Exchanging 'Payload' Knowledge: Knowledge Exchange in Consulting Communities of Practice


Kevin M. McKenzie

Neil E. Béchervaise


Managing relationship capital in organisations may be seen as the only form of long-term strategic competitive advantage, since community-based relationships facilitate the exchange and creation of knowledge. Viewing knowledge as something that is socially constructed and inseparable from the communities of practice in which it is held is an alternative paradigm to the codification and storage strategy for knowledge management.

Through a case study examination of consultants, a process-based model of the interpersonal knowledge exchange steps that take place was developed and is presented. By focusing on payload knowledge (a concept that emerged from the research data as comprising the mix of tacit and explicit knowledge required to solve problems for clients), the interpersonal knowledge exchange process is shown to be predicable in terms of passing through eight identifiable stages, yet unpredictable in terms of knowing how each community interaction will lead to payload knowledge. In this model, the process of sourcing, handover and implementation of payload knowledge is seen to be an artistic endeavour, characterised by social community based exchanges that hop the consultants toward their specific contextual need.

A key advantage of the interpersonal process described is the decontextualisation and recontextualisation process that is carried out at both the request negotiation stage and the knowledge handover stage of the process. This process uses the community's shared language, mental models, social etiquette and cultural norms to compress and funnel the meaning of the knowledge into a form that can be transferred meaningfully to the requesting consultant (payload knowledge).

Consultants prefer this interpersonal process primarily because the decontextualisation and recontextualisation process allows them to exchange payload knowledge that is directly and specifically relevant to their current client context and to the problems they need to solve. The process saves consultants time, and provides an opportunity to confirm their personal knowledge as up-to-date and relevant to the specific context. By using the interpersonal process, consultants abide by the community's social etiquette, which dictates an interpersonal process as the preferred exchange mechanism. The interpersonal process allows them to practice and learn the consulting community's professional artistry and, in the process, enjoy the exchange experiences.

Through understanding the process and the reasons that consultants prefer the interpersonal knowledge exchange process, it is anticipated that managers will be better able to produce a knowledge-based sustainable competitive advantage for their firms based through improved relationship capital.