Toward understanding inter-organizational knowledge transfer needs in SMEs: insight from a UK investigation

Shizhong Chen*, Yanqing Duan, John S. Edwards, Brian Lehaney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - External knowledge is generally believed to be of prime importance to small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, a review of the literature shows that no empirical research has looked at knowledge management issues at the inter-organizational level in SMEs. This paper seeks to report on an empirical investigation with UK SMEs in the service sector to identify their needs and practices regarding inter-organizational knowledge transfer, and thus provide empirical evidence to support the above belief. Design/methodology/approach - A two-tier methodology (i.e. using both questionnaire survey and interview approaches) is deployed to address the main research objectives. A questionnaire survey of SMEs is carried out to investigate their current inter-organizational knowledge transfer situation and managers' perception on various relevant issues. Then 12 face-to-face interviews with SME managers are conducted to further validate key findings drawn from the questionnaire survey. Findings - The empirical evidence collected from the survey and interviews confirms the general belief that external knowledge is of prime importance for SMEs, and demonstrates that SMEs have very strong needs for external knowledge and inter-organizational knowledge transfer. Research limitations/implications - The findings provide very strong underpinning for further theoretical research on inter-organizational knowledge transfer in SMEs. However, this study has certain limitations: its results may not be applicable to other industrial sectors or the same sector in other countries; or to micro or large companies; nor does it involve cross-cultural issues. Originality/value - By adopting a two-tier research methodology, this study provides more reliable understanding and knowledge on SMEs' inter-organizational knowledge transfer needs and practices, and fills the gap that exists in the empirical investigations on the subject. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-23
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2006

Bibliographical note

This article is © Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


  • knowledge management
  • knowledge transfer
  • small to medium-sized enterprises
  • United Kingdom


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