Robert Kraut, Carnegie Mellon

Managing Volunteers in Online Production Communities

May 21, 2014 | 11:45am - 1:00pm | Baker Library | Bloomberg Center 103 | Open to public


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"Managing Volunteers in Online Production Communities"

Robert Kraut

Herbert A Simon Professor of Human-Computer Interaction

Carnegie Mellon University

Online, volunteer communities are increasingly important sources of production and innovation in science, engineering and knowledge production.  However, these volunteer communities have more difficulty than conventional companies in directing their members to do the work needed to make the community as a whole successful. This talk will describe several empirical studies that examine the coordination strategies online volunteers communities use to coordinate the efforts of their members and when the strategies are successful.   These studies contrast the effectiveness of shared leadership, in which peer-to-peer influence is exercised by a broad spectrum of members,  with elite leadership, in which a small group of core contributors influences others.  Longitudinal, correlational studies and random-assignment experiments demonstrates that these leadership behaviors influence their recipients, although the influence depends on the type of leadership behavior, the legitimacy of the people delivering it and the experience of the people receiving it.  Experiments also show that leadership behavior also influences those giving it. Assigning workers managerial responsibilities to assess, evaluate and approve others’ work, increases their own motivation to work, enhances their understanding of the task domain, and helps them become better workers.


Although direct communication from both elite and peer leaders can be effective in managing volunteers, if leaders exert too much control, volunteers are likely to leave. Group goal setting is one solution to the paradox of exerting control and yet retaining volunteers. Group goal setting works by promoting members’ identification with the group while highlighting specific and challenging goals that would benefit the group as a whole. When people identify with a group, they incorporate important elements of the group into their own self-concepts and believe that events and actions that influence the welfare of the group also influence their own welfare. In contrast to being told what to do, group goal setting can influence volunteers to work on task that benefit the group while also increasing volunteers’ general motivation.