Physical dissonance in an online world


As I’ve mentioned it at the end of my previous blog post, this online Viva Voce event was significant regarding two specific aspects: the theme of my doctoral study, and the extraordinary period we are all going through right now during this coronavirus crisis.

Indeed, one of the contributions of my thesis relates to the online sharing of tacit knowledge with regard to the Ba concept. If my findings could confirm that this concept deserves to be updated (both the Interacting and the Exercising spaces can now exist online), I have been more cautious than other scholars who claim that the Originating Ba can also be online (e.g. via online video conferencing tools). According to Nonaka & Konno (1998), the Originating Ba can only happen when people are face-to-face in physical spaces because it is the only way to grasp the complexity of physical senses and psycho-emotional characteristics of human beings. This very issue was not entirely part of the scope of my study, and this is the reason why I suggest that further empirical research needs to be undertaken to better understand what is at stake here.

This is particularly important now that an increasingly large number of people are working, collaborating and communicating online because of the quarantine imposed by a large majority of world governments. Even if this is a temporary situation, working remotely from home and online will likely become more widespread after the crisis is over. The reason why I insist on that matter is when I come across information such as in the tweet of Prof. Gianpiero Petriglieri who explains (on behalf of one of his therapist friends) that if some people feel exhausted after video conferencing calls, it is because there is some kind of ‘dissonance’ between our mind (which is ‘online’) and our body, which is in a different physical space. He further explains that it is “easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” and goes on explaining that this is due to the fact that our bodies ‘process so much context […] and information‘. A beautiful example of how the various Ba (spaces) co-exist and influence knowledge sharing, with all the challenges that it implies. This issue is not only relevant to the sharing of tacit knowledge on rich media tools but also on virtual reality technologies (VR).

And you? How do you feel when you’re meeting colleagues (or friends, relatives) online? Does it get easier with time? Or is there always some feeling of uneasiness? Why so? Please drop me a line in the comments here or on Twitter and let’s discuss it.

Online Viva Voce in a time of turmoil


Wait… didn’t I say I was back on track? 🤔

I was. But something happened in the meantime:

  1. The coronavirus crisis
  2. My Viva

Not that I’m looking for excuses. However, these two unrelated events generated more stress and anxiety than I would have forecasted and ultimately, it prevented me to freely express myself on this blog for a while.

The good news is that I’ve passed my Viva (subject to minor corrections). Yay! Of course, this event was supposed to happen in Edinburgh, but since my flights were cancelled, the borders shut down, and a majority of European citizens put in quarantine, there was no other choice than to make it happen online. I have therefore defended my thesis on Zoom, thanks to the flexibility of my two examiners, my panel chair and my director of studies. The irony is that my PhD adventure ended up almost the same way than it started: online. (My interview to get the PhD funding happened on Skype six years ago while I was still living in Geneva).

The Viva went well. Not only the discussions but also the setting itself. It was almost as if we were having this session face-to-face. To the extent that while the examiners were deliberating the outcome of my examination, my dear director of studies ‘invited’ me for a cup of tea…online 😊 When we were finally both invited to come back to the virtual room, the external examiner told me the result. I had to ask him to repeat it twice… not because of some malfunctioning audio-video feature (as one could logically expect it), but because of some emotional turbulence on my side…(ahem). Truly, the only thing that I (terribly) missed, was the possibility to give & receive hugs and invite my colleagues for a drink in a nearby pub. But an online drink was quickly organised to celebrate my success, and soon I was able to be congratulated by all my colleagues online.

So why do I talk about this experience? Not to self-celebrate my personal achievement (although…). More so because this event was significant regarding two specific aspects: the theme of my doctoral study, and the extraordinary period we are all going through right now during this coronavirus crisis. This is the topic I cover in my next blog post. Coming (much) sooner this time. Stay tuned.

Back on track

shallow focus photography of railway during sunset
Photo by Albin Berlin on

Well, well, well….it’s been a while. For your information, I haven’t perished (!) Better than that, I have finally managed to submit my PhD thesis at the very end of December 2019. The Viva is scheduled at the end of March this year so I’ll write more about this when appropriate.

This post is also to announce that I’m back on track (of blog posting I mean). Since I’m (hopefully) approaching the end of my doctoral adventure, the content of this blog will be more and more focused on its initial purpose: to explore the world of knowledge, tacit knowledge, Knowledge Management, and Information Sciences. To that matter, I have finally taken the decision to split my Twitter account into two distinct ones:

  • The Knowledge Explorer (@tacitknowhow) will from now on exclusively cover topics related to Knowledge Management, tacit knowledge, knowledge sharing, data & information, Information Sciences, libraries, and a bit of wisdom,
  • While my personal Twitter account (@irisbuunk) will remain, well, personal.

