Scholarship and Empirical Research

During my deployment to Afghanistan I observed a noticeable difference in tacit knowledge between soldiers of the same rank. My interest in this curious phenomenon later developed into this research study. The strategic importance of tacit knowledge to the individual and the organization are well documented. Tacit knowledge by definition defies articulation, and as such, scholarship on the elusive nature of the mechanics of its acquisition has been neglected. Therefore, my aim in conducting this study was to examine how tacit knowledge is acquired and communicated in the Army organization. This study fulfills the scholarship and empirical research requirement of the MAPC program.

A System of Acquisition and Communication of Tacit Knowledge in the Army Organization

Abstract

The purpose of this research study was to examine how tacit knowledge is acquired and communicated in the Army organization. Constructed grounded theory was the method I used for this qualitative study that included six Army veteran participants who were either non-commissioned, warrant or commissioned officers whose experience included combat operations in one or more of the following: Vietnam, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. The findings reveal that tacit knowledge is communicated and acquired by means of a robust system of processes that fall into four categories. While this system is available to all soldiers, mastery of the processes in the system vary with the individual. Awareness of the system within the ranks would reduce discrepancies in essential Army tacit knowing, improve communication, increase individual and unit effectiveness, reduce friction and enhance careers.

Refections

Rhetorical Situation

The exigency of this publishable paper and its accompanying qualitative research study were requirements for completion of the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program. These demonstrate my knowledge of empirical research and scholarship that is a component of professional communication pedagogy and practice. The topical exigency emerged from my experiences in the Army during my deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I had noticed that some soldiers knew things about the Army that others of equal rank did not. This awakened my interest in the unwritten rules of the Army which developed into a research topic over the course of my study. Eventually my focus shifted to a gap in the literature about how tacit knowledge is acquired and communicated.

The paper is designed with two audiences in mind. One is my committee, Chaired by Dr. Sean Williams. The other is the readership of Military Psychology, a bi-monthly publication of the Society for Military Psychology that publishes behavioral science research articles with a military application on training and human factors, social and organizational systems, testing and measurement, and clinical and health psychology.

The primary constraints involved convenience, time and participant resources. It was unfeasible for me to acquire the necessary permission required from an Army command to conduct an ethnographic study or to travel to a location where this was occurring on a daily basis. In past seminars I learned that locating participants can take time. It did. My veteran contacts at Clemson and at other locations were extremely helpful, but because I had decided to confine the study to Army veterans the pool of willing participants was much reduced. My goal of ten participants was reduced to a small sample of convenience of six veterans.

Design and Development Process

Dr. Sean Williams recommended that I use the Grounded Theory method for the study, and I followed the methods in Constructing Grounded Theory by Kathy Charmaz (2014). Key to this method is that the researcher’s theory is arrived at through processes that inform the analysis such as, writing memos, theoretical sampling, diagraming and sorting until the sampling has become exhausted. To begin, I individually interviewed the veterans for one hour in a location of their choice. I avoided the “observer effect,” where the participant gives the answers they think the researcher wants to know, by telling the participants that the study was about how people in the Army communicate (Katz 29). Some participants edited their answers and narratives to accommodate the communication topic while others described their military history and some of the most significant events they experienced. Either method worked well for my purposes.

The interviews were transcribed and small groups of sentences were initially coded with words that defined “what data are about” (Charmaz 111). Next, “the pivotal intermediate step” of memo writing began, and it contributed to my understanding of what was happening in the events described in the interviews (Charmaz 162). Winsor describes the same phenomenon when she says that “data collection” does not produce knowledge; it is the writing about data that creates knowledge (60-61). Katz tells of a research block that she overcame at the start of the analysis phase by “free writing” about a subject until the subject was exhausted. She repeated this for every subject and came to understand what was most important. Those subjects became categories. (35-36). This is similar to memo-writing in constructed grounded theory where one exhausts the sampling until all categories are saturated, which then results in constructed categories (214).

For me, significant patterns began to emerge from the memo writing, and my analytic attention shifted to “condensed” and “focused coding” (Charmaz 138). The resulting tacit knowledge communication system of processes first emerged through sorting in the form of a diagram. Although my diagrams show processes rather than qualitative data, I followed Tufte’s maxim that “every bit of ink” “requires a reason”(96). In “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” (2001), the purpose of a data graphic, says Tufte, is to make clear the “sense and substance of the data”(91). The process of sorting the most representative or revealing narratives into the categories outlined in the diagram quickly followed, and the business of writing drafts ensued. A review of relevant literature on knowledge and tacit knowledge was also a part of the development process. 

Critical Reflection

Grounded theory analysis of the stories and statements made by all six participants in this research study revealed the active use of a system of processes that contribute to the acquisition and communication of tacit knowledge. The processes fall into four categories that I termed guiding and instructing, cognitive compositing, relating and evaluating, and correcting alignment. These processes are combined and used, consciously or unconsciously, according to the situation and the individuals concerned. The processes serve as a feedback system to teach the tenets and rules that regulate Army organizational life and the meaning behind those tenets and rules.

This process familiarized me with qualitative empirical research methods and a new, heightened level of scholarship. The entire process took more time than I expected. Initially, I focused on what was being learned rather than how. This entire research and writing process has been a highlight of the MAPC program for me. My outlook has shifted, and I now look at life through a “knowledge” filter and see examples of knowledge acquisition concepts and processes in everyday experiences. This new awareness is what I hope the findings of the study will do for those who learn my System of Processes of Acquisition and Communication in the Army. Another result is that I have a new understanding of what research is, why it is important, and how it is accomplished.

Goals

The goal of this research study was to conduct and complete a qualitative research study and publishable paper as a requirement for the Master of Art in Professional Communication. This includes knowledge acquisition and performance of excellent writing and editing skills, professional communication processes and practices, and ultimately, to learn how tacit knowledge is acquired and communicated in the Army organization.