Why do you participate?

Prompted by a filmmaker’s uninspiring suggestion to “crowdsource” footage, we had a good round of spontaneous chatter at ODC about: what motivates you to participate?

Given how participation is now the metric driving all Mozilla Foundation projects, the topic of motiviation certainly deserves some reflection. Everyday we’re all bombarded with requests and invitations to “participate, / contribute / help” one initiative or another. Of course we all would like to do more, but there are limits, and there are filters and triggers that help us decide where to dedicate our time.

The great thing about the discussion we had at ODC is that for a group of people that identifies itself as a community of practice, there was such an array of motivations for contributing to that community. And I suppose it’s this heterogeneity within a tribe that makes you feel like you belong, with all your eccentricities, yet also allows you to be pleasantly surprised and interested in the cast of other characters working together.

A sampling of why people in the room participate:

  • Part of a bigger whole. To play a role in shaping a larger effort you believe in.
  • To help others. And to follow your contribution to see how it helped someone succeed.
  • Feel needed. Handcrafted requests seem to hit targets more often. People like to know why *they* in particular are needed, what is it that they are bringing that is unique and essential — rather than feeling like an invitation is a mass-ask.
  • Achieve a shared goal. If you want to see something happen, then you’re primed to pitch in to make it possible. I think there’s lots of value in this also framed as “solve a common problem.”
  • Friends or people you admire are involved. Who doesn’t love hanging out with good people?
  • Curiosity. Some folks said they dig any opportunity to learn something new, or to level up their skills in a topic of interest.
  • Nice graphics. One guy flat out admitted that he’s more likely to chip in when the project has a good design and visual identity. Looks can matter — and show how much the project cares about presentation.
  • Fun. ‘Nuff said.

Not so effective? Some common motivations  we didn’t mention at all:

  • Rewards. Interestingly, many calls for participation offer a reward of some sort (Win an iPad! Have dinner with a star! Earn miles!), but interestingly, no one in the room mentioned that as an incentive that gets them going. Certainly there are successful instances of enticement through money & prizes, but that didn’t seem to be a killer factor.
  • Competition & games. Despite much hype about the power of games to get people to do all sorts of stuff, none of us said, “Oh yeah, if I got a 4SQ badge for that, I’d do it.” Not saying those point / badge systems can’t work, but just that its absence from the discussion was interesting.

What motivates you to participate? Anything surprising or missing from the ideas above?

I’m curious to follow this thread at Wikimania 2011 as well, where antischokke will facilitate a session on “Incentivizing Engagement“, sharing experiences from Wikimedia Germany and learning from others what is effective is bringing people on board.

Image: Casual Coder by goopymart / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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