Transactional and Negotiated Knowledge
There are two different types of knowledge used in distributed group processes: transactional and negotiated. Transactional knowledge was knowledge and expertise of perceived value often used as currency within the power structure. In order for knowledge to be used as currency, it would need to be of value, accessible by others, identifiable, stable (with clearly defined knowledge boundaries), and available in either a tangible form or tangibly represented. As explained in the previous section, knowledge of perceived value often were used as currency within the power structure, with study participants sharing, accessing resources, or withholding their knowledge based on their analysis of situational factors within the environment. The use of transactional knowledge is similar to the concept of knowledge used by the knowledge management theorists discussed in Chapter 2. Negotiated knowledge is knowledge created as a result of cognitive dissonance, overlapping knowledge boundaries, and a desire to create shared meaning and mental models. Negotiated knowledge is dynamic, difficult to identify (intangible), and dependent on situational factors. When expertise and perceived knowledge is shared, there is a process of negotiation in which meaning is created and knowledge boundaries are recreated. The concept of knowledge and knowledge creation identified by organizational learning theorists can be termed as negotiated knowledge.
This finding moves away from defining knowledge according to level of internalization and tangibility (explicit/implicit, tacit, content/competency/expertise) to defining knowledge according to its purpose. In addition to knowing what and knowing how (Cook & Brown, 1999; Nonaka, 1994; Sternberg & Horvath, 1999), employees and organizational entities need to have the ability of knowing where and when. Knowledge can be held outside of the individual within knowledge networks for current and future use. Employees that have access to a wide breath of knowledge when it is needed will be the most valuable to the organization, coworkers, and departments.
Transactional knowledge can be located with the individual member, within the group, in multiple departments, or within organizational or professional knowledge networks. In fact, transactional knowledge may be partaged throughout the organization or networks, stored within knowledge networks, and retrieved quickly when needed. For a service organization, especially, transactional knowledge is the product, and as such, the ability to convert knowledge into something tangible becomes an added value to the organization. Transactional knowledge can take the form of content or apprehensive knowledge. Negotiated knowledge, on the other hand can be internalized, located within a community of practice, or embedded deep throughout an organization or network. Negotiated knowledge requires interaction with others and is, thus, time consuming to create. It is the closest to Kolb’s (1980) comprehensive knowledge with the process of negotiation not only creating new knowledge, but also the relationships and understanding of the situational factors in which future negotiations/knowledge creation can take place. Access to negotiated knowledge is used to develop knowledge boundaries at various levels within which collaborations takes place. Negotiated knowledge is important for the functioning of a service organization, but may not be perceived as the organization’s product.
In the study, transactional knowledge or knowledge that was represented in a format that was identifiable, could take the form of documents, models, visual representations, interviews or testimonials, assessments such as quizzes and tests, credentials such as diplomas or training credits, web or training tools, and brands. The more tangible the knowledge was perceived, the easier it was for that knowledge to be traded or used as currency or valued transactional knowledge.
The use and offering of valued transactional knowledge could be banked and used as a currency for future access to resources. Phillip, for example, spoke about the importance of his work with this project group for future positions in the organization, “This is where my education is, all my experience is here. I feel really comfortable, confident, you know, in this field. So I probably want to stay here and this…this ac…this would, um, compliment the experience I’d already have. So could transfer into…into moving me into some other position, maybe, in the future.” In this case, Phillip could use his education and work experience to obtain another position. His resume and college degree were tangible representations of knowledge that he could use in another job or organization.
Transactional knowledge in recognizable formats such as reports, credentials, or group artifacts/products could also increase the value of an individual, group, or department who had access to valued knowledge. The quarterly report was important to the organization because it could be used as currency for future projects with the project funder. Transactional knowledge could also take the form of work processes. Many study participants spoke of how this project could be a model for future projects both within and outside of the organization. The model was a tangible representation of effective work processes that could be stored and replicated by others in a similar environment. As a result, the ability to create a model for similar projects within the organization or the healthcare profession was perceived as knowledge that could be traded, sold, replicated, or withheld depending on its value to others inside and outside of the organization.
Access to transactional knowledge was controlled depending on its perceived value. The video group, for example, withheld their expertise from the project group. Olivia did not offer her expertise and knowledge about video production to the project unless it was requested because she believed decision makers and those in a position of authority did not value that knowledge. She only did the work that was dictated to her by those higher up in the organizational power structure. Any value that she could have added to the project group’s work was withheld if not requested by the project group or the organizational power structure. In this way, she maintained ownership of her knowledge, withholding it rather than giving it away when it would not be valued.
