"The road is made by walking ..." : a case study of learning, knowledge creation and knowledge sharing at The Valley Trust, a South African NGO.
This thesis explores, from a very personal perspective, the engagement of one South African non-government organization, The Valley Trust, with knowledge work as an integral dimension of its practice. The thesis is written as an autoethnographic case study, drawing on the complementary methodologies of writing inquiry and arts-based inquiry, including the use of metaphor as an aid to understanding learning and knowledge creation as ongoing flow and movement. It is also strongly influenced by narrative theory, and it incorporates participatory action research, with a cooperative inquiry group made up of 12 colleagues playing a key role. Although the inquiry set out to address the question: How can The Valley Trust integrate its learning processes and its knowledge creation and sharing so as to improve its effectiveness and contribute to the broader discourse around health and development?, what emerged during the inquiry process was that there are no simple answers to this question, and confirmed that within the context of the organization‟s work and the author‟s lived experience, knowledge is indeed a “…process, a temporary state…scary to many” (Eisner, 1997:7). For this reason, and to honour the importance of the co-creation of meaning which was a key theme in the inquiry, the thesis avoids conclusions and relies rather on the reader‟s engagement with the process as represented in the text and the images to allow meaning to emerge. The thesis also creates spaces for multiple voices to be heard, although not to the extent originally intended. The thesis foregrounds those dimensions of knowledge work which are neglected in many other writings on the subject: the practical difficulties of finding organizational time for conversation, reflection, and the co-creation of meaning; the challenges introduced by organizational change processes; the tensions which inevitably occur between colleagues; and the challenges of promoting a shared understanding of knowledge work and its significance in an organization where multiple paradigms help to determine priorities. Other key themes which emerged during the inquiry were the importance of seeing knowledge work within the context of the whole organizational landscape rather than as an isolated component of the organization‟s practice, and the critical importance of locating knowledge creation and sharing in relationship. The thesis closes with a reflection on the process of writing, emphasizing the primacy of process in knowledge work, and recognizes the challenges confronting the representation and sharing of knowledge work as process in the complex context of an organization working in the fields of health and development.