A 'social learning' theme keeps kicking dust in my direction, first when the TR-DEV Yahoo group folded (see post below from January 24), and again the other night. Clark Quinn, Marcia Conner, and others have begun a wonderful Thursday-night Twitter gathering (8pm EST; #lrnchat). Conversation turned to the willingness to share information, and I noted that it is often management that is reticent to share data. My grad school research on communities of practice included an interesting 2000 article on communities, why people freely participate in them, and why they are willing to share.
In the virtual communities under study, Wasko and Faraj (2000) found that people participate because they feel knowledge is a public good and should be shared out of a sense of moral obligation and community, rather than self-interest. This is positioned in contrast to the organizational view that knowledge is a private good owned by the organization or individual members. Wasko and Faraj interpret their findings to indicate that self-interest (to include organizational control or institutionalized CoPs) “denigrates” (p.171) the community. Essentially, members share from feelings of doing the right thing, and engage in intellectual exchange for its own sake.
Additionally, Wasko and Faraj found that community members act out of community interest, not self interest, and concluded that knowledge is owned and maintained neither by the organization nor by the individual, but by the community itself.
The full citation is Wasko, M. & Faraj, S. (2000). “It is what one does”: Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 9(2-3), 155-173.