Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Knowledge sharing motivation

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Knowledge sharing motivation:
What motivates people to share knowledge?


Knowledge sharing is a crucial element of human civilisation - without it, our progress would be limited to the capabilities of individual people, with each generation having to work things out anew. Knowledge sharing is different to information exchange - information is basically a collection of facts and figures, while knowledge consists of "insights and interpretations" (Andriessen, 2006). It is personalised, the "know-how" and "know-why" (Gurteen, 1999, p.1). Individual learning and new knowledge creation occur when people combine and exchange their personal knowledge with others, therefore establishing knowledge-sharing as an "essential activity" (Fu-Ren, 2013 p.133) for innovation and advancement. However, as explained by Andriessen (2005), "the thought that all people are social or even altruistic beings who freely share their knowledge, is too simplistic and does not fit with practice". In fact, there is a complex and varied set of motivations that can drive people to share their knowledge.


What is Motivation?[edit]

Motivation is the force that makes people act or behave in a certain way. (Reeve, 2009; Andriessen, 2006). Through the combination of energy and direction processes, motivation gives behaviour energy and direction. Schultheiss (2012, p. 650) defines motivation as "an affectively charged state that energizes and directs behaviour and results from the interaction of internal needs and external incentives". These internal "needs", or factors, are called intrinsic motivations - for example, wanting to discover new things or feeling a personal interest in something. The external "incentives" are called extrinsic motivations - for example monetary reward. Knowledge-sharing can be influenced by each type of motivations.

Extrinsic Motivation[edit]

Tangible rewards can play a role in affecting knowledge sharing, particularly within an organisation such as a work place or educational institution. As described by Reeve (2009, pp. 120-121) there may be incentives, consequences and rewards involved in teaching others. For example, if they are rewarded for their help, this stimulates their "positive emotion" - dopamine is released and Behavioural Activation System (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003) neural activation occurs, as the brain "inherently latches onto the environmental signal of the gain". Examples of tangible rewards could include pay increases, bonuses or opportunities for promotion, all of which can motivate knowledge-sharing within a workplace (Chennamaneni et al, 2012). In an educational institution such as a university, the allocation of marks in an assessment[explain?] could promote knowledge sharing among students.

Enhanced reputation[edit]

An enhanced reputation among peers is a significant extrinsic motivator for knowledge sharing (Kankanhalli et al, 2005). Particularly in the workplace, an improved reputation can afford employees respect and may even be important for job security and advancement.

Enhanced reciprocal relationships[edit]

The prospect of reciprocal relationships can also motivate knowledge-sharing behaviour. As explained by Welschen (2014), "reciprocity describes the notion that through knowledge sharing behaviour, individuals can expect the benefit of future help from others. Reciprocity refers to a sense of mutual indebtedness". Knowledge contribution may be based on the expectation of reciprocation - as Gurteen (1999) describes, "If I get into dialogue with the other person then I'll benefit from their knowledge, from their unique insights and improve my ideas further."

Verbal rewards[edit]

Verbal rewards such as praise and feedback have also been shown to be significant extrinsic motivators (Deci et al., 1999). As found by the studies of Frey and Jegen (2001), feedback, recognition and praise can give individuals a sense of confidence and boost their self-esteem, encouraging the knowledge-sharing practices.

Behavioral regulation[edit]

Introjected regulation[edit]

The above factors are examples of external regulation, motivated through rule following and external rewards. However there are other kinds of regulation, such as introjected regulation, where external factors are internalised and act as internal controls, but not in the same way as intrinsic motivators (Reeve, table 5.2, p.133). For example, being motivated by the desire to avoid guilt, or the feeling that one "should" do something. If an individual feels that they "should" share their knowledge with a co-worker in need, then this is a form of introjected regulation.

