Pro-socially motivated interaction for knowledge integration in crowd-based open innovation

Yao Sun, Philipp Tuertscher, Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to study how the online temporary crowd shares knowledge in a way that fosters the integration of their diverse knowledge. Having the crowd integrate its knowledge to offer solution-ideas to ill-structured problems posed by organizations is one of the desired outcomes of crowd-based open innovation because, by integrating others’ knowledge, the ideas are more likely to consider the many divergent issues related to solving the ill-structured problem. Unfortunately, the diversity of knowledge content offered by heterogeneous specialists in the online temporary crowd makes integration difficult, and the lean social context of the crowd makes extensive dialogue to resolve integration issues impractical. The authors address this issue by exploring theoretically how the manner in which interaction is organically conducted during open innovation challenges enables the generation of integrative ideas. The authors hypothesize that, as online crowds organically share knowledge based upon successful pro-socially motivated interaction, they become more productive in generating integrative ideas. Design/methodology/approach: Using a multilevel mixed-effects model, this paper analyzed 2,244 posts embedded in 747 threads with 214 integrative ideas taken from 10 open innovation challenges. Findings: Integrative ideas were more likely to occur after pro-socially motivated interactions. Research limitations/implications: Ideas that integrate knowledge about the variety of issues that relate to solving an ill-structured problem are desired outcomes of crowd-based open innovation challenges. Given that members of the crowd in open innovation challenges rarely engage in dialogue, a new theory is needed to explain why integrative ideas emerge at all. The authors’ adaptation of pro-social motivation interaction theory helps to provide such a theoretical explanation. Practitioners of crowd-based open innovation should endeavor to implement systems that encourage the crowd members to maintain a high level of activeness in pro-socially motivated interaction to ensure that their knowledge is integrated as solutions are generated. Originality/value: The present study extends the crowd-based open innovation literature by identifying new forms of social interaction that foster more integrated ideas from the crowd, suggesting the mitigating role of pro-socially motivated interaction in the negative relationship between knowledge diversity and knowledge integration. This study fills in the research gap in knowledge management research describing a need for conceptual frameworks explaining how to manage the increasing complexity of knowledge in the context of crowd-based collaboration for innovation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2127-2147
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 17 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


  • Crowd
  • Idea generation
  • Knowledge diversity
  • Knowledge integration
  • Open innovation
  • Pro-socially motivated interaction


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