Thursday, 12 August 2010

Engagement - answer to Mollen and Wilson

I try to "pin down the much discussed but elusive concept of engagement" in the context of public sector IT projects, (elusive indeed) whereas Mollen and Wilson attempt this in an online context. Mollen and Wilson analyse engagement's relationship to constructs of telepresence, flow, commitment, but my approach doesn't use these constructs (although commitment seems analogous).

Mollen and Wilson attempt a definition; I don't. I tried - see here. But they attempt a definition of on-line engagement, which is not what I'm looking at. Why do we have to use the same word for something that's not quite the same behaviour!

Mollen and Wilson write "engagement is a volitional commitment by the customer" but that definition applies only to their on-line context and implies a one-way commitment to a brand - there's nothing in there about commitment by the supplier. They write that the customer commitment is "to an active relationship over time" but don't say who the other parties to the relationship are. How can you have relationship with a thing? Aren't relationships between people?

I checked the references section, and although I recognise some references, such as the 2006 paper by Petre, Minocha & Roberts, none of the other references match what I'm using, because she is looking at marketing, advertising and on-line engagement whereas I am looking at engagement in the public sector, on IT projects where there's IT development and interactional behaviour.

With this sketch I think I can see some similarities. They are:
  1. the web site context, ie telepresence is the materiality and the website provides the context in which to work and interact
  2. consumer experience is the knowledge available. consumers, like participants in an IT project some with knowledge and experience to contribute to the interaction.
But it's one sided, and if my research were of how clients got consultants to engage on a project, then it would be equally one sided because there'd be no mention of how clients engaged with people, clients with clients, clients with consultants.

I've looked at concepts analogous to engagement as participation, motivation, commitment, involvement, collaboration, using engagement literature that includes Huxham, Schaffer, , Saks, Marcum, Schaufeli, Axelrod, Barki, Huxham, Hartwick. And this literature does not coincide with Mollen's work at all.

Mollen is now developing an engagement scale, (Schaufeli has developed a questionnaire to measure work engagement (blogged here), but Mollen doesn't mention Schaufeli's work), which suggests that she's looking for a way to measure customer engagement. I am looking for
  1. how people engage
  2. the value that rises from engagement, - so a way to measure that value would be persuasive in influencing public sector clients who do not see the worth of investing time and effort to engage with suppliers. For the public sector IT context a metric for engaged behaviour is of less use than a metric for the value arising from engagement.
The literature that Mollen uses from the e-learning fields is more interest to me than that from the advertising field because in an IT development, there is learning, so the e-learning literature on engagement might have something transferable. The suppliers and the consultants learn how the business works, and the business clients learn from the suppliers' behaviours and material outcomes (e.g. reports, or new software). However, Mollen is using the electronic learning literature rather the learning literature per se.

Anne Mollen's preconditions are similar:
  • participants (customers but not suppliers)
  • knowledge (experience)
  • environment (web, on-line)
but the emerging behaviour is different. I find
  • sharing - not possible if participants are single individuals, and if the supplier is not involved as well
  • sense-making - maybe
  • adapting - customer behaviour
I conclude that Mollen's theory of engagement is insufficient to help understand how clients and consultants/suppliers engage on IT projects, and secondly, her work doesn't indicate what value arises to whom in a way that I can transfer to the IT project context. (She refers to "optimal consumer attitudes and behaviours").

However, what I'm working on is broader and may be helpful to on-line advertisers who are happy to take a more holistic view of engagement.

The interesting concept that both our approaches must share is volition.

Mollen, A. 2010. Engagement, Telepresence and Interactivity in Online Consumer Experience: Reconciling Scholastic and Managerial Perspectives. Journal of business research, 63(9-10): 919-925.
Saks, A. M. (2006) 'Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement', Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), pp. 600-619. 938
Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. and Salanova, M. (2006) 'The Measurement of Work Engagement With a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study', Educational & Psychological Measurement, 66 (4), pp. 701-716. 835
MARCUM, J. W. (1999) Out With Motivation, in With Engagement. National Productivity Review (Wiley), 18, 43-46.
HUXHAM, C. (1993) Pursuing Collaborative Advantage. The Journal of the Operational Research Society, 44, 599-611.
NAO (2006) Good governance: Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships. National Audit Office.
SCHAFFER, R. H. (2002) High Impact Consulting, Jossey-Bass.
AXELROD, R. H., AXELROD, E., BEEDON, J. & JACOBS, C. D. (2004) You don't have to do it alone: how to involve others to get things done, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.
BARKI, H. & HARTWICK, J. (1989) Rethinking the Concept of User Involvement. MIS Quarterly, 13, 53-63.
HARTWICK, J. & BARKI, H. (1994) Explaining the Role of User Participation in Information System Use. Management Science, 40, 440-465.

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