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Knowledge Communication among Experts and Decision Makers in the Realm of Management. Martin J. Eppler, Jeanne Mengis University of Lugano (USI) March 2006. Overview. Research Motivation, Questions, and Domains

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knowledge communication among experts and decision makers in the realm of management

Knowledge Communicationamong Experts and Decision Makers in the Realm of Management

Martin J. Eppler, Jeanne Mengis

University of Lugano (USI)

March 2006

  • Research Motivation, Questions, and Domains
  • Describing the Knowledge Communication (Kcom) Area
  • Analyzing Kcom Problems
  • Developing Kcom Solutions
  • Conclusion


research motivation
Research Motivation

As organizational decision making is becoming increasingly complex and dynamic, the delegation of decision-relevant analyses from decision makers to experts gains relevance and becomes a critical prerequisite for the quality of decision making in management.

Knowledge Communication


Decision Makers

research questions
Research Questions
  • Description: How do experts convey their insights to managers and vice versa in organizational decision making? What problems affect this communication process?
  • Analysis: How can these problems be detected and explained?
  • Solutions: How can the problems be avoided or resolved?


research domains examples of kcom contexts
Research Domains: Examples of Kcom Contexts














and Managers

Public Policy


research methods
Research Methods
  • Description: 10 Case Studies and 10 Focus Groups; Personal Interviews; Literature Review
  • Analysis: Experiments & Case Studies, Literature Review, Concept Development
  • Solutions: Software Development and Action Research
topic definition and description knowledge communication
Topic Definition and Description: Knowledge Communication
  • We define knowledge communication as the (deliberate) activity of interactively conveying and co-constructing insights, assessments, experiences, or skills through verbal and non-verbal means.
  • Successful knowledge communication leads to the integration of know-how, know-why, know-what, and know-who between experts and managers through face-to-face or media-based interaction.
  • Knowledge Communication is more than communicating information because it requires
    • conveying context, background, and assumptions,
    • conveying personal insights and experiences,
    • conveying rationale and reasoning,
    • conveying perspective and priorities,
    • conveying hunches, intuition, skills (implicit knowledge).
the knowledge integration perspective
The Knowledge Integration Perspective
  • What is knowledge integration?Knowledge integration is “the synthesis of individuals’ specialized knowledge into situation-specific systemic knowledge”. It is a key factor for knowledge application (Alavi & Tiwana 2002)
  • Why is knowledge integration an important construct for knowledge communication between experts and decision makers?
    • knowledge integration is a key aspect of the application of the experts‘ and decision makers‘ specialized knowledge within the decision making processThe complexity of today’s tasks requires a wide use and specialized development of the knowledge of various individuals. At the same time, decisions can only be taken if the specialized knowledge of the individuals is integrated on a collective level. (Grant 1996)
    • The aim of knowledge integration is not a levelling of knowledge between experts and managers, but higher level of shared action and decision makingKnowledge integration (as opposed to knowledge transfer) does not aim at minimizing specialization and disagreement trough the exchange of knowledge, but rather to maintain or even foster specialized knowledge though the development of rich meaning and the creation of new insights that leads to joint actions and decisions which are highly context embedded (Eisenhardt & Santos 2000)
the research arena
The Research Arena

Harkins, P. (1999)

Stasser, G. & Titus, W. (2003)

Mc Leod, J.M., Chaffee, S.H. (1973)

Janis, I. L. (1982)

Alavi, M. and Leidner, D. (2001)

Davenport, T.H. & Prusak, L. (2000)

Von Krogh, G. Ichijo, K. & Nonaka, I. (2000)

Grant, R.M (1996)

Starbuck, W.H. (1992)

Szulanski, G. (1996)

Stasser, Stewart, Wittenbaum 1999

Menon, T & Pfeffer, J.2003

Anderson, J.R (1981)

Mieg, H.A. (2001)

Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1972)

Sternberg, R. J. (1998)

description our process model
Description: Our Process Model

Management Tasks

Management Tasks

Expert Tasks







of Results


Who has

the exper-

tise to


the issue?

How can I


what I need

to know?

