Identification and classification of shareable tacit knowledge associated with experience in the Chinese software industry sector

2015-11-26T16:48:47Z (GMT) by Hui Chen
The study reported in this thesis aimed to provide an ontology of professional activities in the software industry that require and enable the acquisition of experience and that, in turn, is the basis for tacit knowledge creation. The rationale behind the creation of such an ontology was based on the need to externalise this tacit knowledge and then record such externalisations so that these can be shared and disseminated across organisations through electronic records management. The research problem here is to conciliate highly theoretical principles associated with tacit knowledge and the ill-defined and quasi-colloquial concept of experience into a tool that can be used by more technical and explicit knowledge minded practitioners of electronic records management. The ontology produced and proposed here provides exactly such a bridge, by identifying what aspects of professional and personal experience should be captured and organising these aspects into an explicit classification that can be used to capture the tacit knowledge and codify it into explicit knowledge. Since such ontologies are always closely related to actual contexts of practice, the researcher decided to choose her own national context of China, where she had worked before and had good guarantees of industrial access. This study used a multiple case-study Straussian Grounded Theory inductive approach. Data collection was conducted through semi-structured interviews in order to get direct interaction with practitioners in the field and capture individuals opinions and perceptions, as well as interpret individuals understandings associated with these processes. The interviews were conducted in three different and representative types of company (SMEs, State Owned and Large Private) in an attempt to capture a rich variety of possible contexts in the SW sector in a Chinese context. Data analysis was conducted according to coding the procedures advocated by Grounded Theory, namely: open, axial and selective coding. Data collection and analysis was conducted until the emergent theory reached theoretical saturation. The theory generated identified 218 different codes out of 797 representative quotations. These codes were grouped and organised into a category hierarchy that includes 6 main categories and 31 sub-categories, which are, in turn, represented in the ontology proposed. This emergent theory indicates in a very concise manner that experienced SW development practitioners in China should be able to understand the nature and value of experience in the SW industry, effectively communicate with other stake holders in the SW development process, be able and motivated to actively engage with continuous professional development, be able to share knowledge with peers and the profession at large, effectively work on projects and exhibit a sound professional attitude both internally to their own company and externally to customers, partners and even competitors. This basic theory was then further analysed by applying selective coding. This resulted in a main theory centred on Working in Projects, which was clearly identified as the core activity in the SW Industry reflecting its design and development nature. Directly related with the core category, three other significant categories were identified as enablers: Communication, Knowledge Sharing and Individual Development. Additionally, Understanding the Nature of Experience in the SW Industry and Professional Attitude were identified as drivers for the entire process of reflection, experience acquisition and tacit knowledge construction by the individual practitioners. Finally, as an integral part of any inductive process of research, the final stage in this study was to position the emerged theory in the body of knowledge. This resulted in the understanding that the theory presented in this study bridges two extremely large bodies of literature: employability skills and competencies. Both of these bodies of literature put their emphasis in explicit knowledge concerning skills and competencies that are defined so that they can be measured and assessed. The focus of the theory proposed in this thesis on experience and resulting acquisition of tacit knowledge allows a natural link between the employability skills and competencies in the SW industry that was hitherto lacking in the body of knowledge. The ontology proposed is of interest to academics in the areas of knowledge management, electronic records management and information systems. The same ontology may be of interest to human resources practitioners to select and develop experienced personnel as well as knowledge and information professionals in organisations.