Online Community as Space for Knowledge Flows

31 October, 2018

Dear HIFA colleagues,

(with thanks to HIFA member Tatjana Kobb)

As we explore how HIFA can be improved in 2019 and beyond, it's useful to keep an eye on the literature around what works and what doesn't with communities of practice (CoPs) like HIFA (we define HIFA as a special type of CoP, namely a community of purpose [a community of practice working towards a shared vision/goal]).

This paper says: 'Online communities [OCs] frequently create significant economic and relational value for community participants and beyond. It is widely accepted that the underlying source of such value is the collective flow of knowledge among community participants. We distinguish the conditions for flows of tacit and explicit knowledge in online communities and advance an unconventional theoretical conjecture: Online communities give rise to tacit knowledge flows between participants. The crucial condition for these flows is not the advent of novel, digital technology as often portrayed in the literature, but instead the technology’s domestication by humanity and the sociality it affords. This conjecture holds profound implications for theory and research in the study of management and organization, as well as their relation to information technology.'

CITATION: Online Community as Space for Knowledge Flows

Samer Faraj, Georg von Krogh, Eric Monteiro, Karim R. Lakhani

Information Systems Research, Articles in Advance, pp. 1–17

ISSN 1047-7047 (print) ó ISSN 1526-5536 (online)


'We will argue that the “secret” of how to create use value is found in the sociality of OCs.'

'OCs allow participants to share hard-to-codify knowledge such as competence and experience, which are typically transferred via observation and imitation rather than writing or speech, even in the absence of shared physical space.'

'Because OCs rely on digitally enabled communication among a distributed set of participants, their “narrower means” of communication is often compared to the gold standard of traditional, face-to-face interactions. This regularly leads to observations that virtual interactions fail to mimic fully face-to-face — for instance, it is difficult to observe or comprehend substitutes for body language, emotions or gestures (e.g., Olson et al. 2002). Yet, rather than focusing on what gets lost in virtual interactions compared to face-to-face, there are rich and interesting forms of sociality and community formation emerging in OCs, complementary to those in offline settings.'

'Clearly, OCs are ideal for facilitating the flow of ex-plicit knowledge across time and space (Chiu et al. 2006), which makes them particularly amenable to knowledge recombination (Nonaka and Konno 1998). Yet, we think additional, richer knowledge creation processes can emerge in OCs, which create exceptional value for participants and keep them highly engaged'

'Online advice is often provided in the form of stories that carry rich meanings. Brown and Duguid (1991) seminally described how service technicians shared personal insights and experience by telling each other detailed problem fixing stories during coffee breaks. Today, OCs emulate such processes but reach an unprecedented scale of narrators and narratives.'

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on five global forums in three languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (, which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: