Antoine Henry, Widad Mustafa El Hadi, The Use of Community to Organize Knowledge: The Case of an Energy Company in:

International Society for Knowledge Organziation (ISKO), Marianne Lykke, Tanja Svarre, Mette Skov, Daniel Martínez-Ávila (Ed.)

Knowledge Organization at the Interface, page 181 - 189

Proceedings of the Sixteenth International ISKO Conference, 2020 Aalborg, Denmark

1. Edition 2020, ISBN print: 978-3-95650-775-5, ISBN online: 978-3-95650-776-2,

Series: Advances in Knowledge Organization, vol. 17

Bibliographic information
Antoine Henry – Université de Lille, GERiiCO, France Widad Mustafa El Hadi – Université de Lille, GERiiCO, France The Use of Community to Organize Knowledge The Case of an Energy Company Abstract: This research conducted within an energy sector company brings together both information systems and knowledge organization (KO). It is based on a case study, aiming to analyze the ‘interface’ question in a comprehensive way through the building of an information system dedicated to the organization of knowledge within a community of practice. Through this case, we will develop an approach related to KO technologies that highlight the importance of the ‘interface’ not only as user interface in software but, moreover, as a pathway between users, communities and organizations necessary for promoting a common understanding and use of knowledge in an efficient way. 1.0 Introduction In this political and economic understanding of the society that is the ‘Information Society’ or the ‘Knowledge Society’ (first used by Drucker (1969) then by the UNESCO), the question of how to organize the knowledge is essential. From decades knowledge organization systems (KOS) (Mazzocchi 2018) such as classifications, and documentary languages, topic maps, ontologies (more recently through the use of information technology), were developed in order to optimize the way we use knowledge. The organization of knowledge can be thought of through the prism of digital technology because the theoretical framework of knowledge organization (KO) allows us to ‘develop methods to guide effective practices to exploit our knowledge in a digital environment’ (Beau 2012, 1). The knowledge organization system in this way, ‘constitutes a common language, either for the design of an information system, or, more generally, for sharing knowledge concerned by different carriers. It can be used as a framework to express knowledge shaping in the field in as comprehensive and complete manner as possible’ (Mahé et al. 2010, 66). The objective of these KOSs is therefore to ‘define principles for describing a domain to facilitate the classification and search for more or less abstract items: documents, persons, places, products, opinions or activities’ (Zacklad and Giboin 2010, 8) and thus facilitate knowledge dissemination. Moreover, in organizations where dematerialized knowledge, or even produced natively in digital formats, has become prevalent (Martínez-Ávila 2015; Fujita and Pinheiro 2016). The concept of interface can be viewed as a user interface in order to access to knowledge. In KO publications, authors are using generally the term ‘interface’ in this meaning. However, an interface can also be seen as a pathway between groups of people or inside a community (here for instance between science and society (Puente- Rodríguez, Bos and Koerkamp, 2019)). In this research, we will explore the interface aspect, not only as a computer interface but to show how a KOS can serve as an interface at various levels of an organization. In this paper, we will focus on the interface aspect of knowledge organization as follows: we first, develop our literature review in order to define more precisely the research questions and scope. Then we define our methodology, show results and our 182 findings that are going to be discussed. Finally, we show our search shortcomings, conclusion and limits. 2.0 Literature Review According to Broughton et al. (2005, 133), the concept of KO is mostly about the use of knowledge organization systems (e.g., classification, thesauri, semantic networks) and the process of organizing this knowledge. If KO is mainly related to ‘memory institutions’, many organizations are working now over the way they organize their knowledge. In this article, we will focus over this KO dimension in a private organization to highlight an aspect related to KO: the interface dimension. The professional context in which the members of an organization operate is then a specific context in terms of knowledge organization. This forces the organization to create its own organizational model and technical systems to best meet its objectives by empowering its employees to act. Knowledge produced within an organization can be considered as organizational knowledge (Bibikas et al. 2008; Coakes, Coakes, and Rosenberg 2008; Yang, Fang, and Lin 2010) as an entity is able to produce new knowledge regarding its needs and then disseminate it throughout the organization (including in services, products or systems). This production of organizational knowledge is related to the actions of members who are part of the whole (the organization) and create in the context of their mission knowledge to achieve ‘some end’ (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995, 58). Before becoming organizational knowledge, knowledge is already individual or even communal within a group (Merali 2000; Allard 2004; Kaschig, Maier and Sandow 2016). The willingness to share knowledge among employees remains fairly recent (in relation to the development of knowledge management (Bell DeTienne et al. 2004)): ‘organizations have only recently begun to expect their employees to consistently share and exchange knowledge; in the past, organizations typically urged workers to pursue individual goals and rewarded them on the basis of individual performance and knowhow’ (Biron and Hanuka 2015, 655) and this with the aim of being competitive (Chen and Fong 2015; Martinez-Gil 2015). The community has an essential role in the production and management of organizational knowledge by considering that ‘real knowledge management is not possible without true community’ (Hassel 2007, 193), in fact ‘in a strict sense, knowledge is created only by individuals. An organization cannot create knowledge without individuals’ (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995, 58); from individuals, knowledge can become organizational by being shared in communities of practice and more broadly in the organization. These statements resonate with the consideration that is by allowing, in the communicating organization, to co-construct meaning that ‘emerges within communities and that its analysis should not be dissociated from the social, historical, cultural and political dimensions’ (Lemke 1995, 9 cited by Hachour 2011, 202). Thus, individual knowledge can become ‘organizational’ by being shared in the communities of practice and more widely in the organization. The professional situation in which the members of the organization operate is in fact a specific context in terms of knowledge organization. For instance, an action carried out by a member of the organization involves a ‘situated action’ (Guyot 2000) and therefore to a situation where the actor is confronted with a need for established