I blogged a while back about Barry doing his Masters Thesis on The motivational drivers and barriers of volunteers in open source communities which looked at the Ubuntu Community, he handed it in yesterday and I know some folks were curious about results so I asked him to write a small piece for the blog:
In early 2010 I sat in on a seminar on Open Source Software and the community in Ireland, organised as part of my masters course in DIT Kevin St. One of the speakers was Laura Czajkowski. It was during her
talk that I saw the commitment she had to the community and it begins a process of thought about what drives individuals to offer their time and effort to Open Source Communities.
The course that I was studying was Computing but specialising in Knowledge Management (KM). Knowledge Management is the realisation that knowledge is an organisations greatest asset. We constantly hear
the term Knowledge and Smart economy being touted by the Irish government at the moment. They like so many large organisations realise that it is what we know and don’t realise we already know can
be our greatest resource.
Within companies it is commonplace for individuals to hoard knowledge, we do this for various reasons.
- We are not confident about what we know, and are afraid others may disregard our knowledge.
- We fear giving our knowledge freely, as it may make us redundant.
- We find it difficult to articulate our knowledge.
- We do not have the tools available to record our knowledge.
- We simple do not realise that we possess some knowledge.
KM is about accessing the knowledge within people, teams, departments, organisations, then storing that knowledge in an understandable or codified fashion, and finally making that knowledge available and
easily accessible to others. Some prime examples of where KM can work effectively is in the Pharmaceutical industry, where the process of getting new drugs to market can be as long as 12 years. Most of the large pharmaceutical companies have implemented large KM projects. One in particular cut the time for filling applications to the European and American drug boards in half. The KM systems they installed held the knowledge of previous employees and former workers of the American Federal drug Administration (FDA). Due to their expertise as to what information was required in an application, these applications could be filled out much faster. As you can imagine the saving of several years in getting a drug to market is worth a considerable amount of money to drug companies. This is can be the power of KM.
However what many organisations find when they implement KM initiatives, regardless of the money, time and expertise that they throw at it, is people seem unwilling to share their Knowledge. There are drivers that motivate and barriers that prevent people from sharing their knowledge.
Within Open Source communities, we have a group of people who come together to freely share knowledge. This makes it an ideal place to investigate positive motivations. If KM initiatives could replicate
the motivations within Open Source Communities then their initiatives could prove far more successful.
Back to my story, I began to realise that the Ubuntu community could offer me a perfect environment to investigate motivations to knowledge sharing. In May I contacted Laura and told her about my Idea. Within days we
were sitting down together in a lab in DIT and Laura was showing me around the Ubuntu community. Over the course of the next 3 months with Laura and several other members of Ubuntu’s community I had fashioned
a suitable experiment. The experiment would utilise the existing social networking pages (Launchpad) within the community and over a period of Two weeks would email an advertisement of one of those profiles to the mailing list of the Irish team. I would then survey the Irish team to ascertain the usefulness of the experiment. The idea of the experiment was to measure the levels of trust needed for knowledge sharing, and whether tools like Launchpad could assist in people getting curious about others in the community. This is the starting point of building relationships and trust. The experiment received great support from the community and I had a fantastic response to the survey. The experiment idea was even taken on board as a continuous feature by the UK and North Carolina teams. The results of the experiment did indeed indicate that, firstly trust
is important to knowledge sharing and secondly tools like launhpad if used in a proactive manner can initiate contact between members of the group.
Overall my experience dealing with Laura and the rest of the Ubuntu community was extremely pleasant. I could not of asked for any more help or enthusiasm. It was a privilege to get an insight into a remarkable community.
This is an extract of some of the projects findings:
- The project’s findings clearly suggested the varying forms of trust. That initial conversations between members in the Ubuntu community did lead to greater curiosity of others.
- This can then lead to a process where two individuals will get to know more about each other and strengthen the bonds of trust between them.
- The project also identified tools as being very important within online communities in building familiarity and trust.
- Correspondence and direct communication was identified as being the most important tool in which people will get to know one another and build trust.
- The project results suggested that the availability of social networking tools in this case Launchpad was utilised by members as a means to gain more knowledge about other users. However it also suggested that this was after initial correspondence with that individual. Curiosity of others increased after correspondence with them. This would suggest that tools are very useful in the process of building trust and friendships in virtual communities.
- Communities where there is little correspondence however may not benefit from this trust building processes and utilisation of community tools. This is where the project findings are so useful. They clearly suggest that by advertising members profiles can initiate curiosity in them. Traffic to the profiles and results of the survey indicate that this is the case. This can be an important initiative in implementing the trust building processes in communities and subsequently the sharing of knowledge. It can help drive the initial stages of a KM system and could become an important part of the familarisation and trust building process.
- The building of friendships was indicated as being one of the main motivators of membership in open source communities and thus the free sharing of knowledge. Trust is a vital element in any friendship and therefore any tools that can facilitate this are very valuable in creating a healthy dynamic knowledge-sharing environment.
- The findings imply that a proactive approach is needed within a community to initiate the trust building process, that although members desire to build relationships of trust with others they may need a push to do so.
Thanks to Barry for the update, if anyone wants to drop him a line here is his email address.