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Title: Online communities and their evaluation : creation of a method to assist Online Community Managers to evaluate the performance of their own communities : executive summary
Author: McArdle, Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 2695 2499
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2008
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Online Communities have existed for a number of years but evaluation methods allowing their managers to make decisions are limited. These decisions can take the form of resource prioritisation, choice of specific future development areas or termination of Online Communities. This research document introduces a novel 4-step method that can be used to assist this decision-making. A number of interpretations as to what is meant by the term ucommunity" are presented from a variety of disciplines before moving onto the newer concept of "Online Community". The literature does not provide one common meaning for these terms so a definition appropriate for this study was proposed. In this case an Online Community is defined as "a social or business space, supported by technology and Internet tools, in which people with common interests, objectives or values can meet and satisfy their needs". Next, current evaluation techniques were reviewed. From this, and from responses from interviews with Online Community Managers, it was clear that a new evaluation method that could answer business questions in a non-resource intensive manner was required. 4 requirements were identified as key to developing a new evaluation method that would provide benefit to the Online Community practitioners: " It must be simple to implement with minimum use of already limited resources " It must be flexible to allow custornisation for each unique Online Community " It should allow action to be taken to improve the day-to-day management " The measures collected must help answer business questions. To enable an efficient process to be utilised it was proposed to use a classification of Online Communities to reduce the complexity of the problem and to condense large amounts of information into a manageable format. After establishing that no existing classification was appropriate a new one with 4 classes was developed, based on data from literature and interviews with Online Community practitioners. After simplifying the problem by the use of the classification above, attention was turned to generating a new method that would meet the requirements identified previously. This was achieved by extracting key aspects from 3 specific techniques and frameworks, namely The Performance Prism, Performance Measurement Questionnaire and the Extended Web Assessment Method. The resulting method takes account of multiple stakeholders, facilitates definition of measures and recognises the use of perception data in relation to performance evaluation. Supporting material, in the form of flowcharts and templates, was also created to enable the customised measures to be developed in a rapid and resource efficient manner. The method was tested with two Online Communities and the results discussed. Feedback was captured from the participants and changes were subsequently made to improve the method. In addition it became clear that there was a need to explicitly address the "health" of the community aspect in the supporting material. From this research it is clear that the performance of Online Communities can be considered on many levels through this 4-step evaluation method; it takes account of the aspects that are important to a specific community, in a rapid manner. It also confirms that it is possible to engage stakeholders in a dialogue about Online Community performance, thus providing data from them to facilitate future decisions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (Great Britain) (EPSRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Eng.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General) ; HM Sociology