Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer
A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects
Néstor A. Nova and Rafael A. Gonzalez
Department of Systems Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia
Keywords: Coordination, Knowledge Transfer, Knowledge Management, Information Processing, Case Study.
Abstract: When multiple organizations are involved in a heritage management project, the coordination of actions is
complex and can affect the knowledge transfer process. This paper contributes a systematic and empirical
study of the dynamics of coordination activities inside a knowledge transfer process in heritage management
activities. Using the information-processing view of coordination, we explore the following question: what
kinds of coordination issues affect effective coordination of knowledge transfer in inter-organizational
projects? The discussion is supported by a case study in the architectural heritage domain. We reveal that
there are many coordination issues that affect the mutual understanding between actors, limiting information
exchange and knowledge transfer. These issues uncover a gap between the conception and use of ICTs that
support coordination, and a lack of understanding about how ICT usage affects the knowledge transfer
process. Thus, a socio-material perspective about relationship between people and coordination technologies
could improve knowledge transfer performance.
A fundamental goal in knowledge management (KM)
is to share knowledge between actors (people,
departments, organizations). Accordingly, one of the
key factors behind successful management of inter-
organizational knowledge transfer projects is
effective coordination between different actors and
activities involved.
In this paper, knowledge refers to information
possessed in the mind of individuals: it is
personalized information related to facts, procedures,
concepts, interpretations, ideas, observations, and
judgments (Alavi and Leidner, 2001). However, this
individual perspective may take into account a social
perspective that conceives knowledge as a collective
construction grounded on mutual understanding
between individuals, based on the sharing and
transfer process, and supported by technology. In this
sense, knowledge is constituted and reconstituted
through practice, which makes it highly situated,
contextualized and volatile (Orlikowski, 2002). This
indicates that the way knowledge is applied in
practice is what should determine how to manage it.
According to Alavi and Leidner (2001) KM is defined
as a dynamic and continuous set of processes and
practices embedded in individuals, as well as in
groups and infrastructure.
Knowledge management is not strictly limited
within organizational boundaries, but its scope
includes knowledge transfer between organizations,
which adds more complexity to it (Reich, Gemino and
Sauer, 2014). Knowledge transfer has become a
useful organizational strategy within inter-
organizational projects for value creation or
sustainable competitive advantage; however, this
kind of strategy is extremely difficult to manage, and
its failure rate is high (Fang, Yang and Hsu, 2013).
Coordination issues may explain such difficulties and
This study explores the relationship between
coordination and knowledge transfer from an
information-processing (IP) view, which defines
coordination as the act of managing interdepen-
dencies between activities (Malone and Crowston,
1990). The connection between IP and coordination
is based on the understanding that as the amount of
uncertainty increases, organizations adopt
coordination mechanisms which allow them to handle
more information effectively (Galbraith, 1974). As
such, coordination mechanisms are usually
considered in terms of their information processing
properties. An organization can thus either reduce the
amount of information that is processed or increase
its capacity to handle more information. Thus, the
challenge for organizational design is to devise the fit
Nova, N. and Gonzalez, R.
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects.
DOI: 10.5220/0006053200600069
In Proceedings of the 8th International Joint Conference on Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (IC3K 2016) - Volume 3: KMIS, pages 60-69
ISBN: 978-989-758-203-5
2016 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
between the information processing needs and
capabilities in order to obtain optimal performance.
To do so, the key is to identify the dependencies and
coordination mechanisms that can unlock such
redesign (Malone and Crowston, 1994; Malone et al.,
Knowledge transfer in an organization is strongly
influenced by how dependencies are managed. Thus,
coordination practices support interactions and
relationships between actors enabling their common
understanding. Relations enhance information
processing capacity, which enables knowledge
transfer through these relationships (Van Wijk,
Jansen and Lyles, 2008). In this sense, relations can
allow access to information, but knowledge cannot be
transferred if the receiver is unable to process the
information it receives, due to bounded rationality.
Bounded rationality means that individual or group
rationality depict the limited access to information
and the limited computational capacities of the unit.
In brief, above it has been argued that the I-P view of
coordination, is based on organizational design and
bounded rationality. It has also been claimed that this
view is favorable for studies of coordination in
knowledge transfer.