Identified regulation[edit]

Identified regulation, as described by Deci & Ryan (1999), is the reflection of "a conscious valuing of a behavioural goal or regulation, such that the action is accepted or owned as personally important". It means that an individual is motivated to do something because they have a sense that it is important. For example, an individual may feel that it is important for knowledge to be shared in the workplace. These cultural and personal values are identified by Schultheiss in the Encyclopaedia of Human Behaviour (2012), Schultheiss as one of the conscious sources of motivation: "values are defined as desirable end states. They serve as guiding principles for the lives of individuals (personal values) and social groups or society as a whole (social values)." (p.650)

Integrated regulation[edit]

As described by Reeve, integrated regulation involves "value congruence". For example, an individual may share knowledge because they feel it reflects the kind of person they are, and what they believe in. According to Schultheiss (2012, p.650), the self-concept is a major factor in behavioural motivation. On an individual level, we may enjoy sharing knowledge because it aligns with our sense of selves - who we are: good people or helpful people. "In contrast to intrinsic motives, which influence motivation and behaviour nonconsciously, individuals' explicit, language-based self-concept, values, and goals afford conscious modes of behavioural regulation." (p.650) The self-concept represents an individual's mental image or perception of ‘the self.’ Burton, et al (2006, p.750) explains how identified and integrated regulations may seem closely linked to intrinsic motivations, however they are theoretically different because instead of natural interest, these regulations involve "an individual's recognition and acceptance of the value and importance of a behaviour and the integration of this into the self."

Intrinsic Motivation[edit]

Intrinsic motivation is the inherent desire to engage one's interests and to exercise and develop one's capacities (Reeve, 2009; Niemiec & Ryan, 2010). Intrinsic factors motivate people to do things for the inherent enjoyment, challenge, interest or excitement of doing so. These factors have "an internal perceived locus of causality" (Deci & Ryan, 1985), which means they are experienced as emanating from the self rather than from external sources. For example, an individual may find a topic interesting and therefore enjoy discussing and sharing their knowledge on the subject.

Intrinsic motivation is also involved with positive affect in an individual's brain - interesting or personally rewarding events produce a release of a biochemical agent (e.g. dopamine) which stimulates limbic structures and produces aroused emotion - good feeling, pleasure, positive affect (Reeve, 2009).

The benefits of intrinsic motivation can be linked to sharing knowledge - conceptual understanding and high quality learning can be achieved, as those who share knowledge often employ flexible thinking, and consolidate the information that they are sharing. As described by Gurteen, (1999, p.3) "by sharing your knowledge, you gain more than you lose. Sharing knowledge is a synergistic process - you get more out than you put in. If I share a product idea or a way of doing things with another person… then just the act of putting my idea into words or writing will help me shape and improve that idea". There are a number of distinct factors of intrinsic motivation, such as self-efficacy, meaningfulness, impact and altruism.

Self efficacy[edit]

Self-efficacy is an individual's belief in their ability to succeed in any specific situation, and can be extremely influential in how people approach goals, tasks and challenges. An increased or validated concept of your own efficacy is one of the "natural satisfactions" (p.121 Deci & Ryan 1985) that are associated with intrinsic motivation. Kankanhalli (2005) defined self-efficacy as knowledge sharing self-efficacy, referring to "the confidence in one's ability to provide knowledge that is valuable to others". Several studies have found that if employees feel positively about their ability to provide valuable knowledge, it will encourage positive attitudes towards knowledge-sharing (Gagné, 2009).


The extent to which a person believes their behaviour or actions are meaningful can also influence their attitudes towards that behaviour. For example if someone believes their knowledge sharing can be helpful to others, the motivation for that behaviour may be increased (Gagne, 2009).


If people feel that their behaviour has a significant impact, or is making a genuine difference, their intrinsic motivation is increased. Gagné et al (1997) further explains that if behaviour is producing the outcomes intended by an individual, that individual feels that they can control desired outcomes through their behaviour. For example a person may feel that his knowledge sharing will solve problems in the workplace. Kankanhalli et al (2005) conducted experiments on knowledge management within organisations through electronic knowledge repositories, and the results revealed that knowledge self-efficacy and enjoyment in helping others significantly impact EKR usage by knowledge contributors.


