Organizational literature explaining tacit knowledge is generally conceptual, despite the need to understand empirically the nature of tacit knowledge at the process level, where knowledge workers function. This thesis therefore empirically examines the tacit dimensions of knowledge among knowledge workers in an explicit environment of codified, standardized operating procedures and intranet knowledge databases.
This evidence reflects a multimethod approach. The empirical findings are based on a case study of a forensic science community of practice, subject to quantitative social network analysis and qualitative interviewing, ethnographic studies, and document reviews. The quantitative step offers a picture of how actors share tacit knowledge during advice-seeking transactions; the interpretive qualitative approach reveals the relational dimensions of shared tacit knowledge. Therefore, at a micro-level, this study of a highly technical, forensic science expert community emphasizes the relational tacit dimensions of knowledge provided by human social capital that surrounds and encircles standardized organizational production processes. Trust, respect, friendship, identity, and social norms mark the personal relationships people have developed through a history of interactions.
In turn, this doctoral case study reveals additional knowledge sharing practices, including processual, experiential, capability, mentoring, informal, helping, openness/sharing, approachability, respect, proximal, cohort/clique, interpretative, and bureaucratic structural relationships; unique to forensic scientists, it also identifies an adversarial relationship. Most prior literature describes performative advantages of such communities, with little discussion of the rich tacitness embodied in functional processes of such communities. Processes are explicit by nature, but a tacit element emerges because baseline of acceptable performance is supplemented by interactions with colleagues and thought processes. In quality management system literature, the tacit world has not yet diffused into the very explicit world of qualitative management research. By considering the process level, these findings reflect the interplay of explicit knowledge in standard operating procedures and practitioners’ tacit knowledge demands to complete the process. Ultimately these findings can help improve processes in knowledge-intensive environments by offering insights into how tacit knowledge works, especially in a world governed by standard operating procedures.