The role of social networks in knowledge transfer: a study of the small and medium scale agriculture sector in Zambia

by Natasha Katuta Mwila

Institution: Monash University
Department: Department of Management
Year: 2015
Keywords: Social networks; Knowledge transfer; Identity; Agriculture; Zambia
Record ID: 1048698
Full text PDF: http://arrow.monash.edu.au/hdl/1959.1/1145352


This thesis is a study of social networks in the Zambian small and medium scale farmer sector. The purpose of this study is to enhance our understanding of how the social networks function in transferring knowledge across the sector actors. Knowledge transfer in this context is important because knowledge leads to process improvement. Both the quantity and quality of agricultural produce are expected to increase as an outcome of process improvement. This will improve the country’s food security position as well as improve economic welfare at household and national levels. Social networks are investigated because sector actors have relied on them as channels for knowledge transfer interventions. What this study reveals, however, is that the social networks through which knowledge is transferred are not adequately understood. This may be among the reasons for intervention failure in knowledge transfer efforts in the sector. The main research problem for this thesis then is to understand the nature of the social networks of Zambian small and medium scale farmers. Additionally, the thesis attempts to explain the role of the social networks in knowledge transfer facilitation and hindrance. The Zambian context and the small and medium scale farmer sector suffer a dearth of research. Consequently, too little is known about the context and this necessitates an exploratory approach to the study. For explorative purposes, the study is qualitative in nature. Qualitative research enables understanding of the study issue and this in turn may provide solutions to the research problems. An inductive research methodology is employed. What has emerged from the findings of this study is that individual actor attributes play an influential role in social networks. The role of individual actor attributes has been linked to social network outcomes of either knowledge transfer facilitation or hindrance. Specifically, the social identity of individual farmers is found to provide potential explanations for social network outcomes. This finding is unexpected and important because it provides a basis for questioning one of the key assumptions of social network theory. The key assumption that this study finding questions is that individual actor attributes are unimportant and must be ignored in social network theory applications. This thesis presents evidence to support the consideration of social identity in social network theory applications. Understanding the influence of social identity on social networks may enhance our ability to predict and explain social network outcomes. It is on this basis of enhancing prediction that social network theory ought to be revisited. In addition to the theoretical insights this thesis provides, the study makes contributions to literature and practice. The limitations of the study are acknowledged and explained. Directions for future research are presented.