Expertise sharing

This wide-ranging project combined efforts from multiple grants to examine how people could act as knowledge sources, work together and share their knowledge in online communities. The work within this project included expertise finders, people recommenders and collaborative help systems.

Start date: 9/21/2009
End date: 8/31/2014

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Mark Ackerman’s research was at the forefront of looking at expertise sharing as an area of study. His studies examined two strands in expertise sharing. The first strand involved systems that find others in an organization (or organizations) that would have the requisite expertise or skills—allowing the system to bring the problem to the right people by routing it effectively and efficiently. The second strand revolved around places where people with problems can go to find others who have the right expertise. This translated into online communities that allowed people to share their knowledge.

As the span of networks and computational systems expanded, the scope of this research has expanded to Internet-scale systems and communities. Recent work has also expanded to Q&A communities and social search. Ackerman and his group have done a large range of systems and social studies that examined new forms of expertise sharing or knowledge sharing—ways that groups of people can collaborate and create either new knowledge or more effectively distribute the knowledge that they have. They have also examined the problems and questions that surround this model, including issues of how to determine expertise, how to effectively redistribute it, and how to help people who need expertise find what they are looking for.

This research also examined the role and contributions computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) has had in improving the understanding of knowledge and expertise sharing. CSCW researchers, and those in adjacent research fields, contributed to a general understanding that information use is heavily situated and socially contextualized. These studies served as critical reminders that one could not focus on the technical alone, but must incorporate socio-technical aspects. CSCW used and extended the concepts of boundary objects, common information spaces, and assemblies in order to understand and account for the element of social use. 

Other types of information, such as “common information space” have also been investigated and used to highlight the understanding of information within social units, enabling researchers to define, analyze and design environments of knowledge exchange beyond organizational borders. It remains an important task for CSCW research to uncover commonalities and differences of ordering systems, especially with different stakeholder groups working with shared repositories.

In another phase of research, the communication-centered expertise sharing studies focused on how knowledge is shared among knowledgeable actors. CSCW researchers, and those in adjacent areas, examined “Communities of Practice” and “social capital” in order to understand how and why knowledge is provided by others. The Communities of Practice concept established a perspective that embedded knowledge exchange into a practice of doing and into a practice of learning. Social capital drew attention to relationship aspects in networks that guide the search for and exchange of knowledge. These concepts have been brought into expertise-sharing systems, and researchers have produced a number of expertise-finding and expertise-locating systems and studied them extensively. 

Expertise sharing has been found to be an often critical, if not required, part of knowledge sharing. As time goes on, knowledge and expertise sharing are becoming standardized in many organizations. At the same time, new technologies, data collection mechanisms, analysis techniques, and fields of application have created new research and design opportunities and challenges. As a field, CSCW has created and examined new applications and systems, but more importantly, constantly attempted to view those applications and systems in terms of their social possibilities, issues, and challenges.

In short, this research has confronted the opportunities of knowledge management through a socio‐technical view, and in practice. The knowledge and implications from this work have also been incorporated into Ackerman’s other projects, which examine healthcare knowledge sharing in disparate communities and ways to better communicate and share health information among doctors, patients and citizens in these communities.


Support for this project was provided by partial funding and work from the following grants:

EAGER: Cultural Issues in Sharing Expertise: Characterizing and Evaluating Online Question-Answer Communities, National Science Foundation: $237,752 (9/1/2009-8/31/2013)

HCC: Medium: Collaborative Configuration: Supporting End-User Control of Complex Computing, National Science Foundation: $1,185,194 (9/1/2009-8/31/2013); Principal Investigator: Mark Newman, Co-PI: Mark Ackerman

CAREER: Social Dynamics of Information in Virtual Spaces, National Science Foundation: $438,251 (9/28/2009-4/10/2012); Principal Investigator: Lada Adamic 


The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"