knowledge, or even the production of 183 a new knowledge if the technical situation is a new one. The knowledge produced therefore comes from the professional context in which the need to solve concrete problems appears. This idea is in line with the fact that ‘the collective competence of actors is based on the existence of networks that ensure knowledge sharing’ (Alter 2000, 267). This situation can be illustrated by Castro Goncalves (2011) who highlights the fact that learning in an organization is supported by interactions between individuals confronted in their tasks. If those researches illustrated the role of community to create knowledge, however, it remains the question of how this community can organize knowledge the way they need it. In many cases, KOS are controlled at the organizational level by experts that are in a ‘for use’ approach (Folcher 2015). These systems are set up, developed and mediated by experts who are sometimes quite far from the operational situation. They, then design these systems in a logic ‘for use’ before being set out for the actors. Instead of developing them in a ‘in use’ (ibid.) approach, in which end-users’ usage patterns are registering in the developed software. This approach is then a source of legitimization for the system and a way of sharing the view of the community regarding the way they organize knowledge toward the rest of the organization. This literature review leads to the following research question, how the development of a hybrid KOS by its future users can be seen as an interface at various levels in the organization? 3.0 Context of the research and methodology In order to investigate this question, we choose a case study approach in an organization. The data collected allowed us to design this progressive development of a new KOS. It is a result of a one-year participating observation (Soulé 2007). Other data were collected during workshops aimed at identifying more precisely the expectations of future users. Participating observation (i.e.: daily observations) and workshops (which allow to focus the attention of a group over a specific question, for instance hover the kind of knowledge they used) are complementary in order to adopt an “insider” position close to the protagonists studied. This approach elects us to deal with how the knowledge is socialized, produced and organized, and in this context of the interface question connects situated knowledge within a community and more broadly in the whole organization. In this way, regarding our research question, we can manage to apprehend choices and views of the actors in a more comprehensive way; for instance, taking in consideration political aspect or relationship between individual/direction. The company ‘Alpha’ is an important company in the energy sector, according to the INSEE nomenclature, which operates throughout France. The population of our study (also called ‘Territorials’ and represents around 45 individuals) is located in the Île-de- France region (IDF) and works in public relations positions. We can describe those ‘Territorials’ as a community of practice (Wenger 1998) since they share codes and routines that are part of the collective’s social practices (Coulon 2002); they have then internalized the values conveyed by this community and its system of representation. Quarterly meetings, gatherings and seminars organized during the year are opportunities for them to meet, exchange and at depth to strengthen their capacity to produce practices. The use of systems is then limited to devices such as e-mail, calls or ‘business’ software, but without any specific space for organizing the knowledge of this community or 184 facilitating its sharing. As part of their job, in relation with local actors, the knowledge they produce is kept individually by employees or sometimes recorded in textual documents or even in Excel spreadsheets. 4.0 Results ‘Territorials’ are in the logic of ‘actionable knowledge’, i.e. knowledge intended to produce an action and effects (Argyris 2003), that the business software (call @T) they used before does not allow. In the case of @T, its use has never been approved by the ‘Territorials’ but was imposed by the national management as a case tracking tool. Since its implementation in 2012, the ‘Territorials’ have been constantly developing other systems that better meet their needs for information and project monitoring. The request expressed by the ‘Territorials’ was the construction of an information system allows creating links between their data, actors, projects and territories in order to have actionable knowledge. Progressively, the participants in the workshops noted that the observations regarding the system could not be carried out independently of those concerning their practices. They even had an official mission letter from a member of their steering committee to pursue this aim. In conjunction with the technical part, the associated approach has been reviewed to identify current practices. Far from simplifying an approach of technical determinism or innovation determinism, the technical system is built through practice and use and goes beyond technical aspects in order to bring about through its mediation action a set of translations that build a sociotechnical ecosystem that has not yet stabilized (Hoareau 2014). It is on the basis of this observation that the ‘Territorials’ have developed an entityassociation or entity-relationship scheme proposed by Chen (1976). This is how the KO dimension emerged in the project. This work on the system is essential, an information system is above all a symbolic system of representation (Bélisle 2002) which is mobilized here and which we had to present/model through the entity-relationship scheme and the vision on their profession so that this view can be implemented in the final product. This is then composed by representations designed and interpreted by the ‘Territorials’ (business classifications, integration of their processes, etc.) and links collective and/or individual actions by a technological base. Regarding their needs and the solution that was developed to answer practically to them, the KOS is then a hybrid one that aggregate: terminology (in order to have a common vocabulary between them), a knowledge base (in which they can preserve their knowledge) and also a semantic network (this semantic network is inspired by linked data, yet it’s simplified by using the graph database NEO4J. This database allows storing elements and create semantic relations between them). The result of the semantic network looks like a topic map in the user interface in order to allow them to ‘navigate’ through their knowledge and their concepts/entities figure N° 1: 185 Figure 1: Illustration of the use of the semantic relation between data (prototype of the information system) All those elements aggregated in the final hybrid KOS are interoperable in order to facilitate the communication between the components and the other information system in the organization. Regarding the individual, community and organizational level, we can summarize the results at those levels through the Table N° 1 bellow: Table 1: Comparison between individual, community and organizational level using the information system with hybrid KOS Individual level Community level Organizational level Save time with faster identification of the right interlocutors for a project. Harmonization of practices and vocabularies between IDF ‘Territorials’. Implementation of knowledge continuity. Simplification for tracking information and fewer various information flows. Construction of a sociotechnical system so as to become a virtual community of practice. Use of a new technology within the organization: graph-oriented databases. Consideration of their requests and recognition of the specificities of their activities. Work of reflection on their job and the way it is done. Enhancement of the organization’s information assets in order to make it more efficient. Deduce new information or knowledge through graphic modeling which becomes a support to the analysis of ‘Territorial’ data. Possibility to do more collaborative work. By adding data and information via the online tool, they enrich their collective knowledge heritage which can then be consulted and used by all. Valuing the members of the organization by showing consideration for their needs or expectations. 