Last but not least: while I’m getting ready for my Viva, I’m actively looking for a professional position in which I’m looking forward to taking the variety of skills have acquired through my career to the benefit of an organisation. To my readers, if you hear about any position in Knowledge Management or Information Sciences in Europe and preferably within International Organisations or within the public sector, please feel free to let me know. My professional profile is available on LinkedIn.

The appropriate use (or misuse) of knowledge (the way is to shared, managed, capitalised) is becoming increasingly relevant in the complex world we live in. This is particularly true when we consider the variety of challenges waiting for us to be addressed in a not so distant future. I’m therefore looking forward to sharing little gems of knowledge here and there, hoping to humbly contribute to the collective knowledge that connects us all.

Write…or perish?


This title is an analogy to the famous (academic) quote (and reality) ‘Publish or perish‘, which emphasises how much vital it is for scientists to publish if they want to ‘survive’ in the academic world. To this end, I’m obviously relieved to learn that my third article co-written with my two supervisors (Prof Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith) has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (JOLIS). Moreover, it also acknowledges the validity of my study, even though I’m not done with it yet.

The challenging act of writing

So why this title? Because despite this recent victory, I’m presently in the painful and slow process (or let’s rather call it agony) of writing up my thesis, and if I fail to do so, I (the PhD student that I am) will ‘perish’ for sure! I could attempt to justify myself by complaining that writing ‘per se’ is an arduous process, particularly so when it is not in my native language, and even more so when it is in an academic style. These are indeed significant challenges which – when piled up together – illustrate well how it can hinder my productivity. However, being in the middle of my 4th doctoral year, I was expecting from myself to be a little bit more at ease with this process by now. But am I deluding myself? Perhaps…

A thesis isn’t a book

Discussing with my colleagues from university (this includes my PhD mates as well as members of the academic staff) – I found out that everyone has been through a writer’s block during the writing of their thesis. And not only once. My supervisor warned me recently that I’m not writing a book, but a thesis (which is never finished and yet has to be finished at some point). An academic friend of mine also told me that the thesis is entirely different from writing a book because you don’t have the choice to finish it. Writing a thesis he said, is like banging your head against a brick wall, until a breakthrough occurs. Sounds fun, isn’t it? Well, at least I can testify that my head is certainly banging on the writing block, so maybe I’m on the right path after all.

A known syndrome

The impostor syndrome, which can lead to procrastination, and bring up all kind of emotions such as fear, guilt, lack of trust, comparison, perfectionism, and so on, does not facilitate the process of writing of course. Much as been discussed on this phenomena, since it concerns many writers (academics or not). Plenty of books, seminars, articles, providing all kind of support and advice are available for those of us who are affected by this so well known syndrome. I did read some of these books, articles, blog posts, and even attended seminars. Yet, the problem seems to persist. So what can be done?

Focused & grateful

I feel, that it has more to do with an inner ruthless resolution. With gathering the courage and faith, that this work is going to be done, no matter what.  The thought that this thesis might not get written – which would consequently lead to failing my PhD – isn’t quite pleasant to consider after all. When I think about all the sacrifices that not only I but also all the close family and friends have made for me to be here, it helps me to pursue my efforts, out of respect for them, and for myself. This insight could quickly shift to a threatening pressure though, which would bring me back to the writing block, and that’s not the point. I think the trick here is to be grateful. Grateful for being here, in this overall process, however difficult it can be. Grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a PhD and writing a thesis.

Faith in the process

I’m not alone. Support is always here and now, coming from another dimension I too often overlook. To remind myself that I started this PhD out of (spiritual) faith reminds me that what matters is the journey itself, not so much the destination. This helpful book I’m presently reading, and the rest I’m having out of a few days of illness, gently bring me back to a zone where I slowly feel again in alignment with myself. May this reconnection lead me towards action and the completion of my thesis.


Image copyright: Cooozza

Another castle on a hill


Dear all,

This is a wee message to inform you that I have now moved to Slovenia, a hidden gem nestled between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. I already miss Scotland, but Ljubljana, the capital of the country where I’ve settled in, also has a castle on a hill, which is a really nice reminder of Edinburgh where I used to live.

Otherwise, nothing much has changed. I will keep on working on my PhD and blog about it here, with now and then a few hints regarding my new location.

