm’s KM environment and information behaviors at both organizational and individual levels. Specifically, males, older employees, and those with professional designations (as opposed to support roles) have a positive perception of and attitude towards the corporate KM context and organizational level KM practices.
The findings in this paper have both practical as well as theoretical implications. From a practical standpoint, the results of our survey compel businesses, especially those that regard themselves as “knowledge intensive” organizations to acknowledge, explore and positively influence the people-factors that are critical to task performance and organizational success through various material as well as relational means. Firstly, as an overarching approach, organizations need to promote knowledge sharing processes among employees through the establishment of formal policies and procedures and the implementation of requisite technology infrastructures. As shown in our research results, such formalized practices not only lead to positive perceptions about the knowledge environment and organizational information behaviors but also enhance personal information behaviors. Additionally, the organizational information behaviors construct emphasizes the importance of pooled expertise, relationships, and alliances to the progress of KM initiatives, hence suggesting that in their efforts to further harness the knowledge-based capabilities of their human capital, managers should undertake the development of various incentives for their employees to work collaboratively and share their knowledge with one another.
The Individual and Social Dynamics of Knowledge Sharing — An Exploratory Study. Journal of Documentation [PDF]
A unique feature of this study is in comparing sharing behavior with different sharing targets. Results showed that individuals were significantly more likely to share knowledge with their superior than with a close colleague or a distant colleague. No significant difference in propensity was found between sharing knowledge with a close colleague and a distant colleague.
An overarching theme of this study has been that knowledge sharing is volitional and cannot be forced or mandated. (While organizations may decree that employees share their knowledge, reluctant employees have always found ways to circumvent or undermine the spirit of such directives.) We discovered that individual perceptions about costs and benefits, personal preferences about the distribution of sharing outcomes, and the structural relationship of knowledge recipients, all have effects on knowledge sharing behavior.
Information Culture and Organizational Effectiveness. International Journal of Information Management [PDF]
How Shared Language and Shared Vision Motivate Effective Knowledge Sharing Behavior. 13th European Conference on Knowledge Management [PDF]
Sensemaking, Knowledge Creation, and Decision Making: Organizational Knowing as Emergent Strategy. Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge [PDF]
Perspectives on Managing Knowledge in Organizations. Cataloguing and Classification Quarterly 37 (1/2: Special Issue on Knowledge Organization and Classification in International Information Retrieval) [PDF]
Any organization that wants to excel at managing knowledge will need to perform three KM processes well: generation, codification, and transfer of knowledge.
Knowledge generation refers to activities that increase the stock of organizational knowledge. Five modes of knowledge generation are discussed: acquisition; dedicating resources; fusion; adaptation; and building knowledge networks. Organizations may acquire knowledge by hiring individuals, buying another organization, or renting/leasing external knowledge. They may also dedicate resources to the generation of knowledge by establishing units that undertake research and development. The authors note that some corporate libraries function like R&D departments, developing and providing new knowledge to the organization. Knowledge generation through fusion can occur when different individuals and groups with different specializations and perspectives are brought together to work on a problem or project. Adaptation takes place when the organization responds to new conditions in its external environment. Here, knowledge generation is a result of organizations adapting to significant competitive, economic, or technological changes; and the most important adaptive resources are employees who can acquire new knowledge quickly and who have the openness to learn new skills. Knowledge is also generated in networks of people in an organization who share common work interests, face common work problems, and are motivated to exchange their knowledge. Organizations may attempt to formalize these informal, self-organizing networks over time.
Knowledge codification. Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak offer four principles that should guide the codification of organizational knowledge.
- Managers must decide what business goals the codified knowledge will serve.
- Managers must be able to identify knowledge existing in various forms appropriate to reaching these goals.
- Knowledge managers must evaluate knowledge for usefulness and appropriateness for codification.
- Codifiers must identify an appropriate medium for codification and distribution.
Codification of tacit knowledge is generally limited to locating someone with the knowledge, pointing the seeker to it, and encouraging them to interact. For example, a knowledge map (an actual map, a Yellow Pages, a directory database) can be constructed to point to knowledge but does not contain it. Trying to turn knowledge into a “code” can sometimes seem to defeat the purpose of communicating it. The challenge is to codify knowledge and still leave its distinctive attributes intact, putting in place codification structures that can change as rapidly and flexibly as the knowledge itself. Davenport and Prusak suggest that stories, in their ability to embody and extend experience, and to combine feeling and thought, may be a way of capturing knowledge without removing its richness.