In this paper, a qualitative in-depth case study
(Yin, 2009) was carried out, aimed at identifying and
exploring such coordination issues in practice. The
case study corresponds to Iberoamerican Historical
Heritage Network – RedPHI, which is constituted by
seven universities specialized in material
architectural heritage management. The study
explores a multinational project focused on
specialized knowledge transfer and exchange among
universities to enrich expert’s knowledge and support
decision-making in public and private institutions
which are interested in getting involved in activities
including rehabilitation, conservation or protection of
historical heritage. RedPHI is an academic,
international and collaborative network based on
projects that imply multidisciplinary work of diverse
experts, who can be distributed across different
geographical locations and time zones and whose
work is mediated by ICT.
Data on RedPHI projects was collected and
analyzed in order to identify the set of
interdependencies between activities connected to
architectural heritage knowledge transfer. A deeper
exploration through interviews with key RedPHI
members enabled identifying and mapping the
available coordination mechanisms to manage each
The purpose of the case study was not only to
identify the match between interdependencies and
coordination mechanisms, but also to determine the
usage level and the selection criteria for the
coordination mechanisms to manage each
interdependency with the intent to interpret those
findings. Specifically, this paper identifies empirical
coordination issues within inter-organizational
knowledge transfer projects. Based on previous
studies, this paper was guided by the following
research question: what kinds of coordination issues
affect effective coordination of the knowledge
transfer in inter-organizational projects?
Coordination issues are not associated to the
mechanism per se, but to the coordination logic
applied to select it within the available portfolio,
according to characteristic of each interdependency
as well as situated and contextualized factors. This
paper reveals new insights about how coordination
actions can be understood in alternative ways to
match mechanisms with interdependencies, focusing
on how people conceive and use ICT tools for
coordination practices, and how these practices can
alter the knowledge transfer process in inter-
organizational projects.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows.
Section two describes related research, section three
presents the research method, and section four
outlines the findings. Section five contains discussion
and finally section six present conclusions,
limitations and future research.
Inter-organizational knowledge transfer means the
process through which organizational actors – teams,
units, or organizations – exchange, apply and are
influenced by the experience and knowledge of others
(Argote and Ingram, 2000). The extent of such
influence depends on mutual understanding between
actors, which is promoted by personal contact,
intensive socialization and strategies for overcoming
psychological barriers related to willingness to share
knowledge. This means that the knowledge transfer
process is associated with the ability to address some
questions, such as ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘who’, and ‘how’
the knowledge would be transferred and how the
transfer process must be coordinated so that the
organization creates value.
When multiple organizations are involved in a
KM transfer project, complexity increases and the
difficulty in coordinating activities grows. Relatively
little research has examined specifically the
challenges of coordination in an inter-organizational
context, specifically when this coordination may
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects
involve multiple heterogeneous actors from distinct
disciplines, organizations, work methodologies,
geographic locations and across time zones
(Cummings et al., 2013).
In the information-processing (IP) view,
coordination is the act of managing inter-
dependencies between activities performed to
achieve a goal (Malone and Crowston, 1990). All
coordination processes include actors performing
interdependent activities. Interdependencies refer to
goal-relevant relationships between activities; if there
is no dependence, there is nothing to coordinate.
Interdependencies generate incremental IP needs, but
when interdependency is higher, a coordination
mechanism can facilitate or affect the IP capability of
the organization.
Coordination provides various benefits to KM,
for example, integrating the embedded knowledge
between individuals (Grant, 1996), facilitating the
knowledge transfer (Malone and Crowston, 1994),
reducing uncertainty and complexity in knowledge
activities, generating cohesiveness and synergies for
the efficient execution of tasks, increasing interactive
behaviors, improving the exchange of information,
reducing complexity in routine communication tasks,
and optimizing decision-making, among others.
From the IP view, interdependencies are
classified as resource flow, fit and sharing (Malone et
al., 1999). Flow dependencies occur when an activity
produces a resource that is used by other activity, fit
dependencies arise when multiple activities produce
a single resource and sharing dependencies occur
when multiple activities use the same resource. From
this point of view, the type of interdependence within
a task determines the mode of coordination deployed
(Grant, 1996).
In the IP view, coordination mechanisms can be
classified as: standards, mediation and mutual
adjustment (Galbraith, 1974; Thompson, 1967;
March and Simon, 1958). Standard-based
mechanisms are considered an a priori specification
of codified guidelines, action programs and specific
goals (March and Simon, 1958; Thompson, 1967)
where the verbal communication and the interaction
among actors are not necessary (Galbraith, 1974).
