Monday, August 16, 2004

What Inspires Participation?

As I talked with my friend David K. today, he told me that he's become active in a review board of some sort or another in the town in which he and his family live. I asked him why he got involved and he said that it's because the issues the board is dealing with "have a direct impact on me and my family."

As we struggle to build communities online and to foster collaboration among students or employees, it's important, I think, to keep this in mind. It's the old idea of "WIIFM"--What's in it for me? All the talk about building online community seems to resist such a selfish notion, but the bottom line is that people will get engaged when there is a direct impact on them and their work, yes?

I'm reminded of Etienne Wenger's work on "communities of practice." I think that part of the idea is that such communities form around a common interest. But I think it's more than an interest--I think that people join communities of practice when they feel that there will be a payoff.

In creating online communities, whether for a class or for a group of co-workers, or just some sort of affinity group, we should keep in mind the need to articulate the payoff. Or maybe we just need to create the opportunity for participants to express what they want in terms of payoff?


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