More news to follow…

ECKM 2017 – Barcelona

UIC gate-min.jpgI’ve just come back from the ECKM Conference in Barcelona, the head full of ideas and the heart full of memories, and I wish to report here some of the moments and insights that have been meaningful to me.

A professional visit

I arrived two days before the official launch of the conference so that on the day of my arrival, I could meet with Dr Angel Borrego, Head of the ‘Facultat de Biblioteconomia i Documentació‘, at the Universitat de Barcelona. He introduced me to the various programs delivered by the Faculty, as well as its rich history.

Jordi Rubio i Balaguer, one of the Directors of the School of Librarians.

The department provides various programs in the field of Information Sciences to undergraduates and graduates students, with the possibility to undertake a PhD. If the number of students seems to slightly decrease, the employment rate for those who have accomplished their studies remains high.

For the anecdote, the ‘Escola Superior de Bibliotecàrie’ was opened more than 100 years ago, in 1915, with the aim of improving the access to culture and knowledge to the population. The school was only opened to women. This might sound pejorative, but actually, it was the first time that women were given the opportunity to have an official professional position. The school finally got opened to men in the early 80s, after having joined the University of Barcelona.

I’m very thankful to Dr Angel Borrego for having taken the time to welcome me during my short journey in Barcelona.

Pre-conference workshops

The day after, I’ve been attending two workshops organised by the Academic Conferences and Publishing International (ACPI) and the International Association for Knowledge Management (IAKM):

  • Designing a Successful Knowledge Management Strategy for Public Sector Organizations: How can this be Achieved? Led by Dr Fábio Ferreira Batista, Catholic University of Brasília, Brazil. This workshop was an opportunity to learn from the winner of the Second Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Excellence Awards – 2016 and be inspired by a best practice case study.
  • The future of KM: short-time goals and long-term vision. Led by Ettore Bolisani, Alexeis Garcia-Perez, Malgorzata Zieba and Sandra Moffett, International Association for Knowledge Management (IAKM). This workshop was an opportunity to discuss and elaborate on three different themes: 1) KM research and practice: challenges and opportunities; 2) Innovation in KM teaching, learning and assessment practices; 3) Towards a global KM expert: the views from workshop participants.

These workshops also provided the opportunity to meet some of the participants of the Conference and reflect on KM practices and theories while discussing it with academics and professionals.

ECKM Conference

ConfHall-minOn Thursday the 7th of September, the ECKM 2017 was officially launched. About 200 participants gathered for two days of knowledge exchange and discussions on a variety of themes, all related to Knowledge Management. Needless to say that my main challenge has been to choose among the 140 (!) sessions available (which can be quite a frustrating process!). Finally, I’ve been really satisfied with my selection. It would take too long to sum up all of them here, but some interesting themes have certainly caught my attention, such as: the influence of ’emotional intelligence’ over KM, the use of virtual reality within knowledge networks, emotional barriers for tacit knowledge sharing, social media adoption for knowledge sharing, the difference between evaluations and audits, the damage of mistrust in regard to knowledge sharing, and last but not least, a yin-yang perspective on organizational systemic change.


Three keynotes were also addressed during the Conference:

  1. Prosumption: Utilization of Consumers’ Knowledge in Organizations. / Prof. Ewa Ziemba (Associate professor at the University of Economics in Katowice, Poland)
  2. Empowering Conversation in the Workplace.David Gurteen (Well-known writer, thinker, public speaker and facilitator on Conversational Leadership)
  3. Re-wiring our brain in the Cloud: Excelling with Knowledge Work in the age of digitalisation. / Prof. Eric Tsui (Professor and Associate Director of the Knowledge Management and Innovation Research Centre (KMIRC) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

Tsui presentation

Each of these keynotes was really interesting, providing a different point of view on the multiple characteristics of knowledge. The last one given by Prof. Eric Tsui was particularly stunning, as it made us aware of the future challenges and opportunities that knowledge workers will face in regard to knowledge access within the Cloud.

Presentation of my paper

I’m aware that it is going to sound presumptuous, but of course, the pinnacle of the ECKM Conference 2017 for me, was the occasion to present my paper “Skills in Sight: How Social Media Affordances Increase Network Awareness” co-written with my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith. It is the first time that I’ve been able to present a full paper among other scholars in front of world experts in Knowledge Management. Honestly, I felt half excited, half terrified by this perspective, but I was (for once) quite confident in my work and the results I was about to present.