Knowledge transfer. Since organizations behave as knowledge markets, they should create market spaces and places where this trading and sharing of knowledge can happen. Much of knowledge transfer occurs through personal conversations, so places such as water coolers, talk rooms, knowledge fairs, and open forums become important venues for sharing information. A major theme in Davenport and Prusak’s discussion is that the sharing of knowledge between people and groups in an organization may be the most daunting task in knowledge management. Most of the impediments are related to the culture of the organization. Davenport and Prusak identify seven barriers: lack of trust; different cultures, vocabularies, and frames of reference; lack of time and meeting places; status and rewards going to knowledge owners; lack of absorptive capacity in recipients; belief that knowledge is the prerogative of particular groups; the “not-invented-here” syndrome; and intolerance for mistakes or need for help.
Davenport and Prusak distinguish between formal and informal knowledge transfer and point out that: “Informal knowledge transfer is endangered by a particularly American sense of what is and isn’t “real” work. … an employee who reads a book at his desk — arguably an effective approach to knowledge acquisition — is looked at with suspicion. … A company that claims to value knowledge but discourages reading and talking on company time sends mixed messages. The more convincing message is that knowledge is not much valued after all. Managers need to recognize that the availability of “slack” time for learning and thinking may be one of the best metrics of a firm’s knowledge orientation.
Articles by Others
- Chun Wei Choo wins 2021 Research in Information Science Award
- ASIS&T 2021 Research in Information Science Award — Association for Information Science and Technology
Sense-Making by Mary Lee Kennedy
Chun Wei Choo has looked at sense-making in the context of his explorations on “knowing organizations”. He sees sense-making as part of three broad activities that are interrelated, and which are done well in “knowing organizations”. So rather than it being only an individual action, Chun Wei Choo’s work looks it in the context of what organizations and individuals do. The three broad interrelated activities are sense-making, knowledge-creating, and decision-making.
Sense-making is related to the management of ambiguity; knowledge-creating is related to the management of learning, and decision-making is related to the management of uncertainty. Each one of these form three points on the triangle (the apexes) and the gap between sensing and knowing, sensing and doing, and knowing and doing is addressed through other sets of activities. At the individual level, he distinguishes between sensing (noticing potentially important messages in the environment) and making sense (constructing meaning from what has been sensed) as critical to organizations today. His book, “The Knowing Organization”, presents a review of many studies on organizational sense making (March and Olsen, Starbuck and Milleken, Thomas, Clark and Gioia, and of course Weick and Dervin).
Choo discusses Dervin’s work (which is both theoretical and empirically based) as a model analyzing information seeking and use in terms of a triangle of “situation-gap-use” reflected in three questions:
- What in your situation is stopping you from moving forward?
- What questions or confusions do you have?
- What kind of help do you hope to get?
30 Knowledge Management Insights
In Sensemaking, Knowledge Creation, and Decision Making: Organizational Knowing as Emergent Strategy, Chun Wei Choo lists three kinds of knowledge:
- Tacit knowledge in the expertise and experience of individuals
- Explicit or rule-based knowledge in artifacts, rules and routines
- Cultural knowledge in the assumptions and beliefs used by members to assign value and significance to new information or knowledge
Three kinds of knowledge creation:
- Knowledge conversion: the organization continuously creates new knowledge by converting between the personal, tacit knowledge of individuals who develop creative insight, and the shared, explicit knowledge by which the organization develops new products and innovations.
- Knowledge integration: the result of the organization’s ability to coordinate and integrate the knowledge of many individual specialists.
- Knowledge transfer: across organizational boundaries; can involve tacit, explicit, and cultural knowledge to varying degrees.