Mediation-based mechanisms involve a third actor
typically located at a higher level that act as mediator
between two organizational units (González, 2010).
Mutual adjustment mechanisms are based on the
expected reciprocal communica-tion between actors
(Thompson, 1967). Unlike standards-based
mechanisms, communication and interaction is
achieved through personal channels between peers,
superior officer, or groups in both scheduled and
unscheduled meetings (Van de Ven, Delbecq and
Koenig Jr, 1976). The choice of mechanisms from
each category needs to match information processing
needs, and therefore coordination requirements
depend on factors such as complexity, uncertainty
and ambiguity.
Existing research on coordination has covered the
use and impact of individual coordination
mechanisms (Dietrich, 2007). The utilization of
distinct coordination mechanisms is explained
through task complexity, task uncertainty (Galbraith,
1974) and ambiguity (Simonin, 1999). Complexity
means the number of interrelated elements or sub-
systems within the systems and the interdependency
between them (Thompson, 1967). As such, some
coordination mechanism have been used to deal with
complexity, i.e. informal and formal coordination,
direct communitarian interaction and IT tools as
personalized databases, search tools, specialized
software systems, social networking, among others.
Uncertainty is the difference between the amount
of information required to perform the task and the
amount of information already possessed by the
organization (Galbraith, 1974). In order to deal with
task uncertainly some coordination mechanisms have
been applied, i.e. labor division as role assignment,
division of labor, ground rules and routines and
communication as phone, email, conferencing and
liaison person, coordinator, schedule, group meeting
and steering group, among others. Ambiguity refers
to lack of understanding between actors during
knowledge transfer (Simonin, 1999) which has been
managed through labor division and task assignment
as coordination mechanisms.
Existing research on coordination has revealed a
large number of coordination mechanisms through
which coordination actions take place in international
R&D projects (Reger, 1999) and outsourced software
development projects (Sabherwal, 2003). In these two
examples, sixty coordination mechanisms were
identified from literature reviews. In addition, most of
the current studies on coordination in KM fail to
provide a realistic picture on actual coordination
behavior, because their aim is focused on identifying
interdependencies and coordination mechanisms in
theory and then to validate these through empirical
work. Therefore, the aim of our study is to respond to
this lack of empirical and inductive knowledge about
coordination in practice and to provide new
information about knowledge transfer inter-
dependencies in the context of inter-organizational
knowledge transfer projects.
KMIS 2016 - 8th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Information Sharing
A case study was selected as the research method in
this study. The focus of the case study was
exploratory but with future intervention prospect that
goes beyond empirical validation of existing theory
(Yin, 2009) and development of new theory from
empirical data (Eisenhardt, 1989). The case study is
aimed at identifying empirical coordination problems
in KM projects that are subsequently transformed into
design requirements, which, together with coordina-
tion theory and complementary theories, become
inputs for the future artifact design that could solve
those coordination problems identified in practice.
In this case study, the research question is
exploratory in nature and requires the researcher to
acquire in-depth contextual understanding, in order to
provide an answer for the question. In addition, this
study focuses on a contemporary phenomenon, and
the researcher has had no control over the behavioral
events of the study. According to Yin (2009), this
conditions argue for the use of case study research.
Several reasons explain this choice (Eisenhardt, 1989;
Yin, 2009).
First, because this study is aimed at supporting the
findings on interdependencies and coordination
mechanisms on actual patterns of behavior. Second,
the phenomenon was not understood sufficiently
enough to employ a survey study. The case study
strategy enabled the incremental understanding on the
coordination phenomenon during the study. In additi-
on, the case study method was seen as an appropriate
strategy to study complex phenomenon in which there
are more variables of interest than data points.
Additionally, case study strategy has been
specifically set to identify coordination mechanisms
portfolios in KM (Dietrich, 2007). Thus, the case
study was considered as the appropriate strategy for
the purposes of this study as well. The focus of
examination in this study, coordination in inter-
organizational knowledge transfer projects, fulfills
the above mentioned criteria and characteristics of
case study research.
The case study corresponds to the Iberoamerican
Historical Heritage Network – RedPHI, which was
constituted in 2011 by seven universities working in
material architectural heritage management. The
network involves highly tacit knowledge of experts
from diverse disciplines with diverse understanding
and experience levels converging in developing
highly complex tasks. RedPHI projects are supported
by a knowledge management system which has been
developed through collaborative work of software
engineers and heritage experts from each university.
