Why Link Knowledge Management, Organizational Culture and Ethics: Analysing Empirical Inquiry

Gonçalo Jorge Morais da Costa, Mary Prior and Simon Rogerson


Alvin Toffler argued years ago that the knowledge based society represents the acme of the human society development, when knowledge become the core resource of the economy, as the last and the ultimate source of power (Toffler, 1995). Moreover, knowledge society is a conception that has often appeared in the literature worldwide in recent years (Savage, 2000).

It is unquestionable that organisations need to manage knowledge resources in order to survive, but how can be described knowledge management? For Brelade and Harman (2003), is the acquisition and use of resources to create an environment in which information is accessible to individuals and in which individuals acquire, share and use that information to develop their own knowledge and are encouraged and enabled to apply their knowledge for the benefit of the organization.

From the above definition we may conclude that the knowledge continuum process (creation, retention and sharing) entails three different analytical levels:

  • an individual- where relies the personal mental states, which literature pleads as personal knowledge management (PKM) (Wright, 2005);
  • an organizational- which can be described differently in accordance to the different geographical and historical contexts (Cardoso, Gomes and Rebelo, 2003);
  • an societal- recognized throughout the arguments stated previously.

However, managers should realize that knowledge is bounded to people (human resources) and therefore, implicating a considerable amount of ethical and moral dilemmas through the “knowledge continuum process” (Costa, Prior and Rogerson, 2008a; 2008b; 2009). In order to solve this paradigm, knowledge management academics and practitioners are approaching the following dimensions: organizational culture, knowledge management technology and ethics.

Culture acknowledges multiple definitions however some key properties seem to be essential to explain this concept: heredity (Linton, 1936); social learning (Galef, 1992); behavioural patterns (Jablonka and Lamb, 2005); belief (Strauss and Quinn, 1997); information (Richerson and Boyd, 2005); biological environment (Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman, 2003). Despite these perceptions we adopted a synthesizer definition produced by Okunoye (2003, pp. 37): “set of basic assumptions formed from a collective programming of mind, resulting from social interaction of people in groups and society.”

Knowledge management systems are technologies that support knowledge generation, modification and transfer in organizations (Marwick, 2001), being widely recognized and expected to be an important component of organizational practices (Gartner Group, 2002).

From the academic point of view, ethics is one of the main sub-fields of Philosophy. As a field of academic inquiry, ethics seeks to distinguish between what is good and what is bad, and what is right and what is wrong in more or less abstract terms. A formal distinction is possible to achieve:

  • theoretical- acknowledges the major philosophical debates (including meta-ethics), as well as ethical theories;
  • applied ethics- since the mid 1990s an increasing number of academics and professionals in different fields: economics, public policy and corporate practice, have felt the need to introduce ethics into their respective fields. As a consequence, engagement with ethics is becoming less and less a sole occupation for philosophers.

Given the previous arguments, the generic intention of this paper is to discuss the dilemmas that arise when these knowledge management dimensions are linked. In addition, the empirical results obtained so far in the early stages of data collection (pre-tests and pilot studies), as well as the response of the existing ongoing frameworks will be introduced.

The empirical data collection process is a combination of interviews and questionnaires which present some risks. Furthermore, Yin (1994) claims that one or two pilot studies should be performed to fine-tune the interview protocol or questionnaires. However, pilot studies are not pre-test, because pre-test studies do not act as a part of the research protocol, but to improve the level of confidence (Yin, 1994). This is applied in consistency with the sensitive nature of managers’ and employees’ behaviours and values, as discussed by Waldström (2003).


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