And four modes of organizational decision making:
- Boundedly rational mode: goal and procedural clarity are both high, choice is guided by performance programs
- Political mode: contested by interest groups, but procedural certainty is high within the groups; each group believes that its preferred alternative is best for the organization
- Anarchic mode: goal and procedural uncertainty are both high; decision situations consist of relatively independent streams of problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities arriving and leaving; a decision then happens when problems, solutions, participants, and choices coincide
- Process mode: goals are clear but the methods to attain them are not; decision making becomes a process divided into three phases:
- Identification: recognizes the need for decision and develops an understanding of the decision issues
- Development: activates search and design routines to develop one or more solutions to address a problem, crisis, or opportunity
- Selection: evaluates the alternatives and chooses a solution for commitment to action
Good KM Quotes by Kaye Vivian
Knowledge management is a framework for designing organizational goals, structures, and processes so that the organization can use what it knows to learn and to create value for its customers and community. — Chun Wei Choo
The Inquiring Organization by Martin White
I am constantly looking for answers to ‘why’ certain approaches to information management seem to work within some form of information culture. Then in 2013 I came across a paper on information culture and organizational effectiveness by Professor Chun Wei Choo of the University of Toronto. In this paper he described result, rule, relationship and risk taking cultures and their impact on organizational effectiveness, and I have used this model many times in the period since its publication.
Professor Choo’s book rewards careful reading, because the evidence he presents and the insights he gives will provide you with an invaluable set of lenses with which to view aspects of information and knowledge management. In much of his writing his initial training in engineering comes through, with a very grounded approach to the analysis of the case studies and a sure understanding of how organizations work. In many respects he presents a unifying theory of information and knowledge management, and I would suggest that the KM community would do well to consider what Professor Choo has to say. After all the root of the word ‘epistemology’ is the Greek word epistēmē, meaning “knowledge”. It may take you nine weeks to read and consider the nine chapters but at the end I am certain you will say to yourself “Now I understand”. The benefits to both you personally and to your organization will be significant and long lasting.
The inquiring organization by Elena Macevičiūtė
The amount of intellectual effort put into the book is remarkable. The reference lists at the end of many books may be quite extensive, but in this particular case each entry has been scrutinized, deeply read and, in many cases, filtered through empirical research done by the author, even when an empirical investigation itself is not visible in this particular text. The directions of further research on information in organizations are not highlighted as part of conclusions, but rather prompted in multiple pages. I am quite sure that many young and senior researchers may find a way out of a creative block that many of us run into from time to time or a brilliant idea for a project while reading this monograph.
Information management for the intelligent organization by Elena Macevičiūtė
His book remains one of the most comprehensive and enlightening texts on information management.
The knowing organization by Tom Wilson
This new edition of a deservedly popular text is welcome and will be of considerable value to students seeking to understand how information is put to use in organizations: if they retain a skeptical view of the concept of ‘organizational learning’, they may even learn more.
Managing information for the competitive edge by Tom Wilson
I find the collection as a whole very useful — and it would be an incredible feat on the part of any editor to satisfy every reader. There is much here that the student of information management will find of value: the papers by Taylor (information use environments), Daft and Lengel (information richness), Ellis and others (information audits), Davenport, Eccles and Prusak (information politics) and Koenig (information and productivity), among others are all worth being brought together in this way. The book is intended for practitioners, teachers and students, but I suspect that the main audience was intended to be the academic. Practitioners, however, could certainly benefit from many of the papers presented here, which may offer an alternative perspective from that conveyed by the dominant paradigm of information handling under which they might have received their early training.
The Knowing Organization: How Organizations Use Information to Construct Meaning, Create Knowledge, and Make Decisions, 2nd Edition
The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge: A Collection of Readings edited with Nick Bontis
Web Work: Information Seeking and Knowledge Work on the World Wide Web with Brian Detlor and Don Turnbull
The Inquiring Organization: How Organizations Acquire Knowledge and Seek Information
Managing Information for the Competitive Edge edited with Ethel Auster
Information Management for the Intelligent Organization: The Art of Scanning the Environment, Third Edition
Book Chapters (selected)
- The Effects of Enterprise Portals on Knowledge Management Projects in Encyclopedia of Portal Technologies and Applications [PDF]
- Knowledge Management in Encyclopedia of Communication and Information [PDF]
- Perspectives on Managing Knowledge in Organizations in Knowledge Organization and Classification in International Information Retrieval [PDF]
- Knowledge, Intellectual Capital, and Strategy: Themes and Tensions in Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge [PDF]
- Environmental Scanning as Information Seeking and Organizational Learning in Introducing Information Management: An Information Research Reader [PDF]