User participation in the evaluation of the quality of knowledge in professional online communities: a motivational process
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In a digital society, professionals increasingly seek knowledge from online communities to resolve problems that they encounter in the workplace. Despite the potential benefits to professionals and related community, there are concerns about the quality of users’ knowledge contributions in this open environment. This dilemma makes it challenging for professional online communities to balance the need to provide users with easy access to high-quality user contributions while maintaining a large and useful knowledge repository. Evidence from prior research and current practice suggests that user collaboration in the evaluation of the quality of user contributed knowledge is an effective mechanism that can help users identify high-quality knowledge contributions. Particularly, useful collaborative evaluation is accomplished by means of user feedback in the forms of rating and ranking, among others. While prior research highlights the importance of active user participation in the evaluation activity, little is known about user motivation to perform this activity in professional online communities. This study aims to investigate user motivation to participate in this evaluation activity. Drawing on self-determination theory, social exchange theory, and commitment theory, this study proposed an integrated research model to investigate the motivational process underlying users’ willingness to take part in the evaluation of knowledge contributions in professional online communities. The motivational process highlights how reciprocity, online reputation, trust, and community commitment shape users’ motivation which in turn influences users’ behavioural intention. The integrated research model was empirically validated using a dataset of 272 responses from 30 professional online communities. Structural equation modelling techniques were used to analyse the data. The results revealed that users’ intention to evaluate the quality of knowledge contributions in professional online communities is primarily influenced by autonomous motivation or the reasons coming from inside the self, such as volition, psychological freedom, and reflective self-endorsement. In turn, autonomous motivation is affected by social factors including reciprocity, online reputation, trust in the user involvement mechanism, and affective and normative community commitments. This study has both theoretical and practical contributions. In addition to enhancing the understanding of the strategic importance of active user participation in evaluating knowledge contributions to professional online communities, this study shows the usefulness of a motivational process perspective in investigating user motivation to act in these communities. Specifically, such a motivational process involves a causal sequence from social factors through autonomous motivation to behavioural intention. Findings of this study also provide administrators of professional online communities with practical guidelines on how to encourage user evaluation of knowledge contributions.