Maintaining a critical number of participants around an activity, maintaining focus on action to achieve shared goals, sustain operations until the accomplishment of the shared mission or goals.
Engagement is a recurrent problem in open p2p communities and networks. It translates into keeping a critical number of contributors/participants (see contribution and participation) focused on a task or a project until its completion.
Open ventures (networks) do not operate based on engagement contracts, such as job contracts used in traditional organizations. They crowdsource their activities and allow free flow of participation. This open and participatory mode of operation brings in a new “management” paradigm.
Challenge of engagement in open networks
The challenge in open ventures is to keep an effective level of redundancy for participation in tasks. In other words, at any moment, from the beginning to the end, every role, based on the planning, should be energized by a critical number of affiliates, to bring the probability for a specific activity to be completed close to 100%. By activity we mean anything, a task, monetary contributions, contributions with materials, tools or equipment, etc.
Scarcity vs abundance
Traditional organizations operate on a scarcity model. They can be seen as confined environments for economic activity. The best term that describes this situation is the french “boîte” (meaning a box), used as a synonym for a company (‘’Je travaille dans une boîte’’). In more concrete terms, if you want to launch a new venture you'll need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there enough money for this venture?
- Are there enough people covering the entire skills-base for this venture?
- Is there a space / environment (physical and virtual) to accommodate this new venture?
- Are there enough materials, tools, equipment required for this venture?
All these elements and more are dimensions of confinement for traditional organizations. In order for the project to be accepted all these conditions must be met, along with others.
Let's zoom into the human input dimension for a moment. Since the operation model of the company is a transactional one (salary promise in exchange of time and skills contributions), project managers try to minimize costs by employing the smallest number of individuals to cover the entire skills-based required for the project. Since the salary is negotiated upfront for a preset engagement (amount of hours per week), the company puts in place time management processes, i.e. the project manager makes sure that employees spend the paid time producing value for the company. Management is designed for scarcity, i.e. stay within budget and try to get the most out of a very limited number of individual contributors. Traditionally, this arrangement normally takes the form of an 8 hour shift, where everyone is brought into the same space for better coordination and monitoring. With the advent of the Internet some organizations have implemented task/deliverable-based management techniques, with more freedom with regards to when and where the work is performed. The bottom line is that traditional organizations operate on high levels of engagement.\
Open ventures operate based on an abundance model. They can be seen as attractors of economic activity, where almost everything is crowdsourced. In more concrete terms, if you bring a new venture to an OVN you’ll be asking yourself if this venture is attractive enough to enlist the crowd’s participation with time/skills, money, materials, etc., assuming that, like in traditional organizations, the OVN provides a secure environment (physical and digital) for collaboration, with a diverse system of incentives and motivation.
Open ventures are very elastic, they can grow and shrink dynamically according to their needs. They are only bound by the willingness of the crowd to contribute.
Let's zoom into the human contribution dimension for a moment. Since the operation model of open ventures is based on voluntary contributions and shared risk (everyone contributes with an expectation of future benefits that will be shared in a fair way), there is no immediate transaction between the venture and participants (the venture is the participants), no finite budget to manage, no need to minimize the number of participants. All participants need to cover the entire skills-based required for the venture. Since no one is contractually obligated to stick with the venture, those who form the core group of a n open venture need to put in place mechanisms to ensure an effective level of redundancy, i.e. to have a as many contributors per role as needed in order to maintain close to 100% probability that a task will be done in effective time. In other words, instead of having one affiliate per role and making sure that this affiliate’s productivity is maintained at a maximum level within the 8 hour workday, in open ventures we expect to find many affiliates per role, enough to reach a high probability that at least one of them will complete a task within the required time, with the required quality. Furthermore, since benefits are distributed in proportion to actual contributions (more on benefit redistribution algorithm), there is no need for time management. Only those who deliver are rewarded, no matter how many affiliates are on standby to take a task. Coordination and resource allocation as processes are designed for abundance, assuming that there is always someone out there willing to perform a required action. Contributions to the venture, in this arrangement, takes the shape of a long tail curve, with a small number of affiliates contributing a lot, and the majority of them contributing sporadically. Open ventures have implemented task/deliverable-based techniques and tools, with great freedom with regards to when and where the work is performed. The bottom line here is that the level of engagement varies from one contributor to another. For a good performance, the open venture needs to sustain a critical mass of core contributors, which will take care of all the important peripheral processes. Core affiliates play support roles. Engagement measures need to be applied to maintain this core for the lifetime of the venture. The collapse of an open venture is the collapse of its core.
The debate on whether or not this new paradigm of production works is now closed. This is how network-type organizations like Wikipedia, Linux and Bitcoin operate. Nothing is guaranteed though, as it is also the case with any traditional organization. Everything hinges on the governance, IT infrastructure, methodologies of work and work culture of these organizations, tuned for their specific economic reality.
Engagement within traditional organizations translates into motivating and incentivizing the pool of employees attached to a project to maintain their creativity and productivity at a maximum, for the 8 hour workday that they are paid for. A mix of positive and negative incentives (carrots and sticks) are used in traditional management techniques. The ultimate punishment for not delivering according to the expectations set in the job contract is firing, which is an exclusion from that particular economic activity with the retraction of all the benefits that come with it. Soft techniques to motivate employees are widely used today, which take the form of company mission and purpose, work culture, good work conditions, acknowledgement of excellence, referrals and work experience, etc.
Engagement in open ventures translates into motivating and incentivizing the crowd to stick around the venture and jump in to complete a task when they have an opportunity to do so.
Open ventures are flow through organizations.
Outreach takes an important part of the development process of the open venture, to maintain an equilibrium between new contributors and those who leave. Work is socialized (work out loud), broadcasting a lot of signals on social media or targeting communications in communities of practice to get people’s attention and draw them towards the activity.
The work is planned in small bite size tasks, easy to complete, to increase the probability of participation, minimizing costs. Everything is well documented to also diminish the costs of understanding the task and increase the level of stigmergy.
Core participants offer onboarding services, facilitation and coordination.
Core participants also communicate a set of incentives that can range from tangible rewards (getting paid for the task, acquiring sweat equity in the project, ...) to intangible ones (gaining experience, building a network, sense of belonging, etc.). They also use various techniques to build purpose into the project and trigger intrinsic motivation for participation.
The role associated with engagement
Apart from incentives, which are built into the system and communicated through the collaborative platform by core contributors, motivation is also important.
- Core contributors in this role need to follow an intervention strategy. They provide feedback.
- Dimensions for the intervention strategy
- What contributors to target? (core, long tail, new contributor, …)
- What content should be provided to contributors? (congratulations, public acknowledgment, encouragement, securing, … )
- What should the delivery method be? (direct messages to contributors, to all, meeting, social media, …)
- Timing (when to intervene)
- Duration (for how long to intervene)
3 motivational cues
- Feel good about oneself for making a contribution: “waw, your work has us save the world”
- Sense of belonging: “waw you're a good peer”
- Fear of making a mistake:”don't worry”
- Add more dimensions of intervention for motivation
Environment programmed measures
One popular measure is badges that contributors earn. Badges can be just honorary, signaling to others positive aspects about their peers. Related to pride. Badges can also be linked to benefits such as access to governance, possibility of taking more responsibility, to represent, ...
AI and engagement
See this video