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Knowledge Sharing in Crowdsourcing – it is More Than
Chunmei Gan1,2
, Miia Kosonen1
, and Kirsimarja Blomqvis...
The paper is structured as follows. Theoretical background on knowledge sharing in OCs is
introduced in Section 2. Then, M...
Figure 1: MOA as an antecedent to users’ knowledge sharing behavior (modified from Coleman [1990], Foss
[2007], Foss et al...
Figure 2: MOA framework of knowledge sharing in the crowdsourcing community
4.1 Motivation
Of the MOA variables, motivatio...
oriented users may engage in crowdsourcing communities because they are more interested in the
outcomes such as monetary c...
limit one’s willing to do so. In this study, we focus on two aspects of the ability: knowledge and skills,
dynamics of knowledge contributions on community level also deserve attention by researchers (Faraj
et al, 2011).
From man...
Cummings, L.L. and Schwab, D.P. (1973) Performance in organizations: Determinants and appraisal.
Glenview, IL: Scott, Fore...
Nambisan, S. and Baron, R. A. (2010) “Different Roles, Different Strokes: Organizing Virtual
Customer Environments to Prom...
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Crowdsourcing is more than motivation


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European Conference on Knowledge Management, Cartagena, Spain, 2012

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Crowdsourcing is more than motivation

  1. 1. 1 Knowledge Sharing in Crowdsourcing – it is More Than Motivation Chunmei Gan1,2 , Miia Kosonen1 , and Kirsimarja Blomqvist1 1 Technology Business Research Center, School of Business, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland 2 Department of Information Management, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, P.R. China,, Abstract: In recent years, companies have opened up their innovation activities to users through the establishment of online crowdsourcing communities – firm-hosted customer co-innovation and value co-creation platforms; which stands for an important strategy, known as open innovation. However, we identify two research gaps exist: first, knowledge sharing literature emphasizes macro-level (organizational level), and pays relatively less attention to micro-level (individual level); secondly, online community research focuses mainly on the importance of motivation as a driver of behavior. Therefore in this paper we develop a conceptual framework that draws on the micro-foundations perspective to consider an integrated set of motivation, opportunity and ability (MOA) that drive users to share knowledge in the crowdsourcing community. Based on theoretical background of knowledge sharing in online communities, we put forward a theoretical framework to explain the relationship between MOA and knowledge sharing for further empirical research. Keywords: knowledge sharing; motivation; opportunity; ability; crowdsourcing; online community 1. Introduction Today, an increasing number of organizations are hosting online communities (OCs) for commercial purposes. OCs are open collectives of dispersed individuals, consisting of members who are not necessarily identifiable to each other but who share common interests (Faraj et al, 2011). They are best characterized by voluntary input and interaction by users who together form a powerful collective. One certain type of OCs is crowdsourcing communities, which afford firms opportunities to involve their users in value creation and innovation activities. Crowdsourcing community refers to the on-going use of online communication technologies and online groups of individual contributors in implementing crowdsourcing strategy. Users are considered a valuable source of innovation (von Hippel, 1988) in the community as co-creators (Nambisan, 2002), partners (Nambisan and Baron, 2010), or part of the organization as co-producers (Wind and Rangaswamy, 2001). There are two main types of crowdsourcing plaftorms: firm-hosted (e.g., Nokia’s IdeasProject, IBM’s Global Innovation Jam) and third-party providers (e.g., InnoCentive, Taskcn). In this study, we focus on firm-hosted communities, where users freely ideate and share knowledge about products/services and their features with other users and the hosting firm. Considering user- driven innovation as one of its distinct characteristics, a deep understanding of the factors that shape users’ sharing behavior in crowdsourcing communities have risen in importance on both research and corporate agendas. Due to the newness of the phenomenon, academic research on crowdsourcing is yet scarce. And prior OC research has a general understanding regarding the factors determining knowledge sharing behavior, including social and psychological needs, characteristics of interaction, and different user types (Porter et al, 2011; Füller, 2010; Nambisan and Baron, 2009). However, two research gaps exist in extant research on knowledge sharing and OCs. Firstly, knowledge sharing literature emphasizes macro-level (organizational level), and pays relatively less attention to micro-level constructs and mechanisms (Foss et al, 2010). Secondly, research on OCs focuses mainly on the importance of motivation as a driver of knowledge-sharing behavior, which is not sufficient to explore factors that affect user behavior. With respect to these gaps, we apply the motivation, opportunity and ability (MOA) into the crowdsourcing context, and address the question: what are the specific roles of MOA in driving knowledge sharing on online crowdsourcing communities?
