Knowledge management across boundaries: a case study of an interdisciplinary research project in Thailand

PhD student: Titima Thumbumrung

Supervisors: Dr Ana Cristina Vasconcelos & Dr Andrew Cox

The significance of knowledge management and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries has been acknowledged as an important trigger of learning and innovation. This is because the creation of most innovation requires the integration of knowledge, skills, and perspectives of individuals or groups of individuals from different knowledge communities. Such innovation is important to meet the challenges of the knowledge economy and of globalisation. Furthermore, most organisations face with complex and multifaceted issues such as global warming and climate change. Connecting knowledge from different disciplines is necessary to gain a better understanding of the different facets of these issues in order to develop more comprehensive solutions. In addition, no single individual will possess all required knowledge to make contributions in more than a very narrow area of research. Consequently, cross-community collaboration and coordination is used to reduce the limiting effects of fragmentation of specialised knowledge. However, most scholars suggest cross-disciplinary collaborations are difficult. The difficulty largely arises because members of different disciplines have fundamental differences in many aspects such as ways of thinking, methodological standards, and use of terminology. Such differences lead to a lack of common knowledge and understandings, and so can create discontinuities and boundaries in interaction and collaboration between interacting actors from different knowledge communities.

A number of prior studies have examined how knowledge is managed across boundaries. They have mainly focused on particular contexts, especially new product development in the private sector. Models for managing knowledge across boundaries developed in this context may be less applicable in the public sector because of its specific characteristics and culture, reflected in its hierarchical organisational structure and requirements for accountability. Moreover, despite recent work, knowledge and understanding about the nature and construction of knowledge boundaries remains limited with little exploration and coverage.

Therefore, this research aims to explore the nature of boundaries and how knowledge is managed across them in a public sector context. This aim was translated into the four research objectives:

1. To explore the nature of boundaries;
2. To explore why knowledge boundaries arise;
3. To explore how people manage knowledge across boundaries; and
4. To develop a framework for managing knowledge across boundaries.

The aim and objectives of this research were explored by adopting a case study approach located within an interpretive paradigm. The case which was examined was an interdisciplinary research project involving the development of Computerised Tomography (CT) and Digital X-Ray (DR) scanners in a government research organisation in Thailand. This is a joint project between two different knowledge communities from different disciplines and national research centres. It proposed the first development of the cone-beam CT scanner in Thailand, called DentiiScan. The dental CT scanners, version 1, of this project have been used in both public and private hospitals in Thailand. Data was collected by combining qualitative data collection methods: based on semi-structured face-to-face interviews; participant observation; and collection of documentation and other artefacts. Data was collected for a total of seven months, more specifically between April 2014 and June 2014, and between January 2015 and April 2015. It was analysed through thematic analysis.

Titima Thumbumrung PhD project 1 Titima Thumbumrung PhD project 2 Titima Thumbumrung PhD project 3