Altruistic motivation, or the enjoyment of helping other people, is a complicated factor because as explained by Deci & Ryan (1985), they may not be a purely intrinsic motivation, but rather a reflection of "the internalized goal of making someone else happy" (p.132), more an element of identified regulation. However in the studies of Kankanhalli et al (2005) on knowledge management within organisations through electronic knowledge repositories, "enjoyment in helping others" was found to be one of the main intrinsic factors impacting EKR usage by knowledge contributors.

Theories of Motivation[edit]

There are hundreds of theories that explore the forces that make people behave in certain ways, and the factors and mechanisms behind their intentions. (Reeve, 2009). Although these theories vary in their emphases and approaches, there are some overarching themes which influence all theories of motivation: that we are not merely passive receivers but active agents, and we use feedback as guiding information in planning our behaviour. The increasing understanding of the cognitive sciences, as well as applied socially relevant research, have both shaped the theories of motivations that have been developed throughout the past few decades. Several contemporary perspectives have been applied to the motivations behind knowledge sharing, such as the theories of Need Gratification; Self-Determination; Expectancy Value; Planned Behaviour/Reasoned Action; Social Exchange and Social Capital. According to Andriessen (2006), these theories of motivation are traditionally categorised into i) content theories, which focus on "WHAT incentives (and needs) lie at the basis of motivated behaviour", and ii) process theories, that specify "HOW needs, incentives, expectations and intentions combine to result finally in behaviour".

Content Theories[edit]

Need Gratification Theory[edit]

As described by Deci & Ryan (2000), need gratification theories examine the search for a parallel between certain intrinsic needs of people and external factors that fulfil those needs. To apply this to knowledge-sharing behaviour, a strong incentive or motivation can be a basic need for social contact, which can be satisfied by being appreciated by colleagues or peers. Therefore explicit appreciation can be a motivator for sharing knowledge.

Theory of Self Determination[edit]

Building on Need Gratification theories, a dominant macro-theory of motivation is the Theory of Self-Determination, as developed by Ryan & Deci (1985). As described by Niemiec, et al (2010), this theory ""takes interest in factors that either facilitate or forestall the assimilative and growth-oriented processes in people." p.134. These factors, described in the previous section, have been summarised in the following table:

  • True Intrinsic Motivation: Individual pursues behaviour for the pleasure of knowing, achieving or stimulating; interest, enjoyment or satisfaction.
  • Integrated Regulation: Individual pursues behaviour because it is important to a person's self-identity and sense of worth. Value congruency.
  • Identified Regulation: Individual pursues behaviour because the outcomes are identified as important to a person's personal objectives: Self-endorsement of goals.
  • Introjected Regulation: Individual pursues behaviour because of a sense that they ought to, or should; focus is on approval from self or others.
  • External Regulation: Individual pursues behaviour because of extrinsic rewards or punishments: (extra pay, etc.).

(Based on Ryan & Deci 2000 p.61)

This theory argues that intrinsic motivation is the strongest type of motivation and that autonomy and self-determination of a person is an essential condition of being intrinsically motivated, claiming that in many cases people who are intrinsically motivated "persist longer, conquer more challenges, and demonstrate more accomplishments than those who are extrinsically motivated" (Welschen, 2014). This has been reflected in several studies of knowledge sharing behaviour. Vuori and Okkonen (2012), analysed extrinsic factors (reciprocity, financial rewards, praise and recognition) and intrinsic motivators (adding value to knowledge and trusting that knowledge sharing is worthwhile). They found that financial rewards and recognition were ranked lowest, while reciprocity and trusting sharing is worthwhile were ranked highest. Even more striking were the results of Foss et al (2009), who in fact found that extrinsic motivators such as praise or promotion could have a negative effect on sending knowledge.

