Factors Influencing Information Sharing in Four SME Networks
in Portugal
A Coordination Perspective
Esther Lage and Bráulio Alturas
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), ADETTI-IUL, Avenida das Forças Armadas, 1649-026 Lisboa, Portugal
Keywords: Information Sharing, Inter-organizational Relationships, Networks.
Abstract: Sharing a minimum amount of information is a basic condition for working in cooperation. The aim of this
study was to identify aspects that influence information sharing within inter-organizational networks
through an exploratory and qualitative approach. The coordination’s representatives of four networks were
interviewed: the Majority-Partner of a Purchase Network (RAVT), the Technical Consultant of an
Innovation Network (COTEC), the General Secretary of a cluster representation network (CEFAMOL) and
the President of a Network of Associations (UACS). Aspects related to the information sharing were
identified, such as information quality, top management commitment, trust, network coordination’s role,
reciprocity and age. Further researches can deepen these results by comparing them with network
companies’ view.
The literature has already identified several factors
influencing information/knowledge sharing in
diverse types of inter-organizational relationships.
Among those factors it is possible to cite intention
and ability to learn (Simonin, 2004), assistance
provided by the partner (Hau and Evangelista,
2007), high intensity of interaction and intimacy
between partners (Bstieler and Hemmert, 2008) and
informal socialization mechanisms (Dahl and
Pedersen, 2004).
However, despite the growing number of studies
on this subject over the past 20 years (Easterby-
Smith et al., 2008), there are still aspects that require
a deeper understanding. For instance, there remains
a need for interpretative methodological approaches
in order to capture the social complexity that
involves the phenomenon (Pérez-Nordtvedt et al.,
In this paper it is presented the network
coordinators perspective on factors influencing
information sharing within the networks. It is
expected that this understanding can bring insight to
network’s coordinators and organizational’
managers, who are expected to improve policies,
incentives and channels concerning the information
sharing process.
Inter-organizational networks can be understood as
"institutional arrangements that allow efficient
organization of economic activities through the
coordination of systematic links established among
interdependent firms” (Britto, 2001). One of the
links that characterize any types of networks is the
sharing of information.
In this paper “information sharing” is defined as
the process that allows a greater availability of
information to network members. It is a
communication process that takes place in a social
context, which means that informational needs of
individuals are not merely cognitive, but directly
related to the labour and social groups to which they
belong (Capurro, 2003). Despite the use of the two
terms - information and knowledge - in this paper,
following the authors researched, we consider that
only information can be managed for conceptual
reasons (Wilson, 2002).
Researches conducted in different types of inter-
organizational relationships, such as supply chain
networks (Moberg et al., 2009), strategic alliances
(Simonin, 2004), clusters (Mei and Nie, 2007) and
Lage E. and Alturas B..
Factors Influencing Information Sharing in Four SME Networks in Portugal - A Coordination Perspective.
DOI: 10.5220/0004135401780183
In Proceedings of the International Conference on Knowledge Management and Information Sharing (KMIS-2012), pages 178-183
ISBN: 978-989-8565-31-0
2012 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
innovation networks (Fritsch and Kauffeld-Monz,
2008; Bond III et al., 2008) have showed that
information sharing is a dynamic process and its
occurrence requires taking into consideration several
In this study the relationship between the
following aspects and the information sharing
process were investigated:
Information quality: it was found as a positive
influence for the sharing of strategic information
between buyers and suppliers. The authors
characterize information quality as accuracy,
timeliness and properly formatted information
(Moberg et al, 2002).
Top management commitment: it was also found
as a positive influence for the exchange of
strategic information between buyers and
suppliers. In the mentioned study, top
management commitment was composed of three
aspects: the provision of the necessary resources
for the sharing to happen; the sent of right signals
to the affected part of the organization; and the
convincement of the partners to take part in the
sharing (Madlberger, 2009).
Information and communication technologies: it
was also identified the positive relation between
the existence of internal technical readiness,
referring to inter-organizational systems, and the
exchange of operational information, probably due
to the fact that operational information is highly
formatted and standardized (Madlberger, 2009).
Organizational size: a research in innovation
networks identified that the smaller the company
the greater the knowledge transferred to partners
(Fritsch and Kauffeld-Monza, 2008).
Trust in the partners: in the same research
mentioned above the authors identified a positive
relationship between strong ties (measured as trust
among members) and the exchange of information
and knowledge in innovation networks.
Partner’s power: the existence of a power
asymmetry between the giver of knowledge (upper
position) and the receiver is very common. The
rate of acquisition of knowledge by the recipient is
a key factor to change the relationship of
dependency (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008;
Martinkenaite 2011).