  2. 2. The paper is structured as follows. Theoretical background on knowledge sharing in OCs is introduced in Section 2. Then, MOA perspective on individual-level knowledge sharing behavior is put forward in Section 3. Furthermore, a theoretical framework to explain the relationship between MOA factors and knowledge sharing behavior is developed in Section 4. Finally, the discussion, limitations and implications are presented in Section 5. 2. Knowledge sharing in online communities (OCs) In this study, we view knowledge as embedded in emergent communities. According to this view, knowledge is a public good that is socially generated, maintained and exchanged (Brown and Duguid, 1991; Lave and Wenger, 1991). A public good can be provided only if the members of the collective contribute towards its provision (Wasko and Faraj, 2000). Such knowledge can be extracted from individuals and made available to the collective, if the conditions are favorable. This brings us to the individual-level knowledge sharing behavior and its focal role in eventually determining community success. Knowledge sharing presumes an individual willing to disseminate knowledge to other members of the collective (Hsu et al, 2007). Such perspective of knowledge “supply” is typical for OC literature (see Kosonen, 2009 for a review). A more two-way approach on knowledge sharing would underline the ability of the other party to interpret the knowledge expressed. Interpretation is dependent on the social context and the individual backgrounds as well as experiences (Tsoukas, 1994). Hereby, the norms and practices of the OC may provide a cognitive frame enabling community members to engage in knowledge sharing, and to combine knowledge gained through community participation (Chiu et al, 2006; Kosonen, 2009). We thus approach knowledge sharing as a form of generalized exchange among a specific online group of people, involving indirect reciprocal dependence around a shared interest, and a communication platform serving as an intermediary between contributors and seekers of knowledge. Knowledge sharing is enabled through mechanisms that support posting and responding to questions, sharing personal experiences in the form of stories, and discussing issues that are relevant to the community (Wasko and Faraj, 2000). In a crowdsourcing community, users’ knowledge sharing behavior refers to e.g. putting forward ideas, sharing usage experience and general know-how about products/services, following discussions and making comments. Social capital theory has been applied to explain individual knowledge sharing within an online collective. In the context of OCs, structural social capital has been found as the most significant driver of knowledge sharing (Wasko and Faraj, 2005). Users who are central to the network are more likely to provide important contributions to benefit the collective. Another significant predictor of knowledge contributions seems to be the level of cognitive social capital, referring to the individual’s experience on the field and thus ability to share knowledge. It is important to note that the study by Wasko and Faraj (2005) was conducted within an online network of people engaged in a shared profession, representing a loose collective of individuals who do not necessarily know each other, as it is the case in crowdsourcing communities. Therefore, we believe that their work provides important insight for OC researchers focusing on crowdsourcing. 3. MOA perspective on individual-level knowledge sharing behavior In this section, we consider knowledge sharing behavior in the crowdsourcing community from the perspective of knowledge governance micro-foundations (here, MOA). The micro-foundation is needed because the crowdsourcing community relies significantly on users’ contributions (Lengnick- Hall, 1996; von Hippel, 1988). As shown in Figure 1 (italic part), which builds on the work of Coleman (1990), it displays two levels (macro and micro) and four links (arrow 1, 2, 3, and 4) (Foss, 2007). In the present context, we focus on the micro – level (arrow 2: individual, micro-micro relationship), which describes that “individual action” (the explanandum) could be influenced by “conditions of individual action” (the explanans). Furthermore, we concentrate our attention on “MOA” and elaborate on how these explain variation in “users’ knowledge sharing behavior” (see the boldface part in Figure 1).
