Learning by seconding: Evidence from national science foundation rotators

Christos Kolympiris, Sebastian Hoenen, Peter G. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


We study knowledge flows between organizations through secondments, shortterm employee assignments at an organization different from the home institution. Secondments allowthe sending organization to capture knowledge and network resources from the receiving organization without an organization-level contract, alliance, or colocation, a process we term learning by seconding.We focus on the National Science Foundation (NSF) rotation program, under which the NSF employs academics, called rotators, on loan from their university, to lead peer reviews. We ask how rotators affect the behavior of their academic colleagues after returning from a secondment. Using difference in differences estimations, we show that rotators' colleagues raise considerably more research funds than similar scientists who do not have a rotator colleague. Additional quantitative and qualitative evidence implies that the treatment effect occurs via knowledge transfer, as rotators help generate ideas, frame proposals, and explain processes, rather than rentseeking on the part of the rotator. Overall, the results suggest that strong ties and shared social identity play an important role in organizational knowledge acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-551
Number of pages24
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number3
Early online date19 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Coarsened exact matching
  • Knowledge flows
  • National Science Foundation
  • Organizational learning
  • Rotator
  • Secondments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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