30 minutes before my presentation…

A bit less than 20 people showed up to find out about my research. My presentation went well, and I was pleased to answer and discuss the few questions and comments that were being asked or expressed: one of them was related to the social affordances provided by the Knowledge Hub platform; another one was an approval of the necessity to distinguish skills from expertise, which was precisely what I had specified at the beginning of my presentation.ECKM badge-min-min

Last but not least, I’ve had the honor to benefit from the presence in the audience of one of my ex-professors of the Master in Information Science (undertaken six years ago), Linda Stoddart. This was a pleasant way to realise that I’ve come a long way…

All in all, this ECKM conference has been a very satisfying experience and my very first steps in the KM “big league” 🙂 Indeed, it has been a relief that I could finally discuss my research with other attendees without worrying if I was going to be understood or not – a feeling that I didn’t  always have during other conferences… For the very first time in my short academic life, I’ve had the feeling that I found my academic family.



I cannot emphasise enough to what extent the location of the Conference contributed to enhancing the overall experience of this journey, making it so enjoyable from the beginning until the end. It was the first time that I went to Barcelona (and actually in Spain), and I’ve been amazed by the beauty of this Catalan city.

Barca1-minFrom the fancy seaside to the impressive Gothic quarter and the quiet district of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, I’ve had several occasions to be soaked up by the magic atmosphere that this city has to offer. I will definitely go back there, with the hope of enjoying more thoroughly the richness of its culture.


I would like to officially thank the CILIP association for having awarded me the John Campbell Trust Conference/Travel bursary last year, as it has allowed to attend this event in Barcelona. It was a golden opportunity for me to present and discuss my research with an academic audience of world experts in knowledge management, that I am not ready to forget. Finally, I would like to thank my dear supervisors for their continuous support in my work and their priceless trust in me. I would have never been able to present this paper without their contribution and wise advice.

Gracias muchas para todo! 

Knowledge journey in Barcelona


Next week I will be travelling to Barcelona to present my latest paper ‘Skills in sight: how social media affordances increase network awareness‘ co-authored with my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith, at the European Conference of Knowledge Management (ECKM 2017), held at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC).

This unique opportunity to attend the ECKM conference is generously offered to me by the CILIP Library and Information Association since I’ve been awarded the John Campbell Trust travel bursary. Indeed, this will be the first time during my PhD that I will be able to present and discuss my research among academics and practitioners from more than 40 countries, who are all specialised in knowledge management.

Prior to the conference, I will be able to attend two workshops:

  • Designing a Successful Knowledge Management Strategy for Public Sector Organizations: How can this be Achieved? Led by Dr Fábio Ferreira Batista, Catholic University of Brasília, Brazil.
  • The future of KM: short-time goals and long-term vision. Led by Ettore Bolisani, Alexeis Garcia-Perez, Malgorzata Zieba and Sandra Moffett, International Association for Knowledge Management (IAKM).

The first day of my arrival, I will also have the occasion to meet colleagues from the Faculty of Library and Information Science at the Universitat de Barcelona and researchers from the Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management at the Universitat Ramon Llull, to discuss various aspects related to research in Information Science and Knowledge Management.

Anyhow, what is sure for now is that I can’t wait to undertake this journey – not mentioning that it will be the first time of my life that I will go to Spain(!)

If you want to keep up to date, check my Twitter account: @irisbuunk where I will regularly share news and updates.


The concept of ‘Ba’

BA conceptLast week, I’ve had the honour to present my second academic paper during the i3 2017 conference at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. It presents preliminary results from a survey undertaken by members of an online social platform, Knowledge Hub (KHub), that incorporates social media features and enables knowledge sharing amongst public sector professionals. It also addresses the concept of ‘Ba‘ in relation to tacit knowledge sharing in online environments. Since this concept is not very known and a little bit challenging to understand, I intend to shed light on its meaning and why I find it relevant to my research.

The Ba model

The concept of ‘Ba‘ originates from Japan and can be challenging to understand, particularly for the dualistic western mind (by dualistic western mind one needs to refer to the Cartesian consideration of mind and body). Inspired by the work of the existentialist philosopher Kitaro Nishida, the concept was brought forward through the work of Nonaka and Konno in 1998, with the intention to facilitate the understanding and integration of the initial SECI model of knowledge conversion (invented by Nonaka in 1994).

The ‘Ba‘ represents a contextual place shared with others from which relationships emerge, and within which knowledge is exchanged or shared. This place may be physical, virtual, or mental or a combination of these. Four types of ‘Ba’ have been defined by Nonaka and Konno in order to distinguish the various contexts in which knowledge conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge occurs, as shown in the scheme here below:


Ba model


The ‘Originating Ba‘, is an existential place in which employees can potentially share their experiences face-to-face through a primary socialisation process. A place where individuals share emotions, feelings and ideas informally. Here, the culture of an organisation is communicated in an implicit way. This space is strongly related to Nishida’s existential vision of reality.

