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Examining differences among member satisfaction within a self-organized virtual community of professionals: A model of satisfaction based on the self-selection process participants engage in and their ability to fulfill their basic psychological needs


The research related to what motivates member participation within peer production enterprises as a whole has not produced a reliable list of motivations present among peer production participants. Instead, motivations are often defined idiosyncratically (e.g., Butler et al., 2007; Oreg & Nov, 2009) and participation is simplified to a dichotomous variable or crudely measured by frequency (e.g., Chen & Hung, 2010). This makes it difficult to compare and contrast peer production efforts or understand the larger theoretical contribution of these studies of motivation. In an effort to rethink how member motivation is understood within peer production enterprises, this research develops and tests a model of member satisfaction within a self-organized virtual community (SVC) of professionals that conceptualizes member satisfaction as being (1) directly connected to person-community and demands-abilities fit and (2) indirectly connected to fit through the fulfillment of members’ basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Additionally, individual filtering, a cognitive heuristic members of SVCs may utilize to personalize the information environment within an SVC, is introduced as a moderator in order to understand how these direct and indirect effects are conditioned on this participation management strategy. One of the main advantages of this theoretical model is that it does not require quantifying the amount or categorizing the type of member participation in order to understand member motivations and satisfaction, making it suitable for use in most peer production contexts (Benkler, 2006), even those scattered across multiple online platforms.

In order to test this model, members of the SVC KM4Dev were solicited to take part in an online survey (N = 212) from July – October 2016. KM4Dev (Knowledge Management for Development) is a SVC of international development practitioners and other professionals interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues and approaches, with a membership of over 4000 people from around the world. Path analysis was employed to analyze the model.

Analyses revealed the model explained approximately two-thirds of the variance in satisfaction (R2=.65) and a similarity of importance (i.e., similar sized total effect) placed on PC fit and DA fit by members, in relation to satisfaction. The strongest path to satisfaction within this community is the indirect path from person-community fit through competence fulfillment to satisfaction, even when it is conditioned upon the moderator individual filtering. The need for autonomy had the lowest amount of variance explained in the model (R2=.24). Overall, the statistical support found for this model corroborates the use of a model of satisfaction premised on the assumptions of peer production (i.e., participant self-selection, Benkler, 2006). Furthermore, it simplifies the study of motivation by conceptualizing motivation as members’ ability to fulfill their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, instead of any want or desire a person may identify. Finally, through the introduction of moderating variables, such as individual filtering, this model is a tool to more precisely explain differences among members’ ability to fulfill their basic psychological needs and be satisfied with their overall community experience within a peer production enterprise.

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