image

HKUST Biz School Magazine

Brought to you by

HKUST Business School

Cultivating Peer-to-Peer Sharing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 3:33pm

[Sponsored Article]

Incentive for Peer-to-Peer Knowledge Sharing Among Farmers in Developing Economies
CHEN, Ying-Ju | SHANTHIKUMAR, J. George | SHEN, Zuo-Jun Max
Production and Operations Management, 24(9), 2015, 1430-1440

Agriculture long ago declined in importance in developed economies, but in the developing world it remains the dominant sector. However, its development is hindered by low productivity. To overcome this, non-governmental organizations and for-profit social enterprises provide learning opportunities for farmers.

The recent voice-based information service, Avaaj Otalo (“voice porch” or “voice stoop”), provides a novel platform to facilitate both learning and sharing channels in Gujarat, India. The discussion board allows farmers to raise questions, interact with others, and post answers to questions. The platform moderator hires specialists to monitor the Q&A forum and interact with farmers, but a significant portion of responses to farmers’ questions were from other farmers. This novel social peer-to-peer knowledge exchange creates a vivid social media that can integrate both knowledge learning and sharing.

This feature raises a number of questions. Will farmers voluntarily share their knowledge? Is the shared knowledge of high quality? Do farmers prefer learning from the experts to receiving knowledge shared by peers? How does the platform facilitate reliable knowledge-sharing among farmers? Answers to these questions are instrumental to understanding the unique socioeconomic features in developing countries or emerging markets. They may provide useful guidelines for non-governmental organizations or social enterprises to convert the poor into productive micro-entrepreneurs such as farmers, fishermen, itinerant workers, or small shop keepers.

Ying-Ju Chen, J. George Shanthikumar and Zuo-Jun Max Shen constructed a stylized model in which a set of farmers can post questions in the forum for help. There is a local market for the farmers to sell their products to buyers, who specify a minimum quantity. This is intended to capture the economy of scales of transportation, logistics, and administration that the buyers encounter before making the transactions. A representative expert is hired to regularly monitor the forum and respond to farmers’ questions. Nevertheless, due to the limited capacity, the expert is not always responsive. Among the farmers, a core user has the ability to respond to other fellow farmers’ questions. She can choose to be silent, or actively respond to the farmers’ questions.

The researchers showed that in equilibrium the core user never provides answers that are more informative than the expert’s. Thus, redesigning or restructuring the forum does not help eliminate this inefficient knowledge provision. They further showed that in the absence of posting fees, it was never optimal for the core user to keep silent. They then examined how the platform can use various tools to control its effectiveness. First, hiring more specialists turns out to be detrimental for peer-to-peer interactions. They also found that improving the expert’s knowledge had an impact on peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Moreover, charging for platform usage may alleviate the frequency of posting uninformative answers; on the other hand, it could also discourage the core user from sharing knowledge.

They hope that their analysis can help bridge the last mile in the emerging market design. They suggest some possible directions for extensions. For example, minimum quantity requirement is an important driving force, but while it captures the fixed costs intermediaries encounter when visiting fragmented villages, transaction prices can differ substantially from that in an adjacent village. This “micromarket” phenomenon does not appear in a highly regulated country like China.  

In another, the study’s one-shot interaction is an abstraction of the reality. In the actual Avaaj Otalo forum, farmers post questions one at a time. If a farmer is eager to know the correct answer, she can play back the list to obtain the complete answers. Extending the analysis to incorporate dynamic interactions among farmers is a promising direction.