The ‘Interacting Ba’ (also called ‘Dialoging Ba’), is a place in which knowledge and skills are shared among peers through an externalisation process. Here mental models of various employees (selected to form a team) are discussed by individuals who are also invited to reflect on their own knowledge. Dialogue is therefore crucial in this process. In this space where the conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge occurs, the worlds of Nishida and Descartes can meet.

The ‘Cyber Ba’ (also called ‘Systemizing Ba’), is a virtual place (or world) in which explicit knowledge can be exchanged in a systematic way. It is usually supported by collaborative environments using information technologies, facilitating knowledge sharing between groups. This includes online networks, databases, and online platforms. This place is dominated by the Cartesian logic.

The ‘Exercising Ba’, is a place in which the absorption of new knowledge happens through an internalisation process. This is where the learning process occurs when individuals absorb and synthesise the knowledge made available to them. It includes focus training and tutoring, where knowledge is translated into action. The worlds of Descartes and Nishida meet again, in a conversion process of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge, before moving towards the ‘Originated Ba’ again.


Why does it matter?

Tacit knowledge is personal and highly contextual. Therefore, the need to investigate the variety of contexts within which tacit knowledge is shared is essential. In 1998, the Cyber Ba was the only ‘place’ where Nonaka & Konno anticipated a role for technology. This was the time of the Web 1.0, where online databases and basic Intranets were often used as information depositories. Since then, there has been an exponential growth of social media tools (based on the Web 2.0 technologies) which have enabled and facilitated online social interactions, networking and collaborative work.

One relevant outcome that emerged from this first data analysis of the online survey, is that other types of ‘Ba‘ (besides the ‘Cyber Ba’) could actually also occur online. For instance, a majority of respondents have positively confirmed that ‘Problem-solving‘, ‘Expertise sharing‘ and ‘Innovation‘ are facilitated by the online social platform KHub. Each of these tacit knowledge sharing practices requires active social interactions, which is one of the fundamental aspects of the ‘Interacting Ba’. A majority of respondents have also positively confirmed that ‘Learning processes‘ are facilitated on KHub, which corresponds this time with the characteristics of the ‘Exercising Ba’.

This is important because it means that twenty years later, the Ba model could be updated in regard to the emergence of social media affordances. I am not the first one to make this assumption, other scholars have. To the extent that some of them (such as Martin-Niemi & Greatbanks, 2010) even suggested that the ‘Originating Ba’ could also be online (particularly with the use of blogs). At this stage of my research, I’m not convinced by this statement. Especially since the Originating Ba usually requires face-to-face interactions and a physical situational context (see the Epilogue below for a deeper understanding of this Ba). However, it is my intuition that if there was one technology which could simulate such ‘place’ of ‘pure’ tacit knowledge, it would have to be an online interactive video conferencing platform (such as Skype, Google video or more recently Zoom). This is an exciting field of research which certainly deserves further empirical studies in order to investigate to what extent such technologies could replicate pure tacit knowledge. I reckon that Virtual Reality technologies will also contribute in a significant way in that matter, particularly in regard to situational contexts (which are partly absent from online environments).



As this blog provides a place in which I can express myself more freely (including some of my personal interests that cannot be included in my PhD work), I would like to end this post with some complimentary explanations regarding the ‘Originating Ba’, which is very rarely mentioned in the literature, but nonetheless essential to my eyes.

The ‘Originating Ba’, according to Nonaka & Konno (1998), is, as mentioned earlier, an existential place within which experiential tacit knowledge is shared. But what is also mentioned in their article, is that this is a place where an individual can feel sympathy and empathy for others, and where ‘the barrier between the self and others‘ is removed. Nonaka & Konno then use an epistemological metaphor to explain Nishida’s vision of reality, ‘I love therefore I am, which contrasts with the (more famous) one of Descartes ‘I think therefore I am‘. Nonaka & Konno even suggest further on that the ‘Originating Ba’ is a place where ‘pure experiences‘ and ‘ecstasy‘ exist, citing Heidegger’s definition of ‘being thrown into the world‘. This space, where face-to-face experiences are a key to the conversion of tacit knowledge, is where care, love and trust emerge, providing the ideal place for the knowledge-creation process to begin.

Would the sharing of tacit knowledge be a genuine act of love? An altruistic volition of sharing some of ‘our’ knowledge (or ourselves?) to others for the sake of the common good?

Looking forward to sharing more of this knowledge with you in another blog post…