This article addresses the emergence of networks of practice and the role of knowledge sharing via knowledge portals. Its focus is on factors that stimulate the successful emergence of networks of practice. Literature on knowledge management and communities of practice suggest the pre-existence of shared knowledge or a shared belief system as a condition sine qua non for the networks of practice to emerge. We challenge this assumption and argue and demonstrate that common knowledge and belief systems are rather a result of knowledge sharing rather than a pre-condition. The central question is how a knowledge portal facilitates the diffusion of knowledge among rather loosely coupled and often disconnected innovation projects. Research is carried out in the agricultural industry in The Netherlands. In this industry there is a need to change from a product-oriented to a problem-oriented innovation structure. The set up of a platform and knowledge portal around agro-logistics - crossing different product-oriented production clusters - was therefore a logical result. It gave the opportunity to analyze what the impact of a knowledge portal is in a situation where people and projects come from different organizations and do not know each other. Do they start to share knowledge and what are the conditions? With regard to the case study of the knowledge portal in the agricultural industry we conclude that a knowledge portal will have an impact on how projects are sharing knowledge and on the emergence of a network of practice. The results show that pre-conditions for the emergence of a network of practice are a sense of urgency and fragmented awareness. These results also indicate the important role of a knowledge broker. The developed knowledge portal seems to lead to overcoming structural holes and a closer cognitive distance among the projects. However, we did not find a direct effect of the knowledge portal on sharing tacit knowledge. In the initial phase of a network of practice the knowledge exchange seems to focus on general, non-project specific and explicit knowledge. There was also no direct effect of the knowledge portal on the reciprocity of knowledge exchange among the projects. However, knowledge was shared between the project level and the platform and public level. Conclusions and directions for future research are formulated.

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European Management Journal
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

van Baalen, P.J, Bloemhof-Ruwaard, J.M, & van Heck, H.W.G.M. (2005). Knowledge sharing in an emerging network of practice: The role of a knowledge portal. European Management Journal, 23(3), 300–314. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2005.04.008