In this case study, the unit of analysis corresponds
to heritage management projects including
consultancy, research and professional services. Data
collection was done from 2014 to 2015 in two
different moments with different outcomes. The first
moment was aimed at exploring KM particularities in
RedPHI, and it included a case study protocol to
ensure outcome reliability. KM capabilities theory
(Gold, Malhotra and Segars, 2001; Choi and Lee,
2003) was used to guide case exploration and to
ensure external validity, as well as including multiple
and triangulated sources of evidence (Eisenhardt,
1989) including informal meetings, semi-structured
interviews and documents to get construct validity.
Data collected is related to creation and operation
of RedPHI projects developed inside the case study
and individual experiences of heritage experts. All
data collected was saved in a data base to ensure
traceability of findings. Data analysis was carried out
through structural codification process (Miles and
Huberman, 1994), this process was tested in quality
and functionality until reaching 90% of recode
consistencies. Codes were structured and defined
according KM capabilities theory (Gold, Malhotra
and Segars, 2001; Choi and Lee, 2003) and they were
adjusted as the coding process progressed. Coding
process were stopped when categories reached
saturation. Case study analysis included pattern-
matching logic (Yin, 2009).
As a result of the first moment, a set of
interdependencies regarding to material archite-ctural
heritage management were identified in the RedPHI
project. This showed opportunities to explore in-
depth coordination activities behavior, specifically
about the role of coordination in RedPHI projects,
thus a second moment started. A new literature
review was needed to gain understanding about
coordination theory and its application within inter-
organizational KM projects. With this theoretical
focus, a set of four interviews (90 minutes each one,
with semi-structured questions) was used to identify
the coordination mechanisms portfolio to manage
each interdependency identified in the first moment.
Later, a matrix of relationships between interdepen-
dencies and mechanisms was built.
As a result of second moment, selection criteria
for coordination mechanisms in RedPHI were
identified. This allowed going beyond the simple
relationship between mechanisms and inter-
dependencies, as it was possible to explore in-depth
the arguments underlying the decisions of
coordination in the case study, which in turn,
uncovered several coordination problems.
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects
In this section, the outcomes of the first moment in
the case study are presented. Relationships between
interdependencies and coordination mechanisms
were identified, a matrix of those matching is
depicted in Table 1. Two flow interdependencies
were identified in the case study, one corresponds to
the level of formalization of work (f1), which refers
to the set of rules and procedures that have been
established or followed to manage information and
validate the results of previous activities; accordingly,
as formalization increases, the project is better
equipped to deal with previously identified
interdependencies, but at the same time it adds
complexity in deal with the information processing
needs of the rules and procedures themselves. The
other interdependency is related to the task
assessment (f2) and it refers to activities and project
outcomes that should be evaluated periodically to
determine information quality and quantity before
processing it, which is aimed at avoiding uncertainty
and ambiguity during subsequent activities.
In addition, eight fit dependencies were identified
in the study case. On the one hand, there are
ontological and epistemological differences (a1)
among actors, with respect to some specific concepts
that can change completely during the project course,
mainly because experts have different conceptual
perspectives based on different references and
experience levels, but in some cases those differences
also emerge when disciplinary areas and schools of
thought are different. It is problematic because task
ambiguity increases as more conceptual perspectives
are involved in a project.
There are also many working methods (a2)
depending on the different disciplines, experiences
and IP skills of the experts and institutions in which
they work, which is embodied in different
interpretation approaches but also increases activity
complexity. Additionally, tasks in RedPHI projects
are highly complex because they often include
multiple organizations, departments, groups and
individuals (a3) each of these with different
specialties and different approaches, but with the
challenge of integrating their knowledge into a single
final product.
Complexity increases even more when heritage
management projects involve not only the work of
architects and experts in the patrimonial scope, but
also from other disciplines (a4), such as civil
engineers, electrical engineers, anthropologists,
social workers, or lawyers, introducing ambiguity
that can affect the knowledge integration in the final
product. In addition, some projects involve experts or
technical teams which are distributed across
geographic locations and across time zones (a5) and
include asynchronous activities and communication
complexity. Some projects are more complex because
they require the participation of different types of
organizations (a6) which are not academic
institutions, for example institutes of cultural
heritage, culture ministries, local government, private
owners, among others, which handle specialized
information and have various functions and interests.
