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Title: Information-seeking and perceptions of expertise in an electronic network of practice
Author: Ziebro, Monique C.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2749 3407
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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This study assesses information-seeking and perceptions of expertise in Electronic Networks of Practice (ENoPs). ENoPs are a particular type of online community focused on sharing information related to a specific work-related profession (Wasko and Faraj, 2005). To date, there has been little empirical work on the dynamics of information exchange in ENoPs (Whelan, 2007). The little we do know is based on face-to-face communities, which cannot be generalized to online interactions due to changes in size, purpose, and method of communication. Understanding the type and perceived value of information is an important line of theoretical inquiry because it has the potential to identify the specific informational needs these communities fulfil and the types of people most likely to fulfil them. This research was conducted in an ENoP focusing on the exchange of information related to the practice of engineering. The community studied, Eng- Tips, is a thriving network focusing on the practice of engineering that has produced over 150,000 posts, and is comprised of engineers from twenty-one different specialties. Interactions take place solely through the use of virtually mediated technology, and focus primarily on practice-related issues. The format of interaction is typically based on a query and a stream of ensuing replies. Data were collected through metrics and a coding procedure that allowed me to identify the most common queries in the ENoP. My data revealed queries in the ENoP tended to focus on obtaining solutions, meta-knowledge, or validation. The high emphasis on validation was similar to that found in face-to-face friendship networks, and was contrary to Cross et al.’s (2001) anticipated results, most likely due to the presence of anonymity. I also found that experience of interacting with multiple specialties (i.e. interactional expertise) was positively associated with perceived expertise. Finally, I discovered that replies, giving out nominations, and frequently logins were positively associated with the number of expert nominations one received in the community. This research makes contributions to both theory and practice. I contribute to theory on information-seeking by extending Cross et al.’s (2001) research to the online environment, and articulating the type of informational benefits sought in the ENoP. I contribute to theory on expertise by exploring the characteristics associated with perceived expertise, and exploring the reasons why interactional expertise may be particularly valued in ENoPs. My work in this area reveals that—in the context of the ENoP studied—a ‘common practice’ is highly fragmented and loosely knit, further distinguishing this entity as a unique organizational form. My findings in this area call into question the validity of a practice-based approach for examining these entities, and for these reasons, I suggest they may be better conceptualized as Electronic Networks of Discourse. Practical ramifications focus on describing the type of information members want to obtain from their involvement in the community, which may benefit members, organizations, and managers of the ENoP.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: University of Warwick
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HD28 Management. Industrial Management ; ZA4050 Electronic information resources