Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

ICT Use and Network Relations: Exploring Knowledge-Sharing Networks in Distributed Organizations

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

ICT Use and Network Relations: Exploring Knowledge-Sharing Networks in Distributed Organizations

Article excerpt


Distributed organizations are ones whose internal activities are geographically dispersed (see Duarte & Snyder, 2006). Increasingly, such organizations are attempting to unify their scattered units into one integrated unit via ICTs (information and communication technologies) as well as via professional networks for knowledge sharing and coordination. Indeed, ICT has become an integral part of the work processes in these organizations. It helps them collect information, process and analyze it, transfer it, and store and present it. It also helps them manage and control equipment and work processes, and connect people, functions, and units within distributed organizations. The reflexive relationship between actors (people) and the ICTs they use is of particular interest in this paper.

Over the past two decades the field of network analysis within and outside organizational communication studies has grown substantially. But work is still needed in this field regarding theory building (Monge & Contractor, 2003), especially work focusing on organizations that tend to be more collectively oriented with respect to their organization and management (Yuan, Fulk, Shumate, Monge, Bryant, & Matsaganis, 2005). Most research in organizational communication networks has primarily drawn on theories of social capital and trust in connection with media richness and/or virtuality (Dutton, Kahin, O'Callaghan, & Wyckoff 2005; Huysman & Volker, 2004; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Kanawattanachi & Youngjin, 2002; Zolin, Hinds, Fruchter, & Levitt, 2004). But that perspective neglects important aspects related to how networks evolve and how they are maintained via ICTs in combination or in multiple media use. While the term "combination of ICTs" refers to the notion of ICTs as a toolbox to accomplish conversations, "multiple media use" refers to the use of ICTs in the context of activities. Sequential use of ICTs, such as email followed up by phone, or vice versa, is an example of planning or persuading activities (Watson, Manheim, & Belanger, 2007).

This paper offers a deeper understanding of the role that media use plays in distributed organizations, especially in networking and knowledge sharing. While a substantial amount of research on network analysis draws on structural arguments and quantitative measures (Shaw, 2006), we sought to address this topic by examining the content of formal and emergent professional networks within a distributed organization. We used an inductive research approach, collecting our data by interviewing members of professional networks in two public distributed organizations in Norway. Thus, this article, which presents the fruits of our research, focuses on public organizations--a contextual area where few studies have been conducted (Munkvold & Akselsen, 2003).

Several researchers have argued for the study of ICTs used in combination (Boczkowski & Orlikowski, 2004; Hesse, Werner & Altman, 1988; Walther & Parks, 2002) instead of the study of media choices as immediate incidents or structuration processes around media (Stephens, Sornes, Rice, Browning, & Ssetre, 2008). In our study we will focus on how ICTs are used in combination or in sequence, or in both combination and sequence, and link this perspective to (1) how these networks evolve, and (2) how they are maintained. One overarching research question prompted this study:

What is the role of ICTs in network relations in distributed organizations?

With the current body of literature on ICTs used in combination in mind we will address the following questions:

a) How do people combine different ICTs when they are engaged in a professional knowledge-sharing network?

b) How are combinations of ICTs used when people engage in frequent relations vs. infrequent relations?

These research questions explore the link between contemporary ICT-use research and research into virtual networks, and networks in distributed organizations and virtual teams in general. …

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