186 Capturing weak signals and setting up inductive logic from the visualization. Production of values, practices, benchmarks for community members. Development of an interface between various actors with a common need of knowledge. It’s obvious the system plays an interface role at various levels and results of its actions would depend on this level. 5.0 Discussion By designing the information system ‘in their uses’ and practices, and by questioning their profession, this seems to be an approach that limits the risk of rejection of a hybrid KOS and makes it closer to the operational reality. From an organizational point of view, the development of a specific information system shared by the ‘Territorials’ raises questions about their extremely individualistic culture (for instance address book is a tool for their work and at the service of their careers) to a more collaborative culture. Moreover, in this case, the creation of a shared vocabulary in the hybrid KOS is an opportunity to reinforce their common culture and to create a bridge between this community and the organization to spread knowledge. By building their KOS, ‘Territorials’ also make an important analytical work related to their knowledge and their needs of knowledge. To illustrate that, during one workshop arise the question of how to preserve knowledge when someone is leaving? As we know, when a member of the community leaves, the loss of its knowledge for the organization can be detrimental. The implementation of a mechanism to ensure continuity and allow the community to fulfill its mission is then to be considered in a ‘knowledge continuity’ (KC) strategy (Ermine 2010; Biron and Hanuka 2015). It is to alleviate this situation but also to harmonize practices of the members and strengthen the sense of belonging to this group (Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007) that an information system was developed on their initiative and with them to transform this community of practice into a fullyfledged virtual community of practice (Tessier, Bourdon, and Kimble 2014). Thanks to the comprehensive approach allowed by participating observation, we can estimate that this hybrid KOS is then an interface at various levels: - It is an interface between the members of the community of practice that enhance (first of all) the possibility of sharing knowledge. The development of a common controlled terminology or of a semantic network is then useful to reinforce the community of practice and harmonize practices. Moreover, it’s also an information system that allows them to have a clear-cut idea about their work, their needs of knowledge related to their uses. - It is an interface between the community and the organization (and therefore other employees). In this specific case, as the community develop its own KOS, they do formalize the way they organize knowledge and how they consider the environment in which they evolve. Furthermore, by using a technological system, it’s an opportunity to reinforce interoperability between their system and the rest of the organization’s information system through the use of API (application programming interface) for instance or the sharing of the used terminology. - It can at least, be considered as an interface between the community and future members (or new members) in order to facilitate the integration inside the 187 community by facilitating the access to a shared language and to share knowledge. Then, the KOS enhances knowledge continuity during the time that the community is existing. This situation underscores the importance of a dualistic evolution of the system and the user, in fact, the user must adapt within the framework of co-evolution where adjustments are made both by the user and to the technical system for optimal operation (Bourguin and Derycke 2005). By authorizing employees to develop their information system, the organization’s hierarchy delegates its ability to control and organize their knowledge. With the new system, the ‘Territorials’ found themselves facing a situation where they had to produce new explicit knowledge, and, furthermore, must consider the way they organize it in order to use it in an efficient way. The system developed was designed by the future users for collective use, in particular with regard to the knowledge related to their missions. 6.0 Conclusion This article focused over the study of the building of an information system that is a hybrid KOS (including shared vocabulary, knowledge base and semantic network) by its future users. ‘Territorials’ did an analytical work over knowledge, their knowledge needs and the way they can organize it in order to realize their missions. At that time, this KOS is then an interface between all the ‘Territorials’ that are going to use it and even with the future members of this community. By building themselves, the aim is to ensure that the KOS is related to their uses. In this configuration, the organization allowed them to create in fact an interface between this community of practice and the rest of the employees. Throughout this article, we highlight the interface dimension of KO regarding the effect that the development of an information system as a hybrid KOS has over a community of practice and by extension, to an organization. Then, we consider the interface dimension not only as the user interface (what the user is going to see when he is using the software), but also as a pathway of connecting various kinds of users in an organization. It is crucial to highlight this dimension as an essential point step in a KOS design. Moreover, through this example, we also had the opportunity to see how a community is able to design its own KOS and build their relations with the whole company in this way. 7.0 Limitations At this stage of experimentation, the project is operational on the scale of a single region, but its extension to all regions is envisaged by the national management, which supervise the activity of the ‘Territorials’ if the results on the IDF are convincing. 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The proceedings explore knowledge organization systems and their role in knowledge organization, knowledge sharing, and information searching.

