Turbulent stability of emergent roles: The dualistic nature of self-organizing knowledge coproduction

Ofer Arazy, Johannes Daxenberger, Hila Lifshitz-Assaf, Oded Nov, Iryna Gurevych

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasingly, new forms of organizing for knowledge production are built around self-organizing coproduction community models with ambiguous role definitions. Current theories struggle to explain how high-quality knowledge is developed in these settings and how participants self-organize in the absence of role definitions, traditional organizational controls, or formal coordination mechanisms. In this article, we engage the puzzle by investigating the temporal dynamics underlying emergent roles on individual and organizational levels. Comprised of a multilevel large-scale empirical study of Wikipedia stretching over a decade, our study investigates emergent roles in terms of prototypical activity patterns that organically emerge from individuals' knowledge production actions. Employing a stratified sample of 1,000 Wikipedia articles, we tracked 200,000 distinct participants and 700,000 coproduction activities, and recorded each activity's type. We found that participants' role-taking behavior is turbulent across roles, with substantial flow in and out of coproduction work. Our findings at the organizational level, however, show that work is organized around a highly stable set of emergent roles, despite the absence of traditional stabilizing mechanisms such as predefined work procedures or role expectations. This dualism in emergent work is conceptualized as "turbulent stability." We attribute the stabilizing factor to the artifact-centric production process and present evidence to illustrate the mutual adjustment of role taking according to the artifact's needs and stage. We discuss the importance of the affordances of Wikipedia in enabling such tacit coordination. This study advances our theoretical understanding of the nature of emergent roles and self-organizing knowledge coproduction. We discuss the implications for custodians of online communities as well as for managers of firms engaging in self-organized knowledge collaboration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-812
Number of pages21
JournalInformation Systems Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016


  • Artifact-centric
  • Boundary infrastructure
  • Coproduction
  • Emergent roles
  • Mobility
  • Online production communities
  • Stability
  • Wikipedia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Turbulent stability of emergent roles: The dualistic nature of self-organizing knowledge coproduction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this