  3. 3. Figure 1: MOA as an antecedent to users’ knowledge sharing behavior (modified from Coleman [1990], Foss [2007], Foss et al [2010]). MOA was originally used in information processing (MacInnis and Jaworski, 1989; MacInnis et al, 1991). Broadly speaking, motivation (‘will do’) refers to an individual’s willingness to perform some tasks; opportunity represents the context that supports the individual’s actions; and ability (‘can do’) denotes the individual’s potential (knowledge, skills or confidence) for the actions (Dunette, 1976; Rothschild, 1999; Siemsen et al, 2008). Within the research on knowledge sharing in organizations, special attention has been paid to the MOA attributes in determining knowledge sharing behavior. However, this perspective has not yet been explicitly linked to OCs especially crowdsourcing communities. Foss and Minbaeva (2009) indicated, “the MOA approach seem[ed] particularly appropriate for examining the individual-level antecedents of knowledge transfer as it move[d] away from the structure/content assumption characterizing previous research and adopt[ed] a more process-driven view (Lane et al, 2006)”. And the MOA framework is warranted because its three dimensions – motivation, opportunity and ability – are related constructs (Blumberg and Pringle, 1982) and should play complementary roles in influencing behavior (Cummings and Schwab, 1973). Users are likely to participate and contribute in crowdsourcing communities when they have motivation, opportunity, and ability to do so (Foss and Minbaeva, 2009; Minbaeva et al, 2010). Thus, we consider MOA framework to be more systematical and stronger for explaining individuals’ knowledge-sharing behavior. Previous research has applied MOA to explain various types of knowledge-related behavior. For example, Argote et al (2003) identified MOA to explain how and why contextual properties affect knowledge management outcomes. Foss and Minbaeva (2009), in turn, noted the effect of MOA on individual knowledge-related behavior in strategic human resource management field. The study by Minbaeva et al (2010) considered how MOA affected knowledge acquisition and use. Building on these studies, we apply the MOA framework into the context of crowdsourcing communities, considering which types of attributes or factors precede the development of MOA and how they affect users’ knowledge sharing behavior. Next, we will build a MOA framework considering both its antecedents and outcomes in the context of crowdsourcing communities. 4. Factors of knowledge sharing in crowdsourcing community: MOA framework As described above, the MOA framework could be used to better explain users’ knowledge sharing behavior from the individual level. This section focuses on the proposed framework, the aim being to identify factors of MOA that affect users’ sharing behavior in the crowdsourcing community. Figure 2 illustrates the factors, which are discussed in more detail in the following sub-sections.
