Understanding Crowdsourcing: Effects of motivation and rewards on participation and performance in voluntary online activities
Organisations increasingly outsource activities to volunteers that they approach via an open call on the internet. The phenomenon is called ‘crowd sourcing’. For an effective use of crowd sourcing, it is important to understand what motivates these online volunteers and what the influence of a reward system is. In her PhD dissertation entitled Understanding Crowdsourcing: Effects of motivation and rewards on participation and performance in voluntary online activities, Irma Borst examines the effects of motivation and rewards on the participation and performance of online community members. She studied motivation, rewards and contributions in three crowdsourcing initiatives that vary in reward systems.
Her research shows that persons that are mainly driven by intrinsic motivations are the best performers in absence of rewards. Still rewards can be an effective tool for firms using crowd sourcing since the proportion of mainly intrinsic motivated people is low. So although individual performance decrease when providing rewards, group performance is increasing. The results also show that effects of financial rewards, differ from reputation rewards. And finally, she showed that effects of extreme money rewards, disturb generally positive effects of motivation on behaviour.
The findings of the three studies have resulted in a refined model of the effects of rewards and motivation on voluntary behaviour. The results described in this dissertation also have important implications for organisers of online communities, amongst others, regarding the effective application of reward systems. Borst also provides a crowd sourcing typology based on their reward systems and she identifies the motivation profiles of optimal performers per crowd sourcing type.
Irma Borst defended her dissertation on 23 December, 2010 at 15.30 hours at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Her promoters were Jan van den Ende, Professor of Management of Technology and Innovation, and Eric van Heck, Professor of Information Management and Markets, both from RSM. Other members of the doctoral committee were Prof. Chris Tucci (EPFL Lausanne), prof. Gerrit van Bruggen (RSM) and Nico van Yperen (RUG).
About Irma Borst
Irma Borst received her Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1992 at the Rotterdam School of Management. After her study, she worked over 15 years in management consultancy, serving customers in the Telecom, Media and IT industry. Irma gained experience with business modeling, financial assessments and tariff calculations, analyses of financial risks, sensitivity analyses and valuation in the ICT sector.
From 2004 on, Irma participated in (inter)national research projects, e.g. 7th Framework project ‘ECOLEAD’ on virtual network organizations and the Dutch B@home on new broadband services. The contacts with universities established in these research project resulted in a PhD research project which started in January 2007. The topic of the research project was described as open source business models in the multimedia domain but evolved in time into research of crowdsourcing. Irma’s research project is financed by NWO as part of the ‘Network of Networks’ program and co-financed by Novay.
Her work has been presented at various international conferences including the Academy of Management 2009 and the International Product and Development Management Conferences (IPDMC) 2007 and 2008. She also published in popular magazines including Automatiseringsgids and Emerce and was a frequent writer of columns at NUzakelijk.nl. In addition she presented her conclusions during the Dutch Innovation Seminar organized by De Baak.
Irma currently works as a principal consultant at Logica and as a researcher at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.
Abstract of Understanding Crowdsourcing
Companies increasingly outsource activities to volunteers that they approach via an open call on the internet. The phenomenon is called ‘crowd sourcing’. In general, rewards are absent; in some cases the best contributions are rewarded by means of recognition on the website or by monetary prizes. To make effective use of crowd sourcing, it is important to understand what motivates these online volunteers and what is the influence of rewards. Therefore, this thesis examines the effects of motivation and rewards on the participation and performance of online community members. Through the analysis of three crowd sourcing initiatives, which varied in reward systems, Borst investigated the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on the decision to contribute and on the quantity, usefulness and novelty of contributions that these online volunteers provide.
In the first study (Tweakers.net), financial rewards are absent while reputation rewards are present. It appears that in the absence of rewards, a person’s combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation results in more extreme performance levels than when rewards are present. Persons that have a high intrinsic but low extrinsic motivation showed the best performance in absence of rewards, while people that combine high intrinsic motivation with high extrinsic motivation perform substantially less, even in a rewarded situation. This led to the conclusion that a crowd sourcing initiative can save money on rewards when addressing people with high intrinsic motivation and low extrinsic motivation. Nevertheless, rewarding still appears effective since this group of people is smaller than the group with both high intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Although the individual performance in the second group is much lower, the group performance appeared to be higher.
In the second study (NUfoto.nl), both financial rewards and reputation rewards are offered. This study showed the importance of reward criteria on the effects of motivation on performance. The study also highlights that the clearness of reward criteria is more important for reputation rewards than for financial rewards.
The last study (Green Challenge) can be classified as a research setting in which an extreme money reward is provided. The results of this study, which was explorative in nature, show that big money prizes attract some very qualified participants, but also a large number of non-serious participants. Filters for quick identification of non-serious participants are developed.
This thesis provides a contribution to the scientific literature by first presenting a refined model of effects of rewards and motivation on voluntary behavior. Especially the combination of high and low levels of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and our conclusion that the absence of rewards has important effects on the behaviour of volunteers are major contributions. With this model we are able to explain contrary effects of motivation on performance in empirical studies of online voluntary behavior. Finally, Borst also provide a possible solution for the controversy between two schools of cognitive psychologists that debate the effects of financial rewards on voluntary behavior.
The study results also have important implications for organizers of online communities regarding the effective application of reward systems. It also forms the basis of a crowd sourcing classification in which crowd sourcing initiatives are classified on the basis of their reward systems: Gift sourcing (no or small financial rewards); Expert sourcing (large financial rewards) and Game sourcing (extreme money rewards). Motivation profiles of optimal performers per crowd sourcing type are identified.