Online Community Participation

Friday, 5 June, 2020 - 12:27

(Collective Intelligence and Community Resilience on Social Networks – Part Two).
 
As seen in case studies of collective action on social network groups, users are motivated and self-organised. However, in order to engage these groups, we must understand why they might participate and contribute to a collective effort and, perhaps more importantly, why they might not.
 
Users can be motivated in different ways, dependent on the system, task and goals, and the effectiveness can be measured by how much people participate and how much they contribute. Non-contributing members of a collective effort are common-place on social networking platforms, with most users simply viewing the content rather than contributing new content or commenting on existing information; however, there is a very low barrier for participation, in that a user can simply ’like’ existing content rather than contributing new content.
 
From a broader perspective we must understand how participation is situated in the human experience, with a users’ personal situation and interests changing over time, as well as their skills and experience. The personal circumstances of participants are highlighted as a major factor affecting involvement. For many participants of crowdsourcing, their involvement is strongly linked to the level of contact they have with coordinators, both in the design of the platform and in providing feedback on the impact of their contributions.
 
This is reflected in the reported reasons of users contributing to citizen science portals, in which contributions tend to be largely driven by intrinsic reasons, including:

  • the desire to help a worthy scientific cause,
  • a personal interest in science, or (iii)
  • the sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people.

This sense of working with task requesters, rather than for them, seems key to the “mentoring, skill-building and a sense of shared identity” observed on successful platforms.
 
Motivation to Contribute
 
There is a long history of using motivational theories to study the behaviour and participation of individuals in online communities (Maslow, 1943; Madsen, 1964). In many studies, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has been used as a theoretical framework to help understand why people take part and contribute to online communities.
 
This is a macro theory of human motivation concerning people’s inherent growth tendencies and their innate psychological needs based on two types of motivations: intrinsic and extrinsic.
 
Intrinsic motivations are those which apply when the individual finds fulfilment in performing the activity and is core to participation online. Intrinsically motivated activities are those that the individual finds interesting and performs without any kind of conditioning, just by the mere pleasure of carrying them out. To maintain the intrinsic motivation in individuals, it is necessary to satisfy the following psychological and social needs:

  • Autonomy, or the sense of will, when performing a task;
  • Competence, the need of people when participating in challenges to feel competent and efficient;
  • Relatedness, experienced when a person feels connected to others.

Intrinsic motivation will be strengthened in relations that convey security, and by extension trust, and have been found to have a positive psychological effect, improving well-being, and thus increasing creativity, learning outcomes and quality of life. Furthermore, the openness of the data resource being created and the transparency of the community that is creating it are crucial to user engagement.
 
Extrinsic motivations are related to the attainment of a goal (i.e., to gain a promotion), or some external outcome (e.g., a reward such as a financial gain). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are closely linked; however, the relationship between the two are often antagonistic.
 
Disconnect and Disengagement
 
Although it is important to understand ways in which community engagement can be fostered, it is also productive to consider the obstacles and deterrents that exist to prevent individuals from engaging in online communities. While less academic work has been conducted with this focus, it remains important to understand why individuals are reluctant, or unable, to engage in community activities in physical and digital spaces.
 
The most significant factor is likely to be a lack of motivation, as detailed in the previous section. However, even if an individual has the sufficient motivation to take part in a community project, there may be additional factors that prevent, or dissuade, them from doing so.
Digital communications and social media have been heralded as a ground-breaking means of encouraging communities to mobilise and perform collective action. However, a dependence on these spaces can result in the exclusion of those without the means, or motivation, to engage in online communications. Despite the fact that internet technology is now ubiquitous in many people’s daily lives, it is false to presume that all have equal access to digital technology.
 
There is a rich body of literature on the so-called ‘digital divide’, which indicates several demographic factors that influence access to digital technology. For example, the divisions of wealth, gender and ethnicity have an impact on individuals’ access to online communities and there is still a digital divide between rural and urban communities. Rural, isolated communities in the UK still lack the degree of internet connectivity within cities, which can have a negative impact on rural community members’ access to online government services.
 
SOURCES:
 
JON CHAMBERLAIN, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
BENJAMIN TURPIN, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
MAGED ALI, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
KAKIA CHATSIOU, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
KIRSTY O’CALLAGHAN, ESSEX COUNTY COUNCIL
 
PUBLISHED BY: J. Chamberlain et al. / Human Computation (in-press 2020)

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