  4. 4. Figure 2: MOA framework of knowledge sharing in the crowdsourcing community 4.1 Motivation Of the MOA variables, motivation has evoked the most debate and discussion as an antecedent in affecting behavior. Motivation refers to the dynamic, personal energy with which an action is performed (Cummings and Schwab, 1973). Crowdsourcing communities cannot develop without the contributions of highly motivated users who are willing to donate their time and effort to it. Different motivations to affect knowledge sharing behavior have been generally classified as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when the activity itself or the corresponding end goal satisfies a direct need in its own right; while extrinsic motivation serves to satisfy indirect or instrumental needs (Frey and Osterloh, 2002). Based on the work of Nambisan and Baron (2007, 2009), we consider these four benefits as users’ intrinsic motivation for engaging in crowdsourcing communities. In addition, tangible rewards and career opportunities are seen to extrinsically motivate users. Learning benefit. Learning benefit is related to learning knowledge about products/services. Crowdsourcing communities hold valuable collective product-related knowledge that is rooted in the specific context where it is practiced (Brown and Duguid, 1991). When users engage in a community, they could easily get access to this knowledge through reading the ongoing conversations. Also, participating in tasks/projects or discussions with others provide opportunities to better understand the specific product/service. Nambisan and Baron (2007) showed that learning benefit has a quite strong impact on actual customer participation in virtual customer environments. Social integrative benefit. Social integrative benefit reflects social and relational ties (Nambisan, 2002). Users share similar interests, perceive significant overlap between their personal identity and that of other community members, as well as feel a general sense of belonging to the community (Porter et al, 2011; Tsai and Ghoshal, 1998). Tsai & Ghoshal (1998) suggested that social interaction ties are channels for information and resource flows. Chiu et al (2006) showed that social interaction ties increased individuals’ quantity of knowledge sharing in virtual communities. Personal integrative benefit. Personal integrative benefit indicates recognition, reputation, status or image. Users are gratified by sharing their knowledge so as to make better products/services or see their own ideas come true, which could bring them feeling of being valued. When users perceive that more involvement will position them to enhance their image, peer recognition, firm recognition or status in the community, they will then be more likely to being engaged (Nambisan and Baron, 2010). Hedonic benefit. Hedonic benefit reflects user experiences of curiosity, pleasure or stimulation. Research shows that when users experience flow – a psychological state of having fun as well as feeling absorbed, gratified, and in control over one’s experience – they develop favorable attitudes toward communities that provide such an experience (Porter et al, 2011). An enjoyable, relaxing and interesting user-experience in the crowdsourcing community could attract more users to participate and contribute. Tangible rewards. Tangible rewards, such as money, prizes or branded gifts, are considered to be a motivator for users’ active participation. Tangible rewards have positive reinforcement, which can encourage repeated behavior in the future (Skinner, 1953). Brabham (2010) showed that the opportunity to make money is important for participation on the crowdsourcing site. Roberts et al (2006) empirically examined that monetary compensation is positively affecting contributors’ level of participation. In addition, considering different personal characteristics, Füller (2010) stated that goal-
  5. 5. oriented users may engage in crowdsourcing communities because they are more interested in the outcomes such as monetary compensation. Career opportunities. Crowdsourcing communities also provide potential career opportunities for users. On one hand, uses who contribute the best ideas may gain an opportunity for attending firm- hosted conferences (e.g., Nokia World), which will create paths for displaying oneself to the potential employers. On the other hand, for those active users, community managers would pay more attention on them, or even contact with them for further communications. Lerner and Tirole (2002) suggested that open source software communities offer an excellent setting in which a participant motivated by career concerns can signal his or her abilities to the labour market. 