Is the theory of planned behaviour an accurate predictor of knowledge sharing behaviour?

RealKM Magazine
May 19 · 4 min read

In 1985, Icek Ajzen proposed the theory of planned behaviour[1]. As Dr. Maureen Sullivan explains in a previous article[2], the theory of planned behaviour expands the theory of reasoned action, and is one of a number of predictive behaviour models.

As shown in the diagram above, according to the theory of planned behaviour[3],

Intentions to perform behaviors of different kinds can be predicted with high accuracy from attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control; and these intentions, together with perceptions of behavioral control, account for considerable variance in actual behavior.

The theory of planned behaviour has been applied to help understand behaviours in a range of fields. This includes knowledge management, where it has been used to examine the factors that drive knowledge sharing behaviours. However, the authors of a recent study[4] advise that results are inconclusive in regard to whether the theory of planned behaviour can reasonably predict knowledge sharing behaviour. In response, they conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 26 studies examining the theory of planned behaviour in knowledge sharing. As part of the study, the potential moderator roles of culture, economic wealth, and IT infrastructure were explored.

The study authors advise that the systematic review was carried out in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) Statement[5], and that a meta-analytical structural equation model (MASEM)[6] was used to test theory of planned behaviour models because it is a superior meta-analytical technique.

The strong effects of attitude and intention

The study found that:

  • Attitude has the strongest effect on intention to share knowledge, followed by perceived behavior control, while subjective norms had a minor influence on intention. This suggests that individual preferences and perceived behavioural control have a major influence on the intention to share knowledge, whereas social pressure seems to have less influence.
  • In turn, intention has a strong association with knowledge sharing behaviour, and perceived behavior control also has a direct effect on knowledge sharing behaviour.
  • The moderator role of cultural dimension was found to be important, with nations that have higher collectivism reporting a much stronger effect of perceived behavior control on intention to share knowledge. In response, managers in nations with higher levels of collectivism can apply policies to encourage individuals to share knowledge to benefit the group, because if individuals know that their knowledge sharing will bring more value to the group, they are more likely to contribute. Conversely, in nations with lower levels of collectivism, there seems to be a greater focus on individual interest, so incentives for individuals may be more effective in encouraging knowledge sharing.
  • GDP per capita, a proxy for economic wealth, was found to also have a moderator role, supporting the argument that in nations with higher GDP per capita, individuals have higher intention to share knowledge. However, high GDP per capita might be strongly correlated with other aspects of overall economic development, social capital, and institutional factors, so caution is required with interpretations.
  • IT support was also found to be an important moderator, facilitating the transformation from intention to knowledge sharing behaviour. This reconfirms that IT has paved the way for new methods of working or collaborating among individuals, as well as bringing novel opportunities for knowledge sharing. So the application of IT is also a good way to encourage individuals to engage in knowledge sharing behaviour.
  • The moderator role of gender could not be tested, due to the small number of studies with a higher percentage of female participants. However, there could be potential differences in knowledge sharing behaviour between male and female individuals, as shown in some studies, so future researchers may wish to examine gender as a moderator.

Header image source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.


  1. Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In Action Control (pp. 11–39). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  2. Sullivan, M. S. (2012). A study of the relationship between personality types and the acceptance of technical knowledge management systems (TKMS) (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).
  3. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 179–211.
  4. Nguyen, Tuyet-Mai, Nham, Phong Tuan, & Hoang, Viet-Ngu (2019). The theory of planned behavior and knowledge sharing: A systematic re-view and meta-analytic structural equation modelling. VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 49(1), pp. 76–94.
  5. Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2014). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Ann Intern Med, 151, 264–9.
  6. Jak, S. (2015). Meta-analytic structural equation modelling. Dordrecht, Neth.: Springer.

Originally published at RealKM.

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