A KM implementation as management innovation: the impact of an agent of change

Rasmussen, L., Hall, H. (2015, June). A KM implementation as management innovation: the impact of an agent of change. Paper presented at Information: interactions and impact (i3) 2015, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland.



Presentation slides for this paper are available on SlideShare at http://www.slideshare.net/HazelHall/knowledge-management-innovationrasmussenhalli32015

** Following delivery at the conference this work was developed into a journal article entitled ‘The adoption process in Management Innovation: a Knowledge Management case study’ to be published in the Journal of Information Science 42(3). The full text of the accepted paper is available at http://researchrepository.napier.ac.uk/9157/4/JIS-3424-accepted.pdf **

This paper presents findings from an extensive study of a Knowledge Management (KM) programme within a large distributed public sector organisation. Here we conceive KM as a ‘management innovation’ (Birkinshaw, Hamel & Mol, 2005; Mol & Birkinshaw, 2008). This is on the basis that the programme in question exhibited novelty/newness, was implemented in practice, was intended to further organisational goals, and had an impact on how managerial work was conducted in the case study organisation.

To date only limited research has been published on the process of adoption of management innovations i.e. the phases and episodes involved in how an organisation becomes aware of new innovations, acquires, adapts, assimilates and uses them to address particular organisational issues (Damanpour & Aravind, 2012; Rogers, 2003). In addition, although much has been published on the role of KM in innovation processes – both in the information science literature (e.g. Auernhammer & Hall, 2014) and beyond - scant attention has been paid to KM as an innovation in its own right. Equally the organisational impact of KM as a management innovation remains unexplored.

This examination of a KM implementation thus offers theoretical insight at two levels: about KM itself (with a focus on KM implementations within large, distributed public sector organisations), and about management innovations (with a focus on the adoption process). The content of the paper is relevant to the i3 conference themes of (1) information as an agent of change and (2) impact in that it examines a programme developed to maximise the value of information and knowledge assets, and the impact of the programme on the host organisation. It will be of interest to both academic researchers and to practitioners, especially those charged with implementing KM in organisational settings.

The findings of the study derive from an analysis of data collected over a period of eight years. Much of the evidence on which the analysis is based was assembled through processes of participant observation when the researcher was employed by the case study organisation. In addition electronic sources internal to the organisation revealed a rich seam of data on how KM was conceived and implemented in practice, including during the period prior to the researcher’s period of employment. The use of a chronological timeline and manual coding helped aid the deconstruction (or close review) of events and texts over a longitudinal timeframe. This revealed a process of adoption of KM in three main phases – ‘initiation’, ‘implementation’ and ‘outcomes’ - with a series of episodes evident within each phase. An outcome of this work is a model of adoption of KM as a management innovation according to the following the phases and episodes:

• The initiation phase: (1) agenda-setting; (2) research/knowledge; (3) selection/matching, and (4) persuasion/validation
• The implementation phase: (1) modification, (2) operationalisation, and (3) clarification/confirmation
• The outcomes phase: (1) discontinuance and (2) routinisation

The identification of four discourses – which have been labelled in this study as ‘fiefdom’, ‘one network’, ‘local delivery’, and ‘network delivery’ - shows the power of organisational discourse in representing both formal and informal organisational structures. The ‘one network’ discourse, in particular, was representative of the ambition (or agenda) for informal and formal structural change in the case organisation for almost a decade. The analysis undertaken for the study traces the influence of a range of internal factors (such as compatibility between management innovation, organisational structure, and ambition for organisational change) over the course of the adoption of management innovation through the lens of these four discourses. These discourses had a profound effect on how KM was received and operationalised within the case study organisation.

A key finding from this research relates to the identification of two possible outcomes for a management innovation: (1) routinisation (more commonly labelled ‘institutionalisation’ in the KM literature); and (2) discontinuance. The latter is generally not included in models of innovation, largely because of reluctance to consider failure as an option. This ‘pro-innovation bias’ has been observed in both the innovation literature (Rogers, 2003 p.106) and KM literature (Hall & Goody, 2007). The findings of this study also indicate that researchers would have to gather material for data analysis over a decade (or more) to investigate the routinisation of KM.


Auernhammer, J. & Hall, H. (2014). Organizational culture in knowledge creation, creativity and innovation: towards the Freiraum model. Journal of Information Science 40(2), 154-166.

Birkinshaw, J., Hamel, G., & Mol, M.J. (2005). Management innovation. Advanced Institute of Management Research Working Paper Series (021-July-2005).

Birkinshaw, J.M., & Mol, M.J. (2006). How management innovation happens. MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(4), 81–88.

Damanpour, F., & Aravind, D. (2012). Managerial innovation: conceptions, processes, and antecedents. Management and Organization Review, 8(2), 423–454.

Hall, H. & Goody, M. (2007). KM culture and compromise – interventions to promote knowledge sharing supported by technology in corporate environments. Journal of Information Science 33(2), 181-188.

Mol, M. J., & Birkinshaw, J. (2008). Giant steps in management: innovations that change the way we work. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations, (5th ed.). London: Simon & Schuster.
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Hazel Hall
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Louise Rasmussen
Research Student
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