Trust in the network’s leadership: Moreira and
Corvelo (2002, apud Moreira, 2007) found that
cooperation among small and medium enterprises
in Portugal highly depends on the trust of
network’s members in their leadership. Therefore,
trust in the network’s coordination may also be an
important factor for the information sharing
process to happen.
Taking into account the assumptions underlying the
qualitative study (Creswell, 1994), this study can be
classified as a qualitative research. The main interest
is the meaning given by the networks coordination
representatives about the phenomenon; the result is a
descriptive understanding of the process and an
inductive analysis of the data. When it comes to the
objective it is an exploratory research and when it
comes to the method it is classified as a field
Four kinds of Portuguese SME networks that
represent important sectors for the Portuguese
economy were investigated:
Cluster representation Network: Molds Industry
National Association (CEFAMOL).
Innovation Network: SME Innovation Network
Purchase Network: Representation of Travel
Agents and Tourism Training (RAVT).
Network of Associations: Union of Associations
of Trade and Services (UACS).
Primary data were collected through semi-
structured interviews, in 2011, with representatives
of the coordination of each network. The Majority-
Partner of RAVT, the Technical Consultant of
COTEC, the General Secretary of CEFAMOL and
the President of UACS were interviewed. Three
reasons explain the chosen actors: the aim to
understand the information sharing process from a
collective perspective; the role developed by those
actors in terms of defining rules and procedures that
can influence the information process sharing; the
focus of those actors on the global results.
Secondary data were collected through the
websites of the respective networks. The data was
analyzed qualitatively according to the themes of the
research. An interaction between the theoretical
material and the data was carried, following Yin’s
(2001) orientation. As limitations, this study is based
on subjective data and does not explore the
perception of other actors belonging to the networks.
Table 1 indicates the foundation and number of
members of the networks researched:
Table 1: Basic characteristics of the networks.
Networks Foundation Number of members
UACS 1870 15 associations
CEFAMOL 1969 115 members
COTEC 2005 119 members
RAVT 2005 96 branches/ 62 travel
UACS is composed of associations of micro and
small enterprises, whose 70 to 80% are family
businesses. Its objective is to defend the interests of
small businesses regarding the more diverse issues.
According to the interviewee, there is no association
with the same product or service in the network. In
order to join the network, the associations must pay
a monthly fee which is calculated considering the
number of employees and the social capital.
CEFAMOL is composed of national companies
whose head office is located in Portugal. Its
objectives are to defend the sector’s interests, to get
a closer relationship among the companies through
the focus on common objectives and goals and to
build a sense of orientation to the sector that
facilitates its worldly recognition. In order to belong
to the network the companies have to apply by
filling out a form and pay a monthly fee. According
to the respondent, there is a predominance of
competitors within the network, but also some
complementary competences.
The SME Innovation COTEC Network is
composed of firms with at least 200,000 Euros
turnover, 10 employees, 3 years in the market and a
minimal degree of innovation. Its objectives are to
develop skills in SME, to promote public
recognition of the ones which are examples of value
creation, to establish network among the SME and
the large companies and to support specific stages of
growth. The degree of innovation is measured by a
tool developed for this purpose - the innovation
scoring - whose results are analyzed by a specific
committee. Membership requires the payment of an
annual fee. Moreover, in order to remain in the
network, companies must maintain the efforts
towards innovation, since they will be evaluated
annually with respect to this criterion. COTEC is a
multi-sectorial network and the companies are
geographically dispersed throughout the country.
RAVT has as objectives the training, promotion,
representation and brokerage of the members and
their products. The coordination carries a strict
evaluation of the member's profile and history
regarding aspects such as company's reputation in
the market, absence of debt, possession of licenses,
ability to work in a group and real interest in
participating in the network. A special attention is
given to the geographic scope in order to avoid that
a new member reaches the geographical area of
another one. In order to become a member,
companies have to pay an admission and a monthly
fee. The coordination plays a strong influence on the
companies’ management supervision, as can be seen
by the following statement:
By interfering with the negotiations, imposing
objectives, we are obviously making a clear business
management of their companies. No doubt about
Information Quality. Information quality
influences information sharing in all networks,
according to the respondents. The understanding of
the respondents on what quality information is can
be summarized into two aspects: rigor (truthfulness,
honesty, correct spelling and grammar) and
relevance (usefulness).