Furthermore, another fit interdependency is
centralization in decision-making (a7) that refers to
the extent to which the right to make decisions and
evaluate activities is concentrated in the project
leader; however, some projects include decentrali-
zation of decision-making as a consequence of the
distribution of authority among team members
depending their experience. Often, lack of
participation in the decision-making process can
affect common understanding among experts, this
ambiguity may cause a reduction in the knowledge
transfer and production of creative solutions. Finally,
relationships based on hierarchy, leadership, culture
and trust (a8) determine the agility of information
exchange, and the expert’s willingness to share their
knowledge during the different project phases, but
also it is able to increase project complexity due to
those factors depending on human psychology.
Finally, four sharing resources interdependen-
cies were found in the case study. Some projects can
include information or activities developed by non-
Spanish speaking actors, thus avoiding task
ambiguity, translation support and skills for foreign
languages (s1) are required.
Also when the project information comes from
different information systems, and these in turn are
operated by different institutions which increase task
complexity so that information systems need to be
interoperable (s2) to enable information exchange
and data sharing. In this sense, often information
systems are highly situated in its organizational
context (s3) and usually analysis of the same
information is made by different stakeholders, which
leads to different interpretations which in turn
produces task ambiguity when all interpretations have
to be integrated in a final product. In other cases,
adaptability of the information systems (s4) is
complex, therefore generic functional specifications
must be used by the experts for adapting generic
information to carry out specialized tasks. A large
portfolio of coordination mechanisms is used to
manage all the interdependencies identified in the
case study. To manage flow interdependencies,
KMIS 2016 - 8th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Information Sharing
Table 1: Interdependencies and coordination mechanisms in the case study.
f1 f2 a1 a2 a3 a4 a5 a6 a7 a8 s1 s2 s3 s4
3 3 2
Work documents 2 2 2 1
Work programs / Plan 3 2
Coordination committees 1 2,P P 1 2 1
Technical Informs / Report 1 2
Programmed / Projects
1 2 3 3 F 1
Hierarchies 3,P 2
Authority 1 3 1 1 1,P 1 2 2 1
Experts community 3 2 2 2
Labor division by discipline 1 1 2 1
Project web site 2 F F
Web page 1
Blog 2
Web services (translator) 2,F
Web services (GIS) 2
Software (office suite) 2 2
Web search system 3,F 2
Knowledge portal F
Cloud computing 2,P 1 3
Experts mobility 3
Common values / norms 3
Job rotation 3 3
Education / personnel
3 F F 1
Discussion / debate P 2 1 2
Seminars / workshop F F
Face-to-face meetings 1 1 1 2 2 1
Wikis P
Instant messaging 1 1
e-mail 2 3 1 2 1 1
Phone call 1
Video Conference 3 1,F 1
standards-based mechanisms such as policies,
working documents, work plans and work programs
are used. Also, some mediation-based mechanisms
such as technical reports and informs, work
subgroups divided by aspect, expert communities,
authority levels, project websites and coordination
committees are applied. In addition, mutual
adjustment mechanisms include job rotation,
education and personal development, face-to-face
meetings and email.
With regards to fit interdependencies, findings
include standards-based mechanisms, such as
manuals, working documents or policies. Also
involves mediation-based mechanisms involve
hierarchies, authority levels, program and project
evaluation, search systems, blogs, communities of
experts or cloud computing. In addition, mutual
adjustment mechanisms identified include norms and
values, face meetings, discussion and debate, wikis,
email, instant messaging, video conferencing and
mobile telephony.
Sharing interdependencies involve only one
standard-based mechanism, namely working
documents, while mediation-based mechanisms used
are expert communities, online translation services,
geographic information system, office suites, systems
consulting and cloud computing, among others.
Finally, mutual adjustment mechanisms used to
manage interdependencies are email, education and
personal development, and discussion and debate.
The purpose of the case study was not only to
identify coordination mechanisms used to manage
each interdependency, but also determine the extent
to which a mechanism is chosen within the portfolio
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects
and with what selection criteria. The match between
coordination mechanisms and interdependencies is
depicted in Table 1, including a ranking of use of the
mechanism in the interdependence in which it is
applied. This rank is represented on a scale from 1
(frequently used) to 3 (rarely used). Additionally, the
letter "P" indicates that the mechanism was used in
the past, and the letter "F" indicates that the
mechanism may be used in the future, as intended by
the interviewees. These two labels are useful to
analyze the possible evolution of coordination
mechanisms, but this is out of the scope of this
research paper.
