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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Motivations for participating in online initiatives : exploring motivations across initiative types Gilbert, Sarah Ann


This dissertation explores motivation to participate in open, online initiatives. Using a multiple case study approach, results of in-depth interviews with members of two initiatives were analyzed to explore why people participate and the relationship between motivation to participate and initiative type. The term ‘online initiatives’ is used here to capture the new ways people working in distributed locations, and with varied skillsets, contribute to the completion of common goals. As such online collaborations become more pervasive, supporting knowledge building, information dissemination, and artistic and scientific projects, it is important to understand why people contribute to such endeavors, and thus how to design and support these efforts. The study included in-depth interviews with two groups: 24 members of Twitter-based Healthcare Social Media Canada (#hcsmca), a small community of practice that met weekly to discuss healthcare issues in Canada via ‘tweet-chats,’ a form of synchronous communication on Twitter; and 18 members of the Reddit-based r/AskHistorians, a large question and answer forum dedicated to providing high-quality historical information. Data from observation were used to extend and provide context to interview data. Comparing initiatives showed that motivations described by participants in #hcsmca and r/AskHistorians often overlapped. Common motivations in both initiatives included interest in and learning about the initiative topic, sharing expertise, and relationship development. Common patterns of participation were found for active participants (e.g., those who regularly contributed to discussions or took on leadership roles) and more passive participants (e.g., those who primarily read discussions). Results also suggested that participants with different areas and levels of expertise often satisfy each other’s motivations, e.g., that those who want to share expertise find those who want to hear from experts. Finally, the study revealed how characteristics of the platforms, such as technological features and constraints, and wider-social norms, affect and impact communication and community practice. Findings contribute to theory of motivation to participate in online initiatives, provide suggestions for researchers studying motivation in online spaces, and insights for initiative leaders.

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