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Knowledge sharing in context: The case of volunteer development at a heritage site

Rowley, J and Fullwood, R (2017) Knowledge sharing in context: The case of volunteer development at a heritage site. In: European Conference on Knowledge Management 2017, 07 September 2017 - 08 September 2017, Barcelona, Spain.


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© The Authors, 2017. This paper offers insights into the role and processes associated with knowledge sharing, as part of the development of volunteers at a substantial heritage site. The marked growth in the numbers and importance of volunteers in the heritage sector in the UK has fuelled interest and research in volunteer management, but researchers have paid little attention to the important area of the processes through which volunteers develop the skills and knowledge that they need to deliver their role. In order to contribute to addressing this gap, this paper reports on research conducted at a major heritage site in the UK. Data was gathered through onsite interviews with management and focus groups with volunteers. Questions explored the sources of knowledge utilised by volunteers, the knowledge sharing processes involved and how this contributed to their development. Whilst some managers are more committed to embedding learning opportunities in the everyday volunteering experience than others, and volunteers vary in their interest in developing new skills or transferring their existing knowledge and skills into their role as a volunteer, there is a general acknowledgement that knowledge sharing is pivotal to volunteer development. Informal learning was found to be the principal vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge by volunteers. This took place in many situations such as shared breaks, mentoring and community of practice situations, although the nature of volunteer roles determined the extent of social contact. Managers were fully aware of their critical role in knowledge sharing and attempted to facilitate such informal learning through formal and informal mentoring whilst also instigating some formal training and cascading information. Volunteers also took the initiative in setting up a dropbox for knowledge sharing, and in managing a social club, both of which they regarded as a vehicle for networking, informal learning and benchmarking. However, volunteers were less enthusiastic about the introduction of an intranet specifically for volunteers.

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