Exploring Knowledge Work Practices and Evolution in Distributed Networks of Practice


  • Eli Hustad


distributed network of practice, knowledge activities, evolution patterns, knowledge networking infrastructure


This paper derives from a longitudinal study conducted in a multinational company. Through an interpretive case study approach, we have explored the phenomenon of knowledge networking in distributed work. More specifically, we have focused on the evolution patterns in a particular knowledge networking structure denoted as distributed networks of practice. The paper conceptualizes this kind of network of practice as an information and communication technology (ICT) facilitated dynamic relationship of participants that are geographically and temporally dispersed from one another, and who are sharing and creating knowledge related to their daily work practices and business problems. Three different categories of networks were identified 1) problem solving networks, 2) business improvement networks, and 3) innovation networks. Findings demonstrate that the networks evolved differently over time, and the study identified four distinct evolution patterns comprising 1) devolution in terms of short life cycle and dissolution, 2) recursive patterns where new ad‑hoc networks emerged from the mother network, 3) integration of knowledge practices through cross‑network proposals, and 4) innovation and expansion in scope and size. While previous studies have suggested fixed models for how a life cycle of a community takes place, this study however identified four dissimilar evolution patterns. Thus, these findings challenge life cycles models suggested in traditional community of practice research. The paper utilizes an information infrastructure perspective to provide an improved understanding of the evolution patterns within these networks by viewing them as ecological social structures facilitated by a technological infrastructure. Through social lines of practice and effective knowledge sharing, the participants created an infrastructure of knowing within the organization and managed to alter organizational practices through evolution. The paper illustrates how a knowledge networking structure as such may facilitate distributed work practices and knowledge activities across temporal and spatial boundaries.



1 Jan 2010