Members of the group also managed access to transactional knowledge partaged throughout their knowledge network. In order to access the transactional knowledge, group members would need to know where the knowledge was stored (i.e. documents, artifacts, personal expertise or knowledge) within the knowledge network, have the resources to retrieve the knowledge (permissions, time, computer program access), and filter the knowledge so only knowledge of value was provided. A member’s knowledge network then became currency for use in their work environment, to be used or withheld at various levels internal and external to the project group. Olivia, for example, seemed to be a strong gatekeeper to her network, partly because of her perception that the group and those in authority did not value her knowledge, but also because she was unsure of her place within the project and organization. She maintained her network outside of the organization and group so that it would not be corrupted should she have to leave the organization. On the other hand, other group members protected their networks from specific members, again so their network was not corrupted (lack of trust, poor reputation, associations with undesirable experts, ideas, or policies). Paul, Helen, and Ronda all expressed concern about Robert interacting with those within their networks. He was perceived as having done damage in the relationships with those within their knowledge networks. There was a fear that further interaction with Robert would result in limited access or the disintegration of their networks. The negative impact Robert would have in turn would dimension the value of the network that they used as currency to access situated knowledge. In other words, their transactional knowledge would lose value.
While transactional knowledge was based on knowledge identified as something tangible or the ability to be made tangible (through documentation, visuals, processes, etc…), negotiated knowledge was dependent upon discussion and interaction. This interaction could include communication between coworkers, resources, documentation, the environment, and/or communication tools such as project management software. The purpose of discussion and interaction was to create shared meaning, norms, and mental models. The participants used terms such as “being on the same page”, “understanding where they [other group members] were coming from”, and “they (don’t) get it” when discussing their interaction and group meanings.
Some of the factors participants identified as being important for creating
negotiated knowledge included: 1) an openness to ideas, 2) feedback, 3) a sense of trust from those with whom the meaning would be negotiated, 4) awareness of where the starting point should be, 5) a sense of relationship with those involved and perspective taking abilities, and 6) cognitive dissonance or the awareness that there was a difference in understanding. According to the project group members, management had a problem with negotiated knowledge because creating shared meaning was time consuming, often without results or identifiable (transactional) valued knowledge.
Group members used a number of communication modalities to create negotiated knowledge. These included:
• Face-to-face communication in the form of formal discussions (e.g. regular “check-ins” and updates), working meetings (e.g. planning, departmental, content), weekly meetings, and informal discussions (e.g. breaks, water cooler or hallway conversations);
• Written communication in the form of scripts, online postings, programming codes, work approvals, reports, emails, planning documents, project task checklists, and feedback solicitations;
• Visuals in the form of write board diagrams, maps that represented content, flow charts, powerpoint slides, video footage, and representative photos.
These different modalities could trigger cognitive dissonance and helped participants discover differences both within and outside of the project group. The cognitive dissonance, once identified, then was the basis for negotiated knowledge, with participants defining the boundaries of their own understanding. Each participant created new knowledge boundaries through negotiated discussion.
The use of either transactional or negotiated knowledge for a group task depended on the perceived value of the knowledge by individual members and others they interacted with, the power structure, access to resources available for the task, time available for the task, and other situational factors.
Group members would use negotiated knowledge when there was time to negotiate, there was cognitive dissonance which was affecting the quality of individual and group work, and there was support for negotiation by those high within the power structure. Sometimes project group members were able to internalize redefined vision, ideas and/or meaning to create negotiated knowledge which became the basis for the project work. Phillip described the process the group went through in adapting content for elearning:
So we kind of, like, arrived at some middle postion. So it’s kind of a neat…ah, you know working relationship. And what it does is gives you o…other ways to think about things that you just wouldn’t have thought of. You know, you…you don’t know to think of those…things if you don’t know. (Phillip, interview 1).
This meaning making and perspective taking leads to higher order thinking and knowledge creation (Ede & Lunsford, 1990; Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 1997; Hagtvet & Wol, 2003; Jarvela & Hakkinen, 2002). Through group discussions, the sharing of prototypes, and negotiated group processes, the project group defined the knowledge boundaries of what elearning modules should look like and accomplish. This collective vision then allowed the project group to work distributively as long as their work was contained within the shared knowledge boundaries. Once there was an event that triggered cognitive dissonance, such as the project management requiring more elearning modules, the knowledge boundaries would need to be renegotiated. Those within the power structure were willing to allow project group members time to negotiate knowledge, especially in the beginning, in order to build relationships between departments, create a shared mental model from which the group could work, and create group norms that would expedite work tasks later in the project. However, towards the end of the study, less and less time was allotted for the renegotiation of knowledge boundaries as negotiated knowledge became less valuable to those in authority.
At other times, both transactional and negotiated knowledge was used at the same time, but at different organizational levels. The project group members simply were able to understand a different perspective while they maintained their own personal epistemologies and schema for the work task. In other words, there were two levels of meaning and beliefs for the work task: personal and group. The project group’s shared schema would inform group processes, but individuals could distance themselves from the dissonance caused by differences between group and personal epistemologies by handing ownership over to the project group. At this point, personal knowledge became transactional as their personal knowledge boundaries were not perceived as being as valuable as the group’s negotiated knowledge. An example of this was the quarterly report (see Appendix C: Writing Tasks for a more detailed description). While each group member had an idea what the quarterly report should include and the format it should take, the group allowed Robert and the funding agency’s vision to dominate. The project group’s negotiated knowledge about the quarterly report was established through group meetings, discussions on the project software, and feedback from managers and colleagues. However, the project group members distanced themselves from ownership of the quarterly report which allowed them to maintain their own knowledge boundaries on what effective report writing should be compared to the knowledge boundaries on what the quarterly report should look like. Helen, for example, noted that she thought the quarterly report had too much information (transactional knowledge she withheld), yet provided Robert with information he required to write the quarterly report because it was not her report, therefore it did not reflect on the quality of her personal work. Helen was able to maintain her social identity within the project group and organization by distancing ownership to the quarterly report (Skitka, 2003).
