Knowledge transfer in the fields of organizational development and organizational learning is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another organization (or all other) parts of the organization. Like Knowledge Management, Knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. It is considered to be more than just a communication problem. If it were merely that, then a memorandum, an e-mail or a meeting would accomplish the knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer is more complex because (1) knowledge resides in organizational members, tools, tasks, and their subnetworks (Argote & Ingram, 2000) and (2) much knowledge in organizations is tacit or hard to articulate (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). The subject has been taken up under the title of Knowledge Management since the 1990s.


Argote & Ingram (2000) define knowledge transfer as “the process through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by the experience of another”. They further point out the transfer of organizational knowledge (i.e., routine or best practices) can be observed through changes in the knowledge or performance of recipient units. The transfer of organizational knowledge, such as best practices, can be quite difficult to achieve.

Three related concepts are “knowledge utilization,” “research utilization” and “implementation,” which are used in the health sciences to describe the process of bringing a new idea, practice or technology into consistent and appropriate use in a clinical setting (Greenhalgh et al., 2004). The study of knowledge utilization/implementation (KU/I) is a direct outgrowth of the movement toward evidence-based medicine and research concluding that health care practices with demonstrated efficacy are not consistently used in practice settings.

Knowledge transfer within organisations and between nations also raises ethical considerations particularly where there is an imbalance in power relationships e.g. employer and employee or in the levels of relative need for knowledge resources e.g. developed and developing worlds (Harman C. & Brelade S. 2003).

Knowledge transfer includes, but encompasses more than, Technology transfer.

Knowledge transfer between public and private domains

With the move of advanced economies from a resource-based to a knowledge-based production, many national governments have increasingly recognised ‘knowledge’ and ‘innovation’ as significant driving forces of economic growth, social development, and job creation. In this context the promotion of ‘knowledge transfer’ has increasingly become a subject of public and economic policy.

The underlying assumption that there is a potential for increased collaboration between industry and universities is also underlined in much of the current innovation literature. In particular the Open Innovation approach to developing business value is explicitly based on an assumption that Universities are a “vital source for accessing external ideas”. Moreover Universities have been deemed to be “the great, largely unknown, and certainly underexploited, resource contributing to the creation of wealth and economic competitiveness”

Universities and other public sector research organisations (PSROs) have accumulated much practical experience over the years in the transfer of knowledge across the divide between the domains of publicly produced knowledge and the private exploitation of it. Many colleges and PSROs have developed processes and policies to discover, protect and exploit intellectual property (IP) rights, and to ensure that IP is successfully transferred to private corporations, or vested in new companies formed for the purposes of exploitation. Routes to commercialisation of IP produced by PSROs and colleges include licensing, joint venture, new company formation and royalty-based assignments.

Organisations such as AUTM in the US and The Institute of Knowledge Transfer in the UK and the Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals in Europe have provided a conduit for knowledge transfer professionals across the public and private sectors to identify best practice and develop effective tools and techniques for the management of PSRO/college produced IP. On-line Communities of Practice for knowledge transfer practitioners are also emerging to facilitate connectivity (such as The Global Innovation Network and the knowledgePool).

Business-University Collaboration was the subject of the Lambert Review in the UK in 2003.