The governance of sponsored open source projects and their communities

We continue our processing of a number of key research papers on the realities of peer governance in open source software communities.

This one here is really important:

The Role of Participation Architecture in Growing Sponsored Open Source Communities. By Joel West (San Jose State University College of Business) and Siobhán O’Mahony (UC Davis Graduate School of Management) February 6, 2008 preprint version of Industry and Innovation, Special Issue on “Managing Open Innovation Through Online Communities”

Why is it so important?

Because it examines in depth the difference between autonomouscommunity-run‘ , open source communities, and sponsored ones (also called organic vs. synthetic). In the latter, the desire to promote participation has to be balanced with the desire to protect the commercial interests of the sponsoring company, and