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The Role of Front-line Employees in Knowledge Creation: A Case Study of a Federal Government Agency Open Access

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Abstract of DissertationThe Role of Front-line Employees in Knowledge Creation:A Case Study of a Federal Government AgencyThis case study explored organizational knowledge as it is created by front-line roles through social interactions. This research examined a decentralized department within a federal government agency that has multiple field office sites and one headquarters office; the front-line staff were the staff attorneys in the headquarters office. To understand the social process of knowledge creation, several qualitative data collection methods were used: focus groups, individual interviews, observations, and limited document review. The theoretical foundation for this research was Katz and Kahn's (1966) role theory, Parsons' (1951) social action theory, and Schwandt's (1997) work on knowledge creation. In addition, this study examined how staff attorneys obtained information related to daily questions they encountered from the field and described their reflections and actions when solving a problem. Using the action/reflection subsystem of Schwandt's (1997) organizational learning systems model, this study described the social interactions that take place between front-line roles, including the information that is exchanged and the value attached to this information, as represented by actions taken on the information. Use of this model provided an in-depth explanation of the complex social interactions within the studied environment and their relationship to knowledge creation. Findings revealed the dynamic pattern of reflection and action throughout the problem-solving process of front-line employees as they addressed complex issues brought to them by field attorneys. Second, based on reflection, front-line attorneys took several actions, such as researching the solution, interacting with others, and disseminating information, in order to create new knowledge in the organization. Staff attorneys demonstrated that when solving a problem they reflected and acted on information in a recursive manner. This indicates that action and reflection on information is dynamic and is linked to knowledge creation. In addition, this study found that knowledge creation is connected to social interaction patterns between attorneys. This research further substantiates the idea that organizational knowledge is socially constructed.

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