Turbulent Stability of Emergent Roles: The Dualistic Nature of Self-Organizing Knowledge Co-Production
Information Systems Research (ISR), 27(4), pp. 792-812
Posted: 1 Apr 2021
Date Written: February 25, 2016
Increasingly, new forms of organizing for knowledge production are built around self-organizing co-production community models with ambiguous role definitions. Current theories struggle to explain how high-quality knowledge is developed in these settings and how participants self-organize in the absence of role definitions, traditional organizational controls, or formal coordination mechanisms. In this paper, we engage this puzzle by investigating the temporal dynamics underlying emergent roles on individual and organizational levels. Comprised of a multi-level large-scale empirical study of Wikipedia stretching over a decade, our study investigates emergent roles in terms of prototypical activity patterns that organically emerge from individuals’ knowledge production actions. Employing a stratified sample of a thousand Wikipedia articles, we tracked two hundred thousand distinct participants and seven hundred thousand co-production activities, and recorded each activity’s type. We found that participants’ role taking behavior is turbulent across roles, with substantial flow in and out of co-production work. Our findings at the organizational level, however, show that work is organized around a highly stable set of emergent roles, despite the absence of traditional stabilizing mechanisms such as pre-defined work procedures or role expectations. This dualism in emergent work is conceptualized as “Turbulent Stability”. We attribute the stabilizing factor to the artifact-centric production process and present evidence to illustrate the mutual adjustment of role taking according to the artifact’s needs and stage. We discuss the importance of the affordances of Wikipedia in enabling such tacit coordination. This study advances our theoretical understanding of the nature of emergent roles and self-organizing knowledge co-production. We discuss the implications for custodians of online communities, as well as for managers of firms engaging in self-organized knowledge collaboration.
Keywords: online production communities, co-production, Wikipedia, emergent roles, stability, mobility, artifact-centric, boundary infrastructure, sociomateriality
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