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Knowledge Management and Ethics

date: 2014-03-07 17:59:43 -0500


This semester I am teaching a knowledge management (KM) course. I will be posting entries throughout the semester that describe, critique, summarize, outline, etc. KM articles that my students are not reading. The purpose here is to leverage the amount of material I can expose them to.

Article under discussion:

This post is about:

Chatterjee, Sutirtha & Sarker, Suprateek. (2013). Infusing ethical considerations in knowledge management scholarship: Toward a research agenda. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 14(8), 452-481.

The article was picked after browsing a number of databases, using various search terms related to knowledge management and ethics. The databases include:

Notes and discussion:

The article begins by noting that,

the study of KM is an inherently socio-technical enterprise—at the confluence of human beings and technology (p. 453).


given the observation that ethical considerations are paramount in any socio-technical system, we believe that ethical considerations can be fruitful in furthering KM research in the IS discipline (p. 453).

The authors highlight ethical and knowledge management research is rare.

The authors discuss three motivations for this research. The discussions are thorough for such short review sections and well worth a read. The motivations are, with rewording to lesser and greater degrees:

  1. 1. There is a relationship between ethics and knowledge (see section beginning p. 454).
  2. KM activities (knowledge creation, transfer, storage, retrieval, etc.) reveal a number of ethical issues (see section beginning on page 456).
  3. There is little prior research on ethics and KM (see section beginning on page 457).

The authors then begin to review philosophical theories of ethics. This includes “consequentialist ethics [utilitarian], deontological ethics, and virtue ethics” (p. 457). Then the authors show how each theory could be used to extend ethical research in the KM field. Table 3 on p. 462 provides an excellent blueprint for such a pursuit. For example, if:

The activity under examination is knowledge creation, and the ethical perspective under consideration is consequentialist ethics, then a possible research question is:

What are the effects of knowledge creation on organizational positive orientations (p. 462).

Or, if the activity under examination is knowledge transfer, and the ethical perspective under consideration is virtue ethics, then a possible research question is:

Does the practice of virtues [e.g., integrity, zeal, empathy, courage—for more details, see p. 460], both at the organizational or individual level, promote knowledge transfer; what virtues are relevant in this regard and how do they promote knowledge transfer (p. 462).

The authors, importantly, note that deontological and consequentialist ethics focus on actions while virtue ethics focus on persons (the actors). As such, a research theme from the perspective of the first two ethical theories will address questions relate to actions that promote or hinder various knowledge activities while a research theme from the perspective of virtue ethics will focus on the role that virtuous actors or agents have in such activities. The authors go outline, rather nicely, a number of explicit ways to investigate these issues from these perspectives.

Overall, the article does an excellent job of outlining the need for ethical studies in the KM field, describing the important and most dominant ethical theories, and outlining and detailing possible ways to address ethical issues in KM research. The article is a must read for any new KM researcher/student.

  • categories:
    • academic libraries
    • knowledge management
    • LIS658
blog/knowledge-management-and-ethics.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/07 11:22 by seanburns