Codification and other such matters

I have focused more on tacit knowledge than explicit knowledge and codification. So, for this blog post, I decided to change it up a bit. Though, of course, one can never escape from tacit knowledge no matter how one may try. I had a hard time with this blog post so it’s a little all over the place so please ask any questions!

Cowan et al. (2000) and Kimble (2013)  both focus on codification especially in regards to economics. Incidentally,  though, most of their discussion revolves around tacit knowledge and developing it into explicit and codification. Cowan et. al. (2000) stated “tacit knowledge thus has come to signify an absolute type, namely ‘not codified knowledge'” (p. 212). At least this seemed to be the case with economists.  Cowan et. al. believe that tacit knowledge is not always inarticularable (which  Nonaka and Polanyi thought as well). Sometimes is just isn’t necessary to make it explicit. Most of their article revolves around the existence of a codebook and they focus more on codification than tacit knowledge itself. An important thing to note is that people must be able to read the codebook or its basically useless and knowledge remains tacit.

One thing I did find interesting was they saw one branch of knowledge where knowledge had been codified at one point, but the codebook had been lost. In a way, it becomes, paradoxically, tacit knowledge again. Of course this is simplifying it a bit. However, in the articles I have read so far, they have focused more on tacit knowledge becoming explicit (or they assume that can’t be done) and not really explicit knowledge becoming tacit (at least in some way). Can tacit knowledge be shared within a group without being explicit? That’s what they suggest, but I’m still not certain about this.  It would seem that the ties between explicit and tacit knowledge are much closer than would apparently seem at first.

As a side note:

In my first blog post, I talked about the difference between information and knowledge in regards to those articles I read for that post. Well, Cowan. had something to say about that as well so I figured I might as well include it here. For them information as “a message containing structured data, the receipt of which causes some action by the recipient agent” and knowledge is “the label affixed to the state of the agent’s entire cognitive context” (Cowan et. al., 2000, p. 216).

It just so happened that the other article I read for this post delved into the research done by Cowan et al. Kimble discusses much of what Cowan et al. talked about, specifically codification and tacit knowledge. Both Cowan et. al and Kimble discuss the importance of context when it comes to knowledge, both tacit and explicit. In fact, what may be tacit knowledge for one person may be explicit (codified) for another.

 According to Cowan et al. (2000) “context-temporal, spatial, cultural and social – become an important consideration in any discussion of codified knowledge”(p. 225).

Our knowledge depends on a variety of things such as our environment, experiences, and environment. Context also is important when considering what knowledge should become codified and what knowledge is not (Kimble, 2013, p. 9). Context is also something that has come up in the articles i have read so far. Codification is not always a given. It has limits and costs (along with benefits). They are dealing with economics in their articles and economists tend to have one view in mind when deciding to codify or not codify which is to look at costs and benefits and weighing the two.  Kimble (2013) suggests that this is not a complete picture. It sees knowledge as a dichotomy of tacit and explicit knowledge and nothing in between (Kimble, 2013, p. 10). Knowledge is much more complicated than that. There is more to it than tacit and explicit knowledge (although that would make it simpler. .. though maybe it would be more complicated?).

Kimble eventually concludes by saying that dealing with tacit and explicit knowledge separately is not always best because you need both of them in order to see the whole picture. This is also what Mary  suggests as well as she went on to say knowledge can be both tacit and explicit at the same time (which is pretty cool in my book).  In a sense they are different sides to the same coin and are closely intertwined more than may be immediately seen.


Cowan, R., David, P. A., & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial & Corporate Change, 9(2),

Kimble, C. (2013). Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge. Information Research, 18(2).

Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14-37.

Polanyi, M. and Sen, A. (2009). The tacit dimension. Univ. of Chicago Press.


2 thoughts on “Codification and other such matters

  1. Regarding the question: Can tacit knowledge be shared within a group without being explicit?

    I would posit yes, conditionally. It depends on the depth of existing understanding within the group; a small number of closely tied people–that is, lovers, long-time friends or co-workers, immediate family, &c.–can understand each other well enough to have collective knowledge of something without needing to express it explicitly.

    Take, for example, a handful of workers who have been on the job together for a decade or more, going through the same routine every day or thereabouts. Each will know exactly what needs doing, how it should be done, who will do what, and so forth; they might pass much of a given day without once discussing the matter of their work. Introduce a new employee into that system and you can readily observe the shared tacit knowledge by its absence: the habitual behaviors are disrupted because of the presence of an out-group individual who lacks that implied understanding of what is necessary and which roles they are to fill.


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