4.2 Opportunity Users could be more motivated when coupled with supportive and empowering contexts derived from opportunity. Effective crowdsourcing communities should provide users with the opportunity to generate, communicate and share knowledge. Blumberg and Pringle (1982) defined opportunity as “consist[ed] of the particular configuration of the field of forces surrounding a person and his or her task that enable[d] or constrain[ed] that person’s task performance and that [were] beyond the person’s direct control”. In context of crowdsourcing communities, opportunity refers to resources availability, environment surrounded or tasks/projects designed for users. Here, three factors are identified that play a vital role in knowledge sharing. Community support. Community support implies the necessary conditions provided by the community for creating and sharing knowledge. In this study, we consider two types of support - technology and knowledge. Powerful technology (tools) and rich knowledge are seen as essential due to reasons that: tools contribute to users’ easily learning about how to create knowledge and reduce their cognitive effort to achieve it, and knowledge contributes to users’ better understanding of the related contexts and inspires them to come up with creative ideas (Füller, 2010). Specially, technology–based support refers to design aspects of the communities, which could address requirements such as inspire creativity community functionality and increase efficiency (Piller and Walcher, 2006). Prior research has focused on the design of toolkits for user innovation (e.g., von Hippel and Katz, 2002; Nambisan, 2002; Mahr and Lievens, 2011). Also, knowledge-based support refers to task/project-related knowledge provided by the community. This kind of support could reduce the ambiguity of the tasks/projects; bridge knowledge gap between users and the community; help users form or integrate ideas from scattered initial thoughts; and mentally or intellectually stimulate their minds for generating ideas. Community culture. Community culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the users of one community from another, and has direct or indirect impacts on users’ patterns of thinking, feeling and acting (Hofstede, 1991). Here, a trustful and interactive community culture could sustain users’ participation. Trust can be understood as the actor’s willingness to be vulnerable (Mayer et al, 1995). It matters because it is a predisposition for users’ knowledge sharing behavior (Blomqvist, 2008 and 2009). Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) presented that when trust exists between the parties, they are more willing to engage in cooperative interaction. Interaction implies dialogue and conversation. Culture that encourages intense interaction among users not only evokes an individual’s active participation, but also enriches his/her personal relationships. Communities with social network functionality encourage users to freely express personal features and find those with similar interests. Task/project design. It is also important to take tasks/projects design (such as complexity and time needed) into account. Different tasks/projects usually attract different users and produce diverse effects on their participation due to heterogeneous motivations and various user types. And tasks/projects pose necessary requirements on the participants. Howe (2008) argued that users could choose a spectrum of tasks based on interest, commitment level and available time. Zheng et al (2011) found out the positive effects of contest autonomy, variety and analyzability, as well as the negative effects of contest tacitness on intrinsic motivation. 4.3 Ability Effects of motivation and opportunity may be complemented by an individual’s ability to share his/her knowledge in crowdsourcing communities. Ability to share knowledge refers to the human attributes residing within and utilized by individuals to accomplish the tasks/projects. Ability is an indispensable driver of individual level knowledge sharing (Minbaeva et al, 2010) and lack of it will
  6. 6. limit one’s willing to do so. In this study, we focus on two aspects of the ability: knowledge and skills, self-efficacy. Knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills could be represented as the prior related knowledge and experience (Kim, 2001), generic and task-specific aspects (Minbaeva et al, 2010). Users with a high degree of lead user characteristics (Von Hippel, 1986) may possess the relevant knowledge and skills, thus tend to enjoy sharing knowledge with others (Jeppesen and Laursen, 2009). And possession of certain knowledge and skills could increase deeper understanding of the current tasks/projects and facilitate the formation of variety knowledge. Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to one’s beliefs that they can exert control over their motivation and behavior and over their social environment (Bandura, 1990). In the context of crowdsourcing, self-efficacy is concerned with one’s belief of his or her ability to accomplish related tasks/projects. The degree of self-efficacy has effects on whether users will participate in crowdsourcing tasks/projects, how many efforts they will make, and how to handle with in the face of difficulties. Bandura (1982) argued that individuals choose to avoid activities when they think of lacking self- efficacy, and judgments of self-efficacy also determine their actions towards obstacles or aversive experiences. To sum up, the MOA factors and the outcomes of knowledge sharing in the crowdsourcing community are shown in Figure 3. Figure 3: MOA factors and outcomes of knowledge sharing in the crowdsourcing community 5. Conclusions In this paper, we have contributed by building local contextual theory of individual knowledge- sharing behavior in online crowdsourcing communities, while simultaneously introducing the micro- foundations perspective into the open innovation community research. While prior knowledge-sharing research has highlighted the importance of MOA factors across different organizational, until now they have not been applied in OCs or crowdsourcing. One possible limitation of the study is that we did not focus on the contextual differences between various types of crowdsourcing communities. In general, there is a wide variety in crowdsourcing initiatives (see Aitamurto et al, 2011). The levels of knowledge required and the factors preceding knowledge-sharing behavior thus vary depending on the community and its purpose. However, taking into account the lack of studies combining the micro-foundations perspective and MOA with OCs and crowdsourcing, we have attempted to build a more generic framework to provide a starting point for further research. The framework should be elaborated and tested in further quantitative and qualitative research. Another limitation is that our focus has been in individual users. In further studies, it would thus be valuable to pay attention to the hosting firm’s actions within the community, while investigating what is the actual value of the crowdsourcing community for its business. The
