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Know and Tell: Understanding Knowledge Transfer in the Fire and Rescue Service

Brooks, James (2017) Know and Tell: Understanding Knowledge Transfer in the Fire and Rescue Service. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis seeks to make a contribution to both the theoretical and empirical understanding of knowledge transfer in organisations. In particular, it explores and articulates how tacit knowledge is transferred within (and through) communities of practice. It does so via a single longitudinal case study of Northern Fire, the fourth largest Fire and Rescue Service in the UK. There is a paucity of studies on the UK Fire and Rescue Service and the extant literature is sparse. This study offers a unique insight and perspective into how fire fighters construct knowledge and make sense of their everyday reality within communities of practice. Adopting a qualitative ethnographic approach, this research sets out a detailed exposition of the transfer of knowledge throughout Northern Fire. Focus groups of some 58 fire fighters together with 14 semi-structured interviews of senior management, support staff, HR and IT functions were undertaken. In addition, drawing upon Orr’s (1996) ethnographic account of photo-copier repair personnel, participant observation was used to explore the daily working lives of fire fighters. Participant observation examined how Red Watch, a fictional name given to a group of fire fighters, transferred tacit knowledge and skills as a community of practice. The thesis also explores organisational memory loss. It extends our empirical understanding of how knowledge is both forgotten and retained on a both a voluntary and involuntary basis. The very nature of tacit knowledge can make both transfer and articulation problematic. A significant proportion of the extant knowledge management literature places tacit knowledge into rigid taxonomies or focuses upon means of conversion of one form of knowledge to the other. Similarly, a large corpus of the normative literature on communities of practice depicts these as safe, benign environments where knowledge transfer is often axiomatic. This research offers a more critical perspective of of how communities of practice share knowledge, negotiate power and facilitate participation. A number of discrete theoretical contributions are made in relation to how legitimate peripheral participation, power and trust can impact both positively and negatively on knowledge transfer. This thesis argues that in order to truly understand tacit knowledge there needs to be a greater focus on Polanyi’s (1958) original exposition of tacit knowing and the nexus between knowing and doing. This thesis contends that a dialogic and pluralistic approach is required to understand how tacit knowledge is transferred within communities of practice. Here fire fighters are theorised as thinking professionals who drew upon all forms of knowledge in their everyday praxis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Knowledge transfer, communities of practice, organisational memory and power relations.
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Leeds University Business School > Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr James Brooks James Brooks
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2017 13:08
Last Modified: 15 May 2018 09:10
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18486

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