Choosing coordination mechanisms for
interdependency management depends largely on
project specifications, number of actors, type of
contract (agreement, formal contract), type of
contracting institution (public, private, university),
type of project (consulting, research), among other
factors. Also, matching mechanisms to interdepen-
dencies rests on variables associated to information
and knowledge characteristics, i.e. information
quantity, nature of the information (public, private),
characteristics of information (size, order), or
information type (documents, drawings, multimedia).
Finally, the use of ICT tools for coordination
depends on factors such as the complexity of the
technological tools, actor’s knowledge about the tool,
actor’s skills for using tools, project resources to
acquire specialized knowledge about a particular tool,
as well as the language between actors and the trust
they have in the use of technological tools.
Different coordination issues were identified in the
case study regarding the role of coordination in
knowledge transfer. Coordination complexity
increases as project tasks are managed through labor
division and knowledge specialization. In some cases,
task complexity is high when conceptual differences
between architects arise, but it is even higher when
the project requires other disciplines, such as civil and
electric engineering, social work, anthropology, or
law. In some cases, a project manager chooses
coordination mechanisms to integrate specialized
knowledge focusing on information quality and
quantity to satisfy project requirements. Moreover,
selection of coordination mechanisms is an entirely
non-rational process guided by team member’s
experience. Often, prior use of coordination
mechanisms is the main argument for selection, and
thus situational factors in a new project are omitted
and do not change the coordination mechanism
entirely decisions.
Some coordination mechanism are preferred for
most of the interdependencies i.e. face-to-face
meetings, which is not a problem per se because
mechanisms can be ubiquitous, but not all
mechanisms are cognitively feasible or applicable in
all problems. For instance, face-to-face meetings are
obviously problematic when staff is not on location
or when many people are involved in the meeting,
then actors turn to face meetings with small groups,
but this hinders knowledge transfer between all
In this sense, when ontological differences
emerge during the project, face-to-face meetings are
the first coordination mechanism used, if consensus
is not achieved, labor division is applied, but if the
conceptual differences persist the project manager
determines unilaterally the ontological principles.
Even though thesaurus and glossaries could enable a
common understanding, they are rarely used because
interpretation, exploration and added value are
limited according to interviewees. From this point of
view, testing the power of different coordination
mechanisms in a project is difficult and could risk
task performance.
Often actors will use the same coordination
mechanisms regardless of task changes during the
course of a project. The set is only modified due to
client requirements, such as permissions, file formats
and formal contracts. Dynamic selection of
mechanisms was not found inside or between projects
so that task complexity is managed with a static set of
mechanisms. This behavior increases task
uncertainty, because information-processing (IP)
needs are not supported. In addition, combination and
permutation of coordination mechanisms available is
not considered a way to reduce task complexity,
uncertainty or ambiguity; this shows a rigid decision-
making structure in project coordination.
Furthermore, the cost of coordination
mechanisms is one of the most important factors to
decide how to coordinate knowledge transfer in the
heritage domain, but to select the least costly
mechanism could affect the IP capabilities of the
project team. For example, most of the RedPHI
interdependencies could be managed more efficiently
through ICT mechanisms, but heritage experts are
adverse to technology-based coordination because it
is considered unsteady and their use is assumed to
require special skills that not all stakeholders have,
which implies more cost beforehand in terms of the
time and money required for learning and the
interference it has with day-to-day practices.
KMIS 2016 - 8th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Information Sharing
Moreover, understandings and using (or enacting)
a particular tool is often ineffective and contextual.
For instance, for RedPHI a wiki was developed as a
collaborative working environment but only the
designer knew how it worked and the mechanism was
transformed into a document repository alone. In
addition, if a coordination mechanism is not correctly
configured and maintained it can affect the
effectiveness of knowledge transfer, i.e. a technical
committee is preferred for solving technical concerns
or conceptual divergences; however, in some cases
not all stakeholders participate on the discussion
increasing further ambiguity.
Familiarity, availability, confidence, experience,
natural and routine use, upgrade facilities are criteria
for selecting a set of ICT that supports coordination
activities. However, the portfolio of ICT is so
extensive that each actor uses different technologies,
in different ways, at different times and with different
people. This observation shows that selecting tools is
highly situated and contextualized and can alter the
mutual understanding between actors, limiting the
information exchange and the creation and transfer of
knowledge. Limitations occur due to people with
established norms of use, types of computer-mediated
interactions that work for them, and familiar patterns
of communication.
