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Towards a deeper understanding of knowledge management in inter-organizational relationships

Special Section in Journal of Knowledge Management

Guest editors:
Asst. Prof. Lara Agostini
University of Padova, Italy
[email protected]

Prof. Anna Nosella
University of Padova, Italy
[email protected]

Prof. J.-C. Spender
Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland
Rutgers University Business School - Newark, New Jersey, USA
[email protected]

Prof. Riikka Sarala
University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA
[email protected]

Prof. Douglas Wegner
Unisinos University, Porto Alegre, Brazil
[email protected]

Supervising Editor: Prof. Antonio Messeni Petruzzelli, Polytechnic University of Bari (Politecnico di Bari), Italy

Background and Special Section Purpose

The knowledge-based view suggests that firm-specific knowledge constitutes the most strategically important source of competitive advantage (Spender and Grant, 1996) and that firms are platforms where processes of creation and application of knowledge occur (Spender, 1996). With the increasing tendency towards slackening the boundaries of the firm, resorting to external sources to fill internal knowledge gaps and responding to competitive and innovation challenges, particularly in dynamic environments (e.g. Bojica et al., 2016), the issue of knowledge and its management has gained momentum.  Inter-organizational contexts also remain a hot topic in the management literature (e.g. Meier, 2011). The literature has expanded to embrace different aspects of KM in inter-organizational relationships (IORs), with a particular focus on knowledge acquisition and transfer (Bouncken et al., 2016). Knowledge is treated as more than an asset, also as the result of a process. Yet the literature has overlooked the multifaceted nature of the two objects of investigation, i.e. knowledge and IORs. Regarding the former, different types of new knowledge exist, including technological, market, and managerial knowledge (Burg et al., 2014), and part of this knowledge is explicit, part is tacit. Regarding the latter, IORs can be categorized by their general types and purposes in different ways. Some commonly used dichotomies  are horizontal vs. vertical, equity based vs. non-equity based, link vs. scale, single vs. multiple-stage, innovation vs. marketing (Khamseh and Jolly, 2014; Agostini and Nosella, 2017). We posit a number of contingencies related to the different types of knowledge and IORs that are likely to require different KM practices (Natalicchio et al., 2017). Likewise organizational routines, control and coordination mechanisms, and systems, are worth investigating (Meier, 2011). The literature stresses differences between the context of large firms and SMEs. Because SMEs have fewer assets to build their strategies than large firms, they rely to a greater extent on knowledge resources to compete successfully (Bojica et al., 2016). Interestingly, despite SMEs growing importance, little of literature addresses the topic of KM within and between SMEs (Massaro et al., 2017). Moreover, this literature notices that our comprehension of the specific conditions under which IORs actually provide SMEs with access to multiple types of new knowledge remains extremely limited. Here, also the concept of knowledge complexity, occurring when two partners concurrently exchange multiples types of knowledge (Albrecht and Hall, 1991), comes into play. Research has not systematically analyzed the situation in which different types of knowledge are exchanged concurrently from the same relationship and little is known about the conditions under which multiplexity develops in inter-organizational relationships (Bojica et al., 2016).

The literature has also neglected the risk of losing core knowledge. Indeed, when firms establish IORs with the aim of expanding their knowledge, they can benefit from a greater amount of information but, at the same time, by making their knowledge available to partners, they run the risk of misappropriation of their private knowledge beyond the scope of the collaboration itself (Massaro et al., 2017); this knowledge leakage has not been adequately investigated (Jiang et al., 2013). Considering that mitigating knowledge leakage is imperative to fully exploit the potential of collaboration and the concept of knowledge leakage itself has not been investigated in depth (Jiang et al., 2013), comprehensive studies that deal with this issue are called for. Reducing opportunism and knowledge leakage may favour mutual knowledge creation (Bouncken et al., 2016), where different entities work jointly to create knowledge. At present, research tends to ignore the mutual-reciprocal-joint knowledge creation among firms and calls for a more detailed understanding of the underlying processes, the contextual factors of mutual knowledge creation (Bouncken et al., 2016), and intellectual property mechanisms needed to manage shared knowledge (Natalicchio et al., 2017). Therefore, the idea is to look at more than the transfer of knowledge from one firm to another, rather to think about IORs as exchanging knowledge assets.

As a general consideration, studies have mainly adopted a positivist approach, overlooking the constructivist discourse that views knowledge as continuously shaping and being shaped by the social practices of employees; thus, we call for contributions adopting a constructivist approach integrating knowledge and coordinating collective action in IORs, conceptualized as systems of distributed knowledge (Schultze and Stabell, 2004).

Aims, scopes and research topics

On such grounds, the purpose of this special section is to gather theoretical and practical contributions to expand our understanding of KM in IORs overcoming the positivist perspective in favor of a constructivist discourse. In terms of research, this special section aims to inspire researchers in this field to look at KM in IORs systems of distributed knowledge that is continuously shaped by IOR members, thus stimulating the development of this perspective within this specific research area. In terms of practice, this special section seeks to provide entrepreneurs and managers with useful insights on how to manage mutual knowledge creation in IORs, how contingencies can influence KM practices in IORs and how KM changes throughout the IOR life cycle.

To this purpose, this special section aims to gather theoretical and practical contributions to expand our understanding of KM in IORs. Therefore, it welcomes articles regarding, but not limited to:
•    How contingencies influence KM practices in IORs
•    The dynamics of KM through the IOR life cycle
•    Exploring knowledge multiplexity in IORs
•    Managing mutual knowledge creation in IORs
•    A constructivist perspective on KM in IORs
•    IP mechanisms and the use of tools (e.g. ICT) to manage shared knowledge in IORs.

Guidelines for authors
Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. Please kindly read the author guidelines on the journal homepage before submitting your manuscript, to ensure it is consistent with the journal style ( Submission to the SI should be sent electronically on the Journal of Knowledge Management website through ScholarOne Manuscripts system:

For any information you may please contact Prof. Lara Agostini ([email protected]), having in Cc the other co-Guest editors.

Manuscript submission deadline: 31st May 2018
Publication: expected by December 2018

Agostini, L., & Nosella, A. (2017). Interorganizational relationships in marketing: A critical review and research agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews, 19(2), 131-150.
Albrecht, T. L., and E. Hall (1991). “Facilitating Talk About New Ideas: The Role of Personal Relationships in Organizational Innovation,” Communication Monographs 58, 273–288.
Bojica, A.M., Estrada, I., & Mar Fuentes‐Fuentes, M. (2016). In Good Company: When Small and Medium‐Sized Enterprises Acquire Multiplex Knowledge from Key Commercial Partners. Journal of Small Business Management, doi: 10.1111/jsbm.12258.
Bouncken, R. B., Pesch, R., & Reuschl, A. (2016). Copoiesis: Mutual knowledge creation in alliances. Journal of Innovation & Knowledge, 1(1), 44-50.
Burg, E., Berends, H., & Raaij, E. M. (2014). Framing and interorganizational knowledge transfer: A process study of collaborative innovation in the aircraft industry. Journal of Management Studies, 51(3), 349-378.
Jiang, X., Li, M., Gao, S., Bao, Y., & Jiang, F. (2013). Managing knowledge leakage in strategic alliances: The effects of trust and formal contracts. Industrial Marketing Management, 42(6), 983-991.
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