There was a short discussion recently on a list-serv I belong to about whether constructing a rewards programme for an online community of practice should be developed or not.
My general view on reward systems is that they often create a behaviour that seeks to maximise the reward rather than trying to maximise the outcome the reward is supposed to encourage. Rewards can therefore become the target of the behaviour.
However, rather than have the reward become the target, I used a reward programme to introduce, reinforce, and establish the “brand” for the (then) newly created communities of practice at a former employer. The brand I created was the pub.
I established the name “pubs” for the (virtual) communities of practice since the pub is an excellent active and visual metaphor representing an informal place for social interaction, especially in small regional towns where most of my target group worked. Association with a pub also had intrinsic appeal and this helped recognition and a willingness to become involved.
I used a reward system at the start to reinforce the name “pub” in people’s minds, rather than rewarding membership or contributions per se.
The reward system was based on a ten week competition (a bit long in retrospect) with a substantial prize (a drinks voucher) for the winner. In the weekly “What’s New?”, I would explain the pub concept and have a photo and details of a different pub that would need to be recorded over the ten week period. At the conclusion of the ten week competition, a winner was drawn.
For some time afterwards, I continued with a different pub image to continually market the visual metaphor. Since photographing pubs was a hobby of mine, I had plenty of photos to select from!
The competition reinforced the name of my communities of practice (pubs), along with the intrinsic desire to belong to a pub, helping with rapid adoption and critical mass. Some great useage early on demonstrated effectiveness and they took off from there.
The full story about my communities of practice reveals the thinking behind their establishment and how they came into being.
In conclusion, rewards can be helpful so long as they don’t become the main game.