  7. 7. dynamics of knowledge contributions on community level also deserve attention by researchers (Faraj et al, 2011). From managerial perspective, user intrinsic motivation, and especially learning and creativity could be inspired by establishing direct links with community experts and professionals. Best user ideas and experiences should also gain more visibility. Social integration could be enhanced by linking the community with popular social networking sites or task force groups. Personal integration could be supported by providing both tools for peer recognition and company recognition. Another means would be publishing stories where development of products or services from idea to innovation is described, simultaneously recognizing users’ role in developing them. Hedonic needs could be better fulfilled with aesthetical and emotionally appealing tools for “flow experience”. In line with the hard facts and knowledge, the community could provide certain spaces for virtual coffee breaks, fun and entertainment, and relaxation together with other users. User extrinsic motivation can be easily enhanced by prizes related, e.g. to the product, service or brand in question. Personal preferences could be met if users can choose among a variety of prizes or gifts. Companies like Google and Facebook organize challenging competitions where user skills and creativity are called for, and the best users are invited for work interviews. Opportunity can be enhanced by investing both in technology-based support (e.g. platform usability and real-time support) and knowledge-based support. Platform usability and functionality is important also from trustworthiness point of view. A trusting community culture can be designed by explicitly agreeing on crowdsourcing community norms and rules. Various types of tasks could be offered, and many of the tasks should be designed so that they cannot be solved without collaboration of users with various expertise and skills. Ability can be diffused if the most knowledgeable users act as role models and source of knowledge for newcomers or less knowledgeable but eager users. Users could be asked to indicate and rate specific knowledge held by other users. Finally, the community could set up interactive, informal Q&A sessions giving guidance on how to share knowledge in the community. How to foster individuals share their knowledge in crowdsourcing communities is crucial. In the paper we have suggested that those who have strong motivations and high ability with many opportunities would be more likely to share. Different factors of the MOA will have different influences on individual behavior, which should be paid attention by researchers and practitioners. References Aitamurto, T. Leiponen, A. and Tee, Richard. (2011) “The Promise of Idea Crowdsourcing – Benefits, Contexts, Limitations”, [online]. Nokia. Argote, L. McEvily, B. and Reagans, R. (2003) “Managing knowledge in organizations: an integrative framework and review of emerging themes”. Management Science, Vol 49, No. 4, pp 571-582. Baker, P. M. and Ward, A. C. (2002) “Bridging temporal and spatial ‘gaps’: The role of information and communication technologies in defining communities”, Information, Communication & Society, Vol 5, No. 2, pp 207-224. Bandura, A. (1982) “Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency”. American Psychologist, Vol 37, No. 2, pp 122-147. Bandura, A. (1990) “Perceived self-efficacy in the exercise of control over aids infection”. Evaluation and Program Planning, Vol 13, No.1, pp 9-17. Blomqvist, K. (2008) “Trust in a Knowledge-based organization”. Paper read at Conference for Organizational Knowledge, Competences and Learning, Copenhagen, Denmark, April-May. Blomqvist, K. (2009) “Trust in Organizational Knowledge Processes”. Paper read at ECKM conference, Vicenza, Italy, September. Blumberg, M. and Pringle, C.D. (1982) “The missing opportunity in organizational research: some implications for a theory of work performance”. Academy of Management, Vol 7, No. 4, pp 560-569. Brabham, D. C. (2010) “Moving the crowd at Threadless”. Information, Communication and Society, Vol 13, No. 8, pp 1122 – 1145. Brown, J. S. and Duguid, P. (1991) “Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation”, Organization Science, Vol 2, No. 1, pp 40-57. Chiu, C. M. Hsu, M. H. and Wang, E. T.G. (2006) “Understanding Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities: An Integration of Social Capital and Social Cognitive Theories”, Decision Support Systems, Vol 42, 1872-1888. Coleman, J. (1990) Foundations of Social Theory. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA.
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