The respondents mentioned two factors that
influence the availability of quality information
within a network: the interlocutor’s knowledge
(CEFAMOL and UACS) and the network
coordination’s role (COTEC and RAVT).
For CEFAMOL’s interviewee, quality
information is related to the knowledge possessed by
the interlocutor: usually people will ask for
information to those they consider can add on the
theme. UACS’ interviewee mentioned the power of
knowledge of some individuals within the network,
which brings greater credibility to the information
transmitted. This aspect is related to the findings of
Pérez-Nordtvedt et al. (2008) according to whom the
sources become more attractive to the recipient
when their knowledge is considered valuable, which
also contributes to increase the perceived usefulness
of it.
The relevance of networks coordination was also
mentioned. For COTEC´s interviewee, since
network coordination contributes in the selection of
network members, it indirectly selects the quality of
information that will be available for other members,
saving their time:
I will not have time to meet everyone in business,
so if I have a consultant that restricts the range by
using a criterion that I accept, that is fundamental.”
For RAVT, although some members send lower
quality information, all information is received by
the coordination and used in order to construct the
There are members who send lower quality
information. But we receive them. Sometimes we
joined a piece of information with another one and
form the puzzle…”
The last statements highlight the role of the
coordination acting as a filter and a decoder in order
to provide quality information to network members.
Top Management Commitment. Top management
commitment was also regarded as an important
factor. For CEFAMOL and UACS the importance of
top management commitment is due to the small
size of companies belonging to the networks. For
CEFAMOL’ respondent, although technicians have
their friendship or familiar relationship and use them
to share information, strategic information is shared
by top managers and is mainly carried out face-to-
face or by phone. Madlberger (2009), in a research
focused on the relationship between buyers and
suppliers, identified that top management
commitment is positively related to the exchange of
strategic information. UACS´s interviewee
highlighted the greater dependence of small
enterprises on the presence of top managers.
COTEC and RAVT’s interviewees mentioned
the importance of top managers acting as teams’
leaders and models. According to Dibella and Nevis
(1999), the personal involvement of leaders in what
they consider important is fundamental to encourage
their teams.
Information and Communication Technologies.
Despite all the respondents have mentioned the
importance of ICT to the information sharing, its
relevance seems to be greater to RAVT than to the
other networks. According to RAVT’s interviewee,
ICT is the main channel used to share information
within the network. The relevance of ICT is
probably related to the facts that the members are
geographically dispersed throughout the country and
the network has a more vertical coordination, which
demands the exchange of more operational
information. Moreover, tourism is a globally
connected business.
The main ICT used in RAVT are intranet, e-mail
and telephone. RAVT also have other ICT as web
cam with specific messenger, Skype, e-voice and
facebook. The interviewee highlights the goal of the
network to become one of the best groups at
integrated management information system (an
intranet that will link and control the evolution of the
business of the allies).
The other respondents also mentioned the
importance of ICT to disseminate information
(UACS) and to help companies organize their
internal information (COTEC). The main ICT used
in the networks are traditional ones such as e-mail
and telephone.
Size. COTEC´s interviewee highlighted that since
small companies have fewer resources, mainly in
terms of people, they have more difficulty to allocate
members to the network’s activities, which is a
hindrance to the information sharing process.
For the other respondents, size is not an
important factor in terms of information sharing
within the networks. According to CEFAMOL´s
interviewee, size only becomes an important factor
when it comes to the relationship between small and
large companies. That is the case of Mold Industry,
whose companies have little power in relation to
customers and supplier due to their size. This fact
leaves the smaller ones more vulnerable in terms of
sharing relevant information:
Any company that exports molds will send to its
partners all the drawings that were made, any
projects that was done, i.e.…. if the client wants to
repeat a pattern...it can design and repeat it with
another company.
This view is coherent with Wijk et al. (2008),
who identified a positive and significant relationship
between size and knowledge transfer, in the sense
that larger organizations have greater access to
Trust in Partners and in Network Coordination.
Trust in partners and in network coordination is
relevant for all networks as a basic condition for the
sharing of information to happen.
For CEFAMOL´s interviewee the development
of trust among the partners is highly dependent on
the interpersonal relationship. To COTEC, trust in
network coordination can influence the trust of
members in one another, i.e., it is believed that the
network coordination acts as a seal, an assurance
that the companies within the network are
Although the mentioned relevance of trust, it was
possible to notice that its presence is influenced by
the type of information that is expected to be shared
and the type of partner to whom the information is
expected to be shared.
