Research Program

Research program of the Canada research chair on socio-organizational challenges of the knowledge economy

In the knowledge economy, information and knowledge are regarded as the principal sources of competitive advantages and of innovation for individuals as well as for organizations. In theoretical terms, the Chair’s general objective is to re-examine the various theories of firm, in particular the evolutionary theory (Nelson and Winter, 1982), according to which, knowledge of an organization is above all, the function of individual knowledge of its members, and notably of tacit knowledge (in opposition to codified or clarified knowledge) that possessed by these persons (Bessy, 2001). We want to try to go beyond this opposition between tacit and explicit knowledge to study the ways of sharing of knowledge among individuals in different working contexts (telework or telecommuting, independent work or self-employed, communities of practice within an organization), but also between individuals and their environment, and among organizations (in local innovation systems, companies networks or sectoral clusters, groups or networks; cf. in particular Nohria and Eccles, 1992). In theoretical term, we will also be inspired of the thesis of learning organization (Takeuchi and Nonaka, 1997; Tremblay, under dir. 2001) and organization studies (APROS, 2001) to build our analyzing frameworks of learning modes in different working environments and networks or groups.

We also want to study the factors that promote the organizations’ performance in the knowledge economy, including the articulation between personal life and professional life, particularly in the teleworking and self-employed working contexts, two organizational forms in which the Chair has a special interest.

We want to integrate into this analysis a comparative analysis based on the following dimensions: the differences in organizational cultures or management strategies, the differences in sex, age and, where possible, ethnic group. This would constitute an important contribution, because organization studies, the writings on the organization learning and the works on the collaboration or on the collaborative learning (Henri and Lundgren, 2001) consider rarely these differences which are however fundamental in a more and more differentiated working environment (according to sex, age and ethnic origin).

The Chair on the socio-organizational challenges of the knowledge economy covers three major research themes. Our aim is to study not only the collaboration and the sharing of knowledge among individuals and organizations, but also the articulation between personal life and professional life, as an important factor of organizational life. Thus, we are interested firstly in the collaboration and the sharing of knowledge in local innovation systems, networks or groups, secondly in the forms of collaboration and sharing that are the result of organizational and technological changes within organizations (for example in the context of communities of practice, virtual communities, tele-work or autonomous work with exchanges in network; other contexts will undoubtedly be added over the years), and thirdly in the articulation between personal life and professional life.

As for the Télé-université, it concentrates on two axes of research. Both result from its uniqueness, i.e. its being distance high education institution, using information technologies to offer to its students access to its courses and learning facilities. Its first field of research relates to the tele-learning and the cognitive modeling, which is the main study objective of its center Licef (Laboratory in cognitive computer and training environments). The second axes is the one developed by this Canada Research Chair and is centered on the social or socio-organizational issues of the knowledge economy, in which some twenty of its professors are interested in, particularly the professors in the departments such as Work, Economy and Management, as well as Human science, Letters and Communications departments. It is probably the Télé-université’s privileged situation in the universe of the knowledge economy, and its education programs in information technologies, management and communications which aroused its professors’ interest in the various issues and dimensions of this knowledge economy, as well as in the issues relating to the technological and organizational changes in different companies and organizations, in particular from the point of view of collaboration (about ten professors work on such issues).

As we have indicated, the Chair on the socio-organizational issues of the knowledge economy centers its work on the following three research themes: the first, the collaboration and the sharing of knowledge in the local innovation systems, networks or clusters; the second, the forms of collaboration and sharing in the context of the organizational and technological changes within organizations and, the third, the articulation between personal life and professional life, sometimes referred to as work-life balance. Since the Chair rests on a certain number of former works, we will present some of the research already completed or underway within the Chair, then we explain the objectives and the impacts of the research plan.

The objectives and the impacts of the research plan

In the present context, businesses consider that knowledge and access to knowledge constitute the key factors to innovation and socio-economic development. In this context, and taking into account the aging of society, it appears essential to take into account the issue of working time and social times, the role of public policy and private intervention of businesses in this context, and the articulation between personal life and professional life. As well, issues of learning, collaboration and transfer of knowledge present important challenges since they appear to firms as the source of gains of productivity and innovation, but represent a challenge in terms of organizational change.

Indeed, this collaboration and this articulation are not ensured in all sectors, work environment and territories or areas and this is why research needs to be done on the sources of cooperation and collaboration, on issues of trust development, of work-life balance, on loyalty and performance within firms, and on the sources and effects of the latter. That is why our research plan covers issues related to these challenges and many ongoing research projects contribute to a better knowledge of these issues.

The new economic context calls into question many businesses’ mode of production, in particular with regards to the organization of work, the introduction of technologies and the way in which these organizations treat their employees’ personal and professional life.

In addition, organizations seek for the innovation and more and more by means of models or organizational structures which call for collaboration, work by network, sharing of information and knowledge. Certain companies draw their inspiration from the works of Takeuchi and Nonaka (1995) on the learning organization or on Aoki’s work on the organization of work and innovation in Japanese organizations (Tremblay, dir. 2001; Tremblay and Rolland, 1996, 1998, 2000). The issues of innovation, organizational change and the articulation of professional and personal life are interrelated issues and this is why the Chair has decided to address them all.