Mechanisms and contexts


Finding information in the enterprise continues to be problematic for many reasons. There are many mechanisms that may influence conditions for better enterprise search & discovery outcomes. Some mechanisms may only work (‘fire’) under certain conditions. For example, a torch has the potential to cause a light, but not if the batteries are dead. In a similar way, an intervention programme targeting knowledge capture, information quality or enterprise search quality may have the potential to improve the situation, but only if the context in which it is being applied causes it to ‘fire’. Some researchers prefer to think of ‘firing’ as more of a ‘dimmer switch’ (varying degrees of effectiveness) rather than an on-off binary switch.


One area of interest are sub-cultures within the organization such as information culture, knowledge management culture, IT culture and so on. There is no consensus on what organizational culture is, one definition is viewing it as a set of shared ‘norms’ (habits) which can be difficult to change (require time and effort). For example, for information culture behaviour and values of ‘information integrity’, ‘formality’, ‘control’, ‘sharing’ and ‘pro-activeness’ have been used by some researchers.

Research has shown that different organizations have sub-cultures with different powers and liabilities. After reading the literature (both academic and practitioner) it was not always clear how some of these cultures were positioned with respect to one another and their definitions.


The diagram below (Figure 1) is one attempt at positioning.


  • Organizational culture
    • Knowledge Management Culture – Mainly Tacit (meaning we derive in our heads)
      • Organizational Learning Culture
    • Information Culture – Mainly explicit (information ‘as a thing’)
      • Enterprise Information Management (EIM) – Governance & Lifecycle dominated
      • Enterprise Content Management (ECM) – Technology dominated
        • Enterprise Search
        • Document Management
        • Records Management
        • Data Management
    • Information Technology (IT) Culture

Relevant cultures are overlaid on a framework of norms (Stamper 1996) that cover technical norms (what is automated through technology), formal norms (company roles practices and standards – what is written down) and informal norms (beliefs, intents, attitudes – what is not written down, ‘the way things are done around here’). Heavily generalising, larger companies may be dominated by more formal norms, small companies by informal norms, whilst recognizing that organizations are in a continual state of flux.

Some sub-cultures are dominated by technical or formal norms, others by informal norms (especially when it comes to learning norms) as depicted in Figure 1. In today’s business environment the boundary between the organization and its external environment are often blurred, so the norms adopted externally may influence those internal to the organization and vice versa.

The positioning of information and knowledge depends on what definitions you adopt as there is no single agreed definition. One definition is to treat information ‘as a thing’ so in business terms things like a document, web pages and database are ‘information’ that can typically be codified in computers. A division between data and information is not attempted as one person’s data is another’s information. Whereas knowledge is the conversion of information within the minds of people where meaning is generated. This is one such definition, there are many others differentiating data, information and knowledge (and even wisdom) which is outside the scope of this article.

The IT culture of the organization is likely to be heavily influenced by the external market. Over the past thirty years organizations have gradually moved to ‘buy not build’, ‘offshoring’ and ‘servers to services’ (such as cloud O365). External norms play a significant role in shaping internal norms.

The model provides opportunities for thinking how one culture impacts on another culture (e.g. IT culture on information culture) and the context in which any programme is implemented.


There is scope and valid arguments to move some of these boundaries and add others such as business intelligence and analytics. Intervention programmes may influence the sub-culture (or vice versa) i.e. circular causality. Relationships displayed in the model may cause practitioners and academics to ask questions that may not have otherwise been raised. It is likely that the sub-culture model is a simplification and that many versions of each sub-culture exist within business units (e.g. there is not a single information sub-culture within an organization).

Sensing and probing the cultures within an organization through internal social research may lead to an understanding of the context which may make any programme or intervention more successful. Some types of programmes may simply not work (‘fire’) in some types of contexts despite the best of intentions and as some researchers have pointed out, not all change is good.






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