Virtual communities are tools able to enhance the firms’ know-how, orienting it to a common goal. The paper is based on the idea that there is a relationship between the motivation (engagement) to exchange knowledge in virtual communities and the sustainability shared planning along its three dimensions - social, economic and environmental. The main research question of the paper is to observe the motivational engagement system of the companies that allows communities of practices to become an innovative strategy to design sustainability. So, we propose a conceptual framework called CDI (Connection, Discussion and Influence), along which the motivational dimensions can be formed, as they represent the main elements to join a community which is oriented to the synergistic design of sustainability. The conceptual framework has been tested in the Italian agri-food sector. To confirm the existence of the proposed framework, a Survey Method for data collection was adopted. The 250 questionnaires were revised through a Confirmatory Factor Analysis as this technique was found to be suitable for identifying groups of representative variables and the engagement motivations that characterize participation in sustainability-oriented virtual communities. The pro-social behaviour represented by the exchange of knowledge oriented to sustainability is enhanced through the engagement of the online community members; it happens when the online community is structured in order to activate a virtuous circle between Connection, Discussion and Influence. The hypothesised virtuous circle is, in fact, a driver for managers of virtual communities or for those companies’ networks (such as consortia) that choose to enhance their relational heritage through the knowledge exchange. In fact, it provides fundamental guidelines to enhance engagement in these virtual environments.
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