The papers cover a wide range of topics related to knowledge transfer, representation, concepts and conceptualization, social tagging, domain analysis, music classification, fiction genres, museum organization. The papers discuss theoretical issues related to knowledge organization and the design, development and implementation of knowledge organizing systems as well as practical considerations and solutions in the application of knowledge organization theory. Covered is a range of knowledge organization systems from classification systems, thesauri, metadata schemas to ontologies and taxonomies.


Der Tagungsband untersucht Wissensorganisationssysteme und ihre Rolle bei der Wissensorganisation, dem Wissensaustausch und der Informationssuche. Die Beiträge decken ein breites Spektrum von Themen ab, die mit Wissenstransfer, Repräsentation, Konzeptualisierung, Social Tagging, Domänenanalyse, Musikklassifizierung, Fiktionsgenres und Museumsorganisation zu tun haben. In den Beiträgen werden theoretische Fragen der Wissensorganisation und des Designs, der Entwicklung und Implementierung von Systemen zur Wissensorganisation sowie praktische Überlegungen und Lösungen bei der Anwendung der Theorie der Wissensorganisation diskutiert. Es wird eine Reihe von Wissensorganisationssystemen behandelt, von Klassifikationssystemen, Thesauri, Metadatenschemata bis hin zu Ontologien und Taxonomien.