In the creation of the document that had perceived value, however, the use of negotiated knowledge in the form of reconciliation of differences between personal and group knowledge boundaries was important. For example, there were tensions between members of the stand-up training, elearning, and management groups over what exactly the Subway Map represented (see Appendix C). There were differences in interpretation, often based on the different understanding of how end-users/trainees would learn, need to know, and use what they learned. Management wanted to use transactional knowledge, in the form of the draft of the Top Ten List, by halting further discussion of the document due to time constraints and pressure to complete the project by the funders. Because the Subway Map would result in the actual final product each group member would contribute to the project, the Subway Map was perceived as being much more valuable by the project group members. In other words, knowledge workers might be able to accept different knowledge boundaries in their work when they do not perceive the work as their own, but they would try to exert their own knowledge boundaries when they feel the work was perceived as theirs (each individual taking ownership for the work). This increased the value of the negotiated knowledge, making it more important that there were shared knowledge boundaries. As a result, the project group members continued to create negotiated knowledge through discussions outside of management’s channels of communication (meetings and project group only online spaces). In this case, the same event triggered the creation of transactional knowledge (the Subway Map) and negotiated knowledge (discussion of the document on alternative communication channels).
Participants also used a combination of negotiated and transactional knowledge by creating knowledge networks that could be accessed in the future. They would develop relationships with others that allowed individuals to maintain their vision, schema or individual beliefs, but also allowed individuals to understand the perspectives of other group members. This negotiated knowledge was based on shared cognition, shared mental models, cognitive dissonance, perspective taking, and social relationships (Akgun, Lynn, & Byrne, 2003). Within this context, there might be knowledge external or internal to the group which could be accessed in the future (transactional knowledge). This future transactional knowledge is unknown (and, thus, could not be defined) until it is needed. However, through social interaction, knowledge networks were established which could be accessed when needed. Paul discussed the knowledge needed working on one of the project tasks as being a puzzle in which different pieces were held by different people (transactional knowledge). Access to those pieces were based on the social relationships that project group interaction created (negotiated knowledge).
Knowledge accessed from a knowledge network could be both transactional and negotiated. The interaction group members had in negotiating knowledge created relationships both within and extending outside of the group. Group members could act as translators of knowledge for resources within their own knowledge networks. Specifically, each group member had his or her own knowledge network which they accessed when they needed to find intellectual and cognitive resources (e.g. answers to questions, feedback, information, expertise or specialization). At times project group members’ knowledge boundaries might not allow them to communicate and/or understand other project group members’ knowledge networks. When this happened, other project group members would need to mediate understanding or translate knowledge between the various knowledge networks. Because the knowledge was of value and in a tangible format, it would be considered transactional knowledge to the person who accessed or stored the knowledge. However, for the person who needed the knowledge, the format was not accessible without negotiation of meaning. Once the knowledge was translated, it became negotiated knowledge.
A good example of this mediation of knowledge within a knowledge network was Ronda visiting healthcare provider students with Helen. Helen was able to speak to the students, many of which were also healthcare service recipients and then translate that knowledge into concepts and terminology that Ronda was familiar with. Ronda then incorporated this information into her elearning designs. Without Helen, however, Ronda might have had difficulty in interacting with the students, asking the correct questions for identifying their needs, and/or understanding the information the students provided as Ronda did not have first-hand experience or knowledge about the subject matter.
The most important group members were those that could create a bridge between the project group knowledge and department expertise, being able to access valued transactional knowledge and then translating that knowledge so those in other groups or departments could understand and use it (negotiated knowledge). In other words valued group members were able to use both types of knowledge. Ronda, Helen, Sam, and Paul especially, learned the discourse of the departments with which they worked. This is why they were perceived as being valuable within the project group. They had excellent negotiated knowledge skills that allowed them to move between departments while at the same time they were able to access transactional knowledge because of the relationships they had developed through their interdepartmental/intergroup negotiations. David commented on the void that was created when Ronda left the project, “now that she’s gone, ah…there’s…there’s really no longer that bridge between what we do and the development of the curriculum. So now it’s to the curriculum developers and then us. (David, interview 2).”
Throughout the study the two different kinds of knowledge were created and used in different ways for different purposes. In some cases, both transactional and negotiated knowledge was used in the same work task for different purposes at different levels within the collaborative writing process. Perceived ownership added to or decreased the value of the knowledge which in turn influenced the type of knowledge (transactional or negotiated) that was used.