Process Theories[edit]

Expectancy Value[edit]

Developed in the 1970's, this theory basically states that the intention to act in a certain way is not only based on the "attractiveness" of certain incentives (as explored in content theories), but on the expectation that this behaviour (such as sharing information), will result in attractive outcomes. The behaviour itself will of course depend on people's intentions, abilities and situational constraints. Therefore, as explained by Andriessen, "the actual behaviour is a function of situation, competencies and intentions, and the intentions are a function of the attractiveness and expectation concerning certain outcomes." Empirical studies by Hsu et al (2007) on expectancy values as a source of motivation for knowledge sharing found that self-efficacy and personal outcome expectations (recognition, reputation, strengthening ties) influence knowledge sharing, while community related outcome expectations did not. However, this theory has been criticised for its rationalistic view. In response, it has been expanded into the Theory of Planned Behaviour.

Theory of Planned Behaviour/Reasoned Action[edit]

This theory includes social pressure, as perceived by the individual, as influencing people's intentions. Therefore, the social pressure that the individual perceives from the cultural or social normative values and beliefs can influence his behaviour (whether or not he shares his knowledge). This can be explained using the following diagram:

Beliefs about Behaviour consequences / perceived social pressure / normative social beliefs → Overall attitude → Intention → Actual behaviour

Theory of Planned Behaviour (Based on Ajzen, 1991).

Kolekovski and Heminger (2003) analysed opinions about information exchange and used the TRA framework. They found a number of social beliefs and norms which could potentially influence an individual's knowledge-sharing behaviour:

Beliefs about Information Interpersonal Beliefs Beliefs about organisation Beliefs Regarding Task
Perceived amount of information Strengths of ties between the person involved Whether there are positive organisational norms about sharing Whether the information is believed to be related to the task
Perceived value of information Fear of providing the wrong information Commitment to the organisation
Whether the information is considered a personal 'possession' or belonged to the organisation Reciprocity expectations

Social Exchange Theory[edit]

Fu-Ren (2013) defines Social Exchange Theory as describing exchange behaviour between human beings: "According to the theory, people exchange with others because they believe the giving and the reward to be worthwhile." It is based on a number of principles: that exchanging resources (of any kind) is fundamental to human interaction; that individuals will weigh the costs and rewards of their actions; and that people's behaviour is influenced by their expectations of other people's behaviour. All exchanges are influenced by the social and organisational situations in which they take place. Constant et al (1994) expanded the Social Exchange Theory to include information sharing. Labelled Information Sharing Theory, it establishes that information sharing is affected by "rational self-interest" as well as the "social and organisational context" of the exchange.

Social Capital Theory[edit]

Social Capital Theory accounts for the "moderating influence of contextual factors" (Kankanhalli et al, 2005). These contextual factors (for example in the case of knowledge-sharing, generalised trust or pro-sharing norms), will influence the impact of extrinsic motivations such as reciprocity and organisational awards.


These negative factors are of two types. Firstly, there is the insecurity about the value of your knowledge and fear of saying stupid things. Ardichvili and colleagues (2002) concluded from their study that the major barriers for sharing are not so much the ‘I own and keep my knowledge' tendency, but rather fear for criticism and not being sure that contributions are important, accurate or relevant to the discussion. Secondly, there are external factors that act as barriers for the motivation: situational constraints like lack of time, geographical distance, lacking abilities and cognitive distance (cultural differences etc.) (Henriks, 1999).

Case Studies[edit]

The workplace[edit]

Knowledge is an extremely valuable commodity in the workplace - as described by Gurteen (1999, p.1) "intangible produces - ideas, processes, and information are taking a growing share of global trade from the traditional, tangible goods of the manufacturing economy". Much research has been done to analyse and encourage knowledge-sharing among colleagues. McClelland (1987) claimed that within the context of a company, the need for affiliation, achievement and power are the most important factors in working life. From these needs, it is possible to identify motivations for knowledge sharing: individuals may engage in knowledge-sharing behaviour to safeguard their jobs; support their relations with others; strengthen their own knowledge, and enhance their reputation/status/power.

