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Paper explores the motivations behind collaboration

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As open innovation and crowdsourcing has boomed, so to have the number of studies exploring what motivates people to participate in such projects.  In a crowdsourcing content, the main motivators are widely believed to be:

  • Fame
  • Money
  • Fun
  • Social good

When money was stripped out of the equation, a study of participation at the citizen science website Zooniverse found that the main motivator was giving participants a project they enjoyed working on.

All of which is interesting, but these tend to assume that you have people working independently of one another.  What about if you require the crowd to collaborate together on a project?  That was the question posed by a recent paper published exploring the motivations behind crowd based collaboration.

In particular they wanted to explore whether incentives were better at encouraging collaboration than social processes, such as the involvement of peers.

The study explored the collaborative efforts of 260 developers who were randomly assigned to 52 teams of five.  Each team was tasked with creating a solution to a complex problem posed by NASA over a 10 day period.  Successful completion of the task would depend upon collaboration amongst the teams.

They found that whilst a cash incentive, in this case a $1,000 prize, resulted in a doubling of overall effort levels, it had no impact at all on levels of collaboration.

What did contribute significantly to collaboration levels however was the behaviour of other members of the team.  The more other members collaborated, the more a team member would in turn collaborate, in a virtuous circle of improved communication.  They found that there was a 41% increase in collaboration for each active team member added to the mix.

What’s more, the study found that there was a direct link between the diversity of information contained within the team, and the amount of sharing of that information that occured, and the successful resolution of the problem.  It emerged that for each successful sharing of information, each participant contributed 7 more minutes of work into the project.

It also emerged that successful solutions tended to occur faster, ie when teams engaged in concentrated and focused effort on the task.  So a diverse team mattered, but so did focusing that team on effective co-ordination of their talents.

Now that task might ordinarily befall a manager, but how do those conditions emerge in a leaderless team?  The paper suggests that success at online collaboration is particularly sensitive to there being an environment that supports the collective intelligence of the team.

The moral of the story seems to be that a financial incentive is great for getting people working, but successful collaboration relies upon both an easy to use environment for doing so, and importantly, a visual show of how much collaboration is going on so that social affects can apply to the team.

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