The Hidden Benefits of Lurking in Communities of Practice

Katrin Riedel

Student thesis: Master thesis


The idea of communities of practice draws much attention among scholars and practitioners. Communities are regarded as successful tools for leveraging knowledge transfer and learning in organizations. They can exist virtually, such as online discussion boards, or in real life, such as in physical meetings and conferences. The core idea of communities of practice is that members can share, discuss, and generate new knowledge through communication with each other and thus enhance their productivity at the workplace. In this thesis I focus on the group of peripheral members, called lurkers, and investigate costs and benefits associated with lurking. I conduct a qualitative meta-analysis of six studies on lurking in communities of practice and examine different possible conceptualizations of the term lurking. It is argued that lurking is a biased and ambiguous concept and therefore difficult to manage for scholars and practitioners. There is a negative underlying assumption toward lurking that hides valuable benefits generated through lurking. Drawing from a literature review and a metasynthesis, it is suggested that lurking is a form of participation that can be reconstructed as listening and learning. By drawing on the reconstruction of lurking, hidden benefits can be illuminated and lurking is can be recognized as a valuable form of participation.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2013
Number of pages86