Andriessen (2006) explains how many companies employ "groups of incentives" to motivate their workers to share knowledge. This includes tangible incentives such as money, gifts, promotions or access to information, as well as enhanced reputation and public praise. Hall (2001) describes these categories of extrinsic motivations as hard rewards (the tangible incentives) and soft rewards (recognition, praise or personal satisfaction). However, McLure, Wasko & Faraj (2000 p. 162) warn that “introducing tangible rewards in return for the provision of a public good promotes self-interested behaviour, reduces intrinsic motivation, and destroys the public good”. Therefore, according to Andriessen, "tangible rewards only provide temporary compliance but may inhibit organisational learning".

Online communities[edit]

Technology, in particular online platforms, have become central to knowledge sharing within the last generation. As expressed by Fu-Ren et al (2013, p.54), "looking at public internet services, such as content sharing networks, open content production, newsgroups, forums, or virtual communities, we find many people participating in different kinds of knowledge-exchange practices." Real-world applications of knowledge sharing are rapidly being transposed to the virtual community, and subsequently dozens of studies have analysed the motivations behind electronic/online knowledge sharing. Fu-Ren et al (2013) explain that there have been many types of question-answer websites on the internet, for example ", WikiAnswers, InnoCentive, Google Answers, and Yahoo! Answer" (p.133). Using the framework of the Theory of Reasoned Action to analyse interviews of users' beliefs and behaviours concerning knowledge-sharing, Fu-Ren et al found that "self-efficacy, altruism, reward, and the sense of virtual community" were the most influential factors (p.133). To expand on these constructs, individuals perceived themselves as having the ability to share (self-efficacy), and their feelings of altruism and self-fulfilment influenced their attitudes towards knowledge sharing. Their analysis also indicated that for the majority of the knowledge-sharing platforms, tangible reward systems "for a virtual community [had only a] marginal effect on users’ knowledge sharing intention." (p.157) Other studies have been conducted: for example Paroutis & Al Saleh (2009) examined the determinants of knowledge sharing among individuals using Web 2.0, and found that recognition was among the most effective external motivators. Users valued recognition from their superiors and the organisation itself. Wasko & Faraj (2005) explored why individuals voluntarily contribute knowledge and help others through electronic networks. They were particularly interested in the fact that despite the threat of "free-riding behaviour" (p.36) and the absence of monetary rewards, people were willing to share their knowledge with anonymous strangers. They came to a number of conclusions, finding that there was a negative relationship between reciprocity and the volume of contribution, whereas there was a positive effect of reputation on the volume of contribution. Intrinsic motivations of knowledge sharing, such as self-efficacy and the enjoyment of providing assistance were key factors in knowledge-sharing behaviour.

See also[edit]


Ajzen, I (1991), "The Theory of Planned Behaviour", Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, (50)(2), pp. 179-211.

Andriessen, J (2005), "Managing Knowledge Processes" in Managing Technology and Innovation: an Introduction, gen. ed W. M. Dicke, et al, Routledge, London.

Andriessen, J (2006), "To share or not to share, that is the question: Conditions for the willingness to share knowledge", Delft University of Technology, retrieved 14/09/2014 from <file:///C:/Users/IsabelleGarnett/Downloads/Manuscript_Knowledge_Sharing.2.pdf>.

Burton, K, et al (2006), "The Differential Effects of Intrinsic and Identified Motivation on Well-Being and Performance: Prospective, Experimental and Implicit Approaches to Self-Determination Theory", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (91)(4), pp.750-762.

Business Knowledge Center, "McClelland's Theory of Needs", NetMBA, retrieved 01/10/2014 from <>.

