Views of Community Managers on Knowledge Co-creation in Online Communities for People With Disabilities: Qualitative Study.

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Publication Date: 
Oct 11, 2017

BACKGROUND: The use of online communities to promote end user involvement and co-creation in the product and service innovation process is well documented in the marketing and management literature. Whereas online communities are widely used for health care service provision and peer-to-peer support, only little is known about how they could be integrated into the health care innovation process.

OBJECTIVE: The overall objective of this qualitative study was to explore community managers' views on and experiences with knowledge co-creation in online communities for people with disabilities.

METHODS: A descriptive qualitative research design was used. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with nine community managers. To complement the interview data, additional information was retrieved from the communities in the form of structural information (number of registered users, number and names of topic areas covered by the forum) and administrative information (terms and conditions and privacy statements, forum rules). Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Our results highlight two main aspects: peer-to-peer knowledge co-creation and types of collaboration with external actors. Although community managers strongly encouraged peer-to-peer knowledge co-creation, our findings indicated that these activities were not common practice in the communities under investigation. In fact, much of what related to co-creation, prototyping, and product development was still perceived to be directed by professionals and experts. Community managers described the role of their respective communities as informing this process rather than a driving force. The role of community members as advisors to researchers, health care professionals, and businesses was discussed in the context of types of collaboration with external actors. According to the community managers, most of the external inquiries related to research projects of students or health care professionals in training, who often joined a community for the sole purpose of recruiting participants for their research. Despite this unilateral form of knowledge co-creation, community managers acknowledged the mere interest of these user groups as beneficial, as long as their interest was not purely financially motivated. Being able to contribute to advancing research, improving products, and informing the planning and design of health care services were described as some of the key motivations to engage with external stakeholders.

CONCLUSIONS: This paper draws attention to the currently under-investigated role of online communities as platforms for collaboration and co-creation between patients, health care professionals, researchers, and businesses. It describes community managers' views on and experiences with knowledge co-creation and provides recommendations on how these activities can be leveraged to foster knowledge co-creation in health care. Engaging in knowledge co-creation with online health communities may ultimately help to inform the planning and design of products, services, and research activities that better meet the actual needs of those living with a disability.

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