How can I

elicit the



How can

we optimize

our mutual



How and by


can the

insights be






Inter-personal Level

= management


analysis knowledge communication problems
Analysis: Knowledge Communication Problems

Management Tasks

Management Tasks

Expert Tasks







of Results


  • Prophet
  • Syndrome
  • Ingroup
  • Outgroup
  • Problem
  • A.S.K.
  • Big Picture
  • Problem
  • Common
  • ground
  • Paralysis by
  • Analysis
  • Information
  • Overload
  • Hidden Profile
  • Cassandra
  • Syndrome
  • Groupthink
  • Expert
  • paradox
  • Knowing
  • Doing Gap
typical knowledge communication problems
Typical Knowledge Communication Problems
  • Prophet syndrome: managers have a preference for outside experts. [Menon & Pfeffer, 2003]
  • Ingroup-outgroup: managers prefer to consult with likeminded peers rather than other professional groups [Blau, 1977]
  • ASK (anomalous state of knowledge): Managers often do not have the terminology to articulate their needs to experts [Belkin,1980 ]
  • Big picture problem: managers and experts deviate from the main issue and get lost in details. [Harkins, 1999]
  • Common ground: managers and experts are not aware of their differing background knowledge. [Clark and Schäfer, 1989, Olson & Olson, 2000 ]
  • Paralysis by analysis: experts have difficulties in concluding their analysis and proposing solutions [Langley, A. (1995) ,Lenz, R. T., Lyles, M. A., 1985, ]
  • Information Overload: experts are inundated with detail information and loose sight of the main objectives of their assignment [O’Reilly, 1980].
  • Hidden Profile: managers and experts only focus on their already identified mutual knowledge and neglect new insights. [Stasser & Titus, 2003]
  • Cassandra Syndrome: the managers ignore the experts’ warning and advice, but later on blame the expert if losses occur. [Mikalachki, 1983]
  • Groupthink: managers and/or experts ignore evidence or do not use available knowledge fully in order to preserve group cohesion. [Janis, 1982]
  • Expert paradox: the experts are not able to convey what they know to managers because they cannot articulate it in terms that management can understand. [Johnson, 1983]
  • Knowing-Doing Gap: managers and experts know what to do, but cannot execute it due to internal competition or wrong incentives [Pfeffer & Sutton, 2000]
description iterations in the process
Description: Iterations in the Process

Management Tasks

Management Tasks

Expert Tasks







of Results




Refinement of

need statement



Revision of

expert matching

Suggestions for

analyses based on

application experiences

Revised needs

based on use

Revised expert consultation

based on experiences

analysis example the big picture problem
Analysis Example: The Big Picture Problem

The big picture problem (BPP) is the dysfunctional tendency of a group to neglect the global context of an issue by discussing relevant and irrelevant aspects at an inappropriate level of detailwhich does not contribute to the team’s conversational progress or to the common understanding of its main issues.

  • The inappropriate level of detail may be too detailed, i.e., getting lost in minor side-issues,
  • or too broad, not focusing enough on the real (big) issue at hand.
  • It includes the inability to recognize a counterproductive level of detail for an extended period of time and
  • manifests itself in the inability of meeting participants to relate their contributions to the team’s objectives or
  • in statements of discontent with the progress of a conversation.
solution our typology of knowledge dialogues
Solution: Our Typology of Knowledge Dialogues

By classifying knowledge-intensive conversations according to their main objective, managers and experts can align their expectations and behavior, avoid the big picture problem, and optimize their interactions.

  • Sharealogues: are open discussions that focus on the integration of mental models.
  • Crealogues: are divergent discussions that focus on the genreation of action options alternatives, and reframings of current perceptions.
  • Assessalogues: are critical discussions that focus on the positive and negative aspects of decision options.
  • Doalogues: are convergent discussions that focus on how to implement decisions.
  • Metalogues: are joint reflections and considerations about the process of communication
five visualization applications can facilitate these crucial conversations
Five visualization applications can facilitate these crucial conversations

Strategic Conversations









The Present

Crafting the








Operational Conversations

solutions advantages of interactive joint visualization software
Solutions: Advantages of Interactive Joint Visualization Software
  • Focuses and aligns the attention of experts and managers
  • Elucidates and clarifies basic assumptions
  • Visualizes the evolution of a discussion
  • Allows to verify the reached consensus
  • Documents the process and the results
  • Facilitates knowledge-intensive collaboration (mediated/live)
other solutions
Other Solutions
  • Training to foster effective communication behavior
    • Use formal procedures such as the ladder of inference, in training to rais awareness of certain conversational patterns
    • Simulate difficult conversational behavior as for example active listening
  • Job improvement measures for knowledge intensive conversations:
    • work with conversational guidelines, principles, and rules
    • engage trained, neutral, external facilitators
    • employ formal procedures/interventions like devil‘s advocate, to structure conversations
  • Build up a fruitful context for conversations:
    • Team Development / Team Building
    • Job-rotation
    • Care
    • Time
  • Knowledge Communication between experts and decision makers is a critical, but under-researched topic at the intersection of knowledge management and communication studies.
  • The five step process of knowledge integration among experts and managers suffers from numerous problems, such as groupthink, the big picture problem, the ASK syndrome, or the hidden profile problem.
  • Managed process iterations, explicit communication intentions and formats (such as sharealogues or doalogues), and interactive real-time visualization can reduce some of these problems effectively.



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