For RAVT´s respondent there is a lack of trust
when the topic is finances, which leads to a lack of
willingness to share this kind of information:
It is very serious to get access to their
profitability... sharing on money is the most difficult
According to the interviewee, this lack of trust is
related to the Portuguese culture. In this matter,
Moreira (2007) considers that the Portuguese culture
is characterized by the absence of a collective
system of trust and the predominance of strong
informal neighboring relationships.
The representatives of CEFAMOL, COTEC and
UACS highlighted that a protectiveness attitude in
relation to information is part of the competitive side
of a networking process, as illustrated by the
statements below:
If we don't do a good use of the network, we can
end up sharing strategic information, which can be
harmful... (COTEC).
If there is information that can help a company
overcome another one within an association, then, in
this case, is perhaps beneficial to some companies
do not share it (UACS).
The fear of losing competitive advantage shows
the expectancy that the information shared may
bring negative effects for the transmitting company
(Loebbecke and Van Fenema, 1998 apud Tálamo,
2008). This fact encourages the companies to hide
part of their information, which is conceptualized by
Simonin (2004) as the inability or unwillingness to
share knowledge.
Power. According to CEFAMOL and COTEC´s
interviewees, power is not an important aspect
among companies of similar size, but among small
and large companies. Although RAVT’ interviewee
recognizes the presence of differences in power
among members who have access to different
resources, she mentioned that this is not taken into
account in the decision process within the network.
For UACS, as mentioned before, power is related to
the quality of knowledge of the individuals within
the network.
Reciprocity, Age, Motivation to Teach and the
Coordination’ Role. In addition to the factors cited
in the interview guide, other relevant aspects were
also mentioned by the respondents.
According to COTEC´s interviewee, the most
important factor to boost information sharing among
the partners is reciprocity:
Today I know this and I can help my partner,
tomorrow I am also counting on the availability of
someone who knows to help me.
CEFAMOL´s interviewee highlights the age.
According to him the oldest companies are more
willing to share information and the youngest are
more individualistic:
The old ones have a better understanding of the
meaning of sharing because they have shared many
things together.
Wijk et al. (2008) did not find a relationship
between age and inter-organizational knowledge
For RAVT the entrepreneurs have an intrinsic
incentive to share information, which comes from
the feeling of contribution offered:
They like to share…They feel gratified to see that
they passed something for the network.”
However, this intrinsic motivation to teach does
not seem sufficient to ensure that the sharing occurs
in RAVT, being necessary the constant push of the
network’s coordination, as shown by the statement
If we lose the momentum, the group itself slows
down. You need an engine. The engine must always
be searching, pulling, informing.”
COTEC´ interviewee also stresses the
importance of the efforts made by the coordination
to incentive the members to engage in network’s
activities and to encourage them to meet one
another: We are the engine, we pull things.
This fact highlights the importance of the
coordination to the process of information sharing.
In order to keep the dynamics of sharing, RAVT´s
interviewee emphasizes the need of constant
feedback from the coordination:
If you send an e-mail, phone, trying to say
something and nobody answered ... but here there is
always a grateful feedback.
Another aspect related to the coordination is the
diversification of activities in which the members of
the coordination are involved, which provides
quicker access to quality information compared to
I am involved in several projects. I have access
to inside information, first hand.
In CEFAMOL the coordination acts through the
proposal of projects that aim to join companies with
similar interests and competences.
The relevance of the coordination reveals the
requirement of professionals with the necessary
competences to deal with the diversity of interests
presenting in a network, as Wegner e Padula (2010)
point out.
Sharing a minimal amount of information is a basic
condition to work in cooperation. This study aimed
to improve understanding on the factors influencing
information sharing within inter-organizational
networks. Among the relevant factors found it is
possible to cite information quality, top management
commitment, trust, network coordination’ activities,
age, reciprocity and TIC.
Information quality was associated with the
presence of individuals whose knowledge is
perceived as valuable by other network members
and with the network coordination’s activities. Top
management commitment was mentioned as a
relevant aspect especially due to the small size of
firms within the networks. It was also associated
with the sharing of strategic information. Trust was
found to be associated with the type of information
and the type of partner in focus. National culture
also appeared as a factor that may influence trust
among network members. One aspect that deserves
mention is the importance of coordination’ activities
in relation to information sharing: information filter
and decoder; mediator for the development of trust
between members; and incentive for members to
participate and engage in network activities. Size
and power were not cited as relevant aspects to the
sharing within the network. Other studies should
precede a qualitative and quantitative research with
the other network actors in order to deepen the
results. It would also make possible the gain of
specific knowledge about the sharing of information
between companies and their partners.
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