To deal with the divergence in ICT usage, actors
look for a common denominator of tools, or force
actors to learn a new technology or new actors must
adjust to the structural properties of ICTs that preexist
in the project. Nevertheless, the common denomina-
tor can be reduced in excess and eventually become
insufficient to transfer the amount of knowledge and
information that the project requires. In addition,
actors minimize information exchange to avoid
learning new tools, due to resource availability.
The problems exposed in the last paragraphs,
uncover a gap between the conception and use of
ICTs that support coordination, and a lack of
understanding about how this gap affects the
knowledge transfer process. This issue exceeds the
scope of the mainstream IP view of coordination,
because coordination problems in knowledge transfer
are not a matter of information quantity or IP
capacity, but a relationship between people and
coordination technologies. This point at overcoming
techno-centric view of coordination, which has been
widely studied, and suggests a socio-material perspe-
ctive as alternative to improve knowledge transfer.
The socio-material perspective of KM recognizes
that knowledge is not attributable to a single
component, such as a specific technology or infrastru-
cture, but the constitutive entanglement of the social
and the material in everyday life (Orlikowski, 2007;
Orlikowski and Scott, 2008). According to
Orlikowski (2007) entanglement indicates that the
relationship between people and technology is not
reciprocal but inextricable related — there is no social
that is not also material, and no material that is not
also social.
In this sense, humans are constituted through
relations of materiality (bodies, objects, technology),
which in turn are produced through human practices
(Orlikowski, 2007). Such relationships can represent
a high-level understanding of knowledge transfer,
where the ontological separation between source-
receiver and technology is surpassed by a relational
ontology that dissolves analytical boundaries
between technologies and humans because it
considers them as inherently inseparable. According
to Orlikowski (2007), socio-material practices act as
mediators of work, but also set up organizational
realities that require further exploration.
Coordination in heritage domain knowledge transfer
is a complex task and, at the same time, is under-
researched. As coordination practices improve, it is to
be expected that this may result in more effective are
expected to increase architectonic heritage conserva-
tion. This study aimed at identifying empirical
coordination issues within inter-organizational
knowledge transfer projects in the architectonic
heritage domain. The research question was
addressed through an exploratory case study with an
interpretative approach. Interdependencies and
coordination mechanisms were identified with an
inductive perspective following the information-
processing (IP) view and some coordination issues
were revealed. Those issues are not associated to the
mechanisms per se, but with the situated and
contextualized selection of coordination technologies
within a large portfolio. Accordingly, the relationship
between people and technology determines the
coordination characteristics for knowledge transfer.
Our findings are based on one case study and,
therefore, by definition, only meet to a limited extent
the criterion of generalizability. Further research
needs to be conducted in other domains. In particular,
our findings reveal a need to rethink the implications
of coordination in inter-organizational knowledge
transfer projects. Specifically, the case study
exploration was made following the IP view of
coordination; however, findings suggest that
coordination issues could be addressed through a
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects
socio-material perspective. Our initial definition,
drawn from the literature, presented KM as “a
dynamic and continuous set of processes and
practices embedded in individuals, as well as in
groups and infrastructure” (Alavi and Leidner, 2001).
However, as our study has shown, attention to the
detail of coordination practices suggests that this
definition may conceal a multitude of socio-material
views that can extend understanding about how
coordination can support knowledge transfer,
enhancing heritage management projects. Further
research exploring such socio-material views may
better address the interplay between coordination and
knowledge transfer process.
We would like to thank RedPHI members at
Javeriana University in Bogotá - Colombia for
collaborating in this project.
Alavi, M. and Leidner, D. E. (2001) ‘Knowledge
Management and Knowledge Management Systems:
Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues’, MIS
Quarterly, 25(1), pp. 107–136.
Argote, L. and Ingram, P. (2000) ‘Knowledge Transfer: A
Basis for Competitive Advantage in Firms’,
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision
Processes, 82(1), pp. 150–169.
Choi, B. and Lee, H. (2003) ‘Knowledge Management
Enablers, Processes, and Organizational Performance:
An Integrative View and Empirical Examination’,
Journal of Management Information Systems, 20(1),
pp. 179–228.