Chennamaneni, A, et al (2012), "A unified model of knowledge sharing behaviours: theoretical development and empirical test", Behaviour & Information Technology, (31)(11), pp.1097-1115.

Constant, D, et al (1994), "What’s mine is ours, or is it? A study of attitudes about information sharing", Information Systems Research, (5)(1), pp. 400-422.

Deci, E & Ryan, R (1985), Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Humant Behviour, Springer Science and Business Media, Berlin.

Deci, E et al (1999), "A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation", Psychol Bull, (125)(6), pp.627-68.

Foss, N, et al (2009), "Encouraging knowledge sharing among employees: How job design matters", Human resource management, (48)(6), pp. 871-893.

Frey, B & Jegen, R (2001), "Motivation Crowding Theory", Journal of Economic Surveys, (15)(5), pp. 590-611.

Fu-Ren, L, et al (2013), "Why people share knowledge in virtual communities?", Internet Research, (23)(2), pp.133-159.

Gagné, M (2009), "A model of knowledge-sharing motivation". Human Resource Management, (48)(1), pp. 571-589.

Gagné, M, et al (1997), "Proximal job characteristics, feelings of empowerment, and intrinsic motivation: A multidimensional model. Journal of Applied Social Psychology", (27)(1), pp. 1222–1240.

Gurteen, D (1999), "Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture", Knowledge Management Magazine, (2)(5), pp. 1-5.

Hall, H (2001), "Input-friendliness: motivating knowledge sharing across intranets", Journal of information science, (27)(3), pp. 139-146.

Hsu, M, et al (2007), "Knowledge sharing behaviour in virtual communities: The relationship between trust, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations", International journal of human-computer studies, (65)(2), pp. 153-169.

Kankanhalli, et al (2005), "Contributing Knowledge to Electronic Repositories: An Empirical Investigation", Management Information Systems Quarterly, (29)(1).

Kolekovski, K & Heminger, A (2003), "Beliefs and attitudes affecting intentions to share information in an organizational setting", Information and Management, (40)(6), pp. 521-532.

McLure, M, et al (2000), "'It is what one does': Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice", The Journal of Strategic Information Systems (9)(2), pp.155-173.

Mikulincer, M & Shaver, P (2003), "The Attachment Behavioural System in Adulthood: Activation, Psychodynamics, and Interpersonal Processes", PsycINFO, (35)(1), pp.53-152.

Niemiec, C. P, et al (2010), "Self-determination theory and the relation of autonomy to self-regulatory processes and personality development", in R. H. Hoyle (Ed.), Handbook of personality and Self-regulation, Blackwell Publishing, Malden.

Paroutis, S & Al Saleh, A (2009), "Determinants of knowledge sharing using Web 2.0 technologies", Journal of Knowledge Management, (13)(4), pp. 52-63.

Reeve, J (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.), Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Ryan, R & Deci, E (2000), "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions", Contemporary Educational Psychology, (25)(1), pp.54-67.

Schultheiss, O, et al (2012), "Motivation" in Encyclopaedia of Human Behaviour (2nd Ed), gen. ed V.S Ramachadnran, Elsevier Academic Press, London, pp. 650-656.

University of Twente, "Expectancy Value Theory", Theorieenoverzicht TCW, retrieved 16/10/2014 from <,%20advertising,%20marketing%20and%20consumer%20behavior/expectancy_value_theory/>.

Vuori, V & Okkonen, J (2012), "Refining information and knowledge by social media applications: Adding value by insight", VINE, (42)(1), pp.117-128.

Wasko, M & Faraj, S (2005), “Why should I share? Examining social capital and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice”, MIS Quarterly, (29)(1), pp. 35-57.

Welschen, J (2014), "An investigation of the impact of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators on organisational knowledge sharing", University of Canterbury, retrieved 5/09/2014, from <>.