Mapping social networks among crystallographers in South Africa

Journal Article


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Journal Title

Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management

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Academic Conferences Ltd.


University of Cape Town

The author adopts the premise that technological innovation, a critical factor in the long-term economic growth of any country, can only function successfully within a social environment that provides relevant knowledge and information inputs into the innovative process. This is dependent on the efficient transfer and communication of knowledge and information which in turn relates to the amount and quality of interaction among scientists and technologists. These factors prompted a research project that used social network analysis techniques to investigate knowledge exchange and to map the knowledge network structure and communication practices of a group of scientists engaged with crystallographic research. This paper is based on this research project. The findings provide clear evidence of a strong social network structure among crystallographers in South Africa. A core nucleus of prominent, well connected and interrelated crystallographers constituted the central network of scientists that provided the main impetus to keep the network active. This eminent group of crystallographers were not only approached far more frequently for information and advice than any of their colleagues, but they also frequently initiated interpersonal and formal information communication acts. It was clear that this core group had achieved a standard of excellence in their work, were highly productive; very visible in their professional community and they generally played a pivotal role in the social network. They generally maintained a high professional profile in the crystallography community and within the general field of science, published profusely, and generally emerged as the archetypal sociometric stars in their field. It is thus clear that high productivity, professional involvement, innovation capacity and network connectivity are intricately interwoven. The crystallographers' work environment and concomitant work structure clearly affected network interaction. Working in a group structure stimulated network interaction, professional activity and productivity. A further benefit was that the leaders of these groups generally assumed gatekeeper roles that facilitated networking and ensured the importation and interpretation of new information and knowledge. It was clear that social networks operate more effectively in areas, such as Gauteng, where a sufficient number of scientists were amassed.