Cummings, J. N., Kiesler, S., Bosagh Zadeh, R. and
Balakrishnan, A. D. (2013) ‘Group Heterogeneity
Increases the Risks of Large Group Size: A
Longitudinal Study of Productivity in Research
Groups’, Psychological Science, 24(6), pp. 880–890.
Dietrich, P. (2007) Coordination strategies in
organizational development programs. PhD thesis.
Helsinki University of Technology. Available at:
(Accessed: 14 August 2015).
Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989) ‘Building Theories from Case
Study Research’, Academy of Management Review,
14(4), pp. 532–550.
Fang, S.-C., Yang, C.-W. and Hsu, W.-Y. (2013) ‘Inter-
organizational knowledge transfer: the perspective of
knowledge governance’, Journal of Knowledge
Management, 17(6), pp. 943–957.
Galbraith, J. R. (1974) ‘Organization design: An infor-
mation processing view’, Interfaces, 4(3), pp. 28–36.
Gold, A. H., Malhotra, A. and Segars, A. H. (2001)
‘Knowledge Management: An Organizational
Capabilities Perspective’, Journal of Management
Information Systems, 18(1), pp. 185–214.
González, R. A. (2010) A framework for ICT-supported
coordination in crisis response. PhD thesis. TU Delft,
Delft University of Technology. Available at:
9eac-43b7-95cf-2646aef4c132/ (Accessed: 8
December 2015).
Grant, R. M. (1996) ‘Toward a knowledge-based theory of
the firm’, Strategic Management Journal, 17(S2), pp.
Malone, T. W. and Crowston, K. (1990) ‘What is
Coordination Theory and How Can It Help Design
Cooperative Work Systems?’, Proceedings of the 1990
ACM Conference on Computer-supported Cooperative
Work. Los Angeles, California, United States, 7-10
October. New York: ACM Press, pp. 357–370.
Malone, T. W. and Crowston, K. (1994) ‘The
interdisciplinary study of coordination’, ACM
Computing Surveys (CSUR), 26(1), pp. 87–119.
Malone, T. W., Crowston, K., Lee, J., Pentland, B.,
Dellarocas, C., Wyner, G., Quimby, J., Osborn, C. S.,
Bernstein, A., Herman, G. and others (1999) ‘Tools for
inventing organizations: Toward a handbook of
organizational processes’, Management Science, 45(3),
pp. 425–443.
March, J. G. and Simon, H. A. (1958). Organizations
. New
York: Wiley.
Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative Data
Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. 2nd edition.
London: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2002) ‘Knowing in Practice: Enacting a
Collective Capability in Distributed Organizing’,
Organization Science, 13(3), pp. 249–273.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2007) ‘Sociomaterial Practices:
Exploring Technology at Work’, Organization Studies,
28(9), pp. 1435–1448.
Orlikowski, W. J. and Scott, S. V. (2008).
‘Sociomateriality: Challenging the Separation of
Technology, Work and Organization’, Annals of the
Academy of Management, 2(1), pp. 433–474.
Reger, G. (1999) ‘How R&D is coordinated in Japanese and
European multinationals’, R&D Management, 29(1),
pp. 71–88.
Reich, B. H., Gemino, A. and Sauer, C. (2014) ‘How
knowledge management impacts performance in
projects: An empirical study’, International Journal of
Project Management, 32(4), pp. 590–602.
Sabherwal, R. (2003) ‘The evolution of coordination in
outsourced software development projects: a
comparison of client and vendor perspectives’,
Information and Organization, 13(3), pp. 153–202.
Simonin, B. L. (1999) ‘Ambiguity and the process of
knowledge transfer in strategic alliances’, Strategic
Management Journal, 20(7), pp. 595–623.
Thompson, J. D. (1967) Organizations in Action: Social
Science Bases of Administrative Theory. New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
KMIS 2016 - 8th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Information Sharing
Van de Ven, A. H., Delbecq, A. L. and Koenig Jr, R. (1976)
‘Determinants of coordination modes within
organizations’, American sociological review, pp. 322–
Van Wijk, R., Jansen, J. J. and Lyles, M. A. (2008) ‘Inter-
and intra-organizational knowledge transfer: a meta-
analytic review and assessment of its antecedents and
consequences’, Journal of Management Studies, 45(4),
pp. 830–853.
Yin, R. K. (2009) Case Study Research: Design and
Methods. London: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Coordination Problems in Knowledge Transfer: A Case Study of Inter-Organizational Projects