Knowledge sharing for sustainable development: A mixed-method study of an international civil engineering consultancy

  • Nicholas Meese

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Engineering (EngD)


Sustainable development (SD) is a pressing global issue that is becoming increasingly prominent on clients and governing bodies agendas. In order to survive, organisations are seeking ways to negate their detrimental environmental impacts. This is no easy feat: SD is both complex and dynamic. To be successful, organisations need to leverage and expand their most valuable asset – knowledge. Civil engineering plays a significant role in SD – it shapes our environment and governs our interaction with it. However, extant research asserts that civil engineering related disciplines have been slow to adopt SD oriented practices; a possible result of their complex and fragmented organisational environments. The literature suggests that effective knowledge sharing (KS) can overcome these barriers, thus driving enhanced SD performance. Consequently, this research aims to investigate how the civil engineering sector can improve its intra-organisational sharing of SD knowledge, using an international civil engineering consultancy as an exemplar. Whilst there has been much research surrounding KS and SD there has been limited research that has investigated KS for SD, thus this thesis contributes to this limited body of knowledge. Mixed-method research was used to address the abovementioned aim. An increasingly popular approach, it is widely believed to generate greater value through complementary integration of quantitative and qualitative research paradigms. This approach lends itself also to the ethnographic inclinations of the reported research: the author was embedded within the case organisation, and sought a rich and reliable understanding of the study phenomena. An initial set of semi-structured interviews suggested that the case organisation’s members exhibit positive attitudes towards KS and SD, yet are often constrained by a number of common KS barriers, namely: a lack of organisation slack (i.e. time); a silo mentality; and poor SD ICT systems. These socio-cultural and technical barriers were subsequently investigated and contested using social network analysis techniques and an intranet acceptance model. A number of observations are made on the relationships between the findings from the research activities. It is believed the organisation often exhibits a reactive approach to KS for SD, which is deemed undesirable. This signals the need for greater senior management support to cultivate a culture where KS for SD is the norm and is integrated with work practices. A series of recommendations are provided to help the case organisation understand how such change could be cultivated. Several implications follow from this work. The mixed-method approach revealed a number of contradictions between the findings of each research activity. It is therefore postulated that mixed-method designs can provide a richer understanding, thus reducing misconceptions of KS phenomena. Following from this, the research contends that it may be too easy for researchers to identify with ubiquitous KS barriers as the reported research suggests that these may be perceived rather than actual. The research also reinforces the need for senior management support. These individuals govern the systems in which organisational members operate and thus have the ability to enhance KS for SD. Finally, the research demonstrates that SD ICT systems have little impact unless they are embedded in receptive contexts. Thus, an action research approach to KS system development is advocated to ensure systems are shaped to meet user expectations and drive desired KS behaviours. This research is presented in five peer-reviewed articles.
Date of Award3 Jul 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChristopher McMahon (Supervisor) & Juani Swart (Supervisor)


  • knowledge sharing
  • knowledge management
  • Sustainable development
  • methodological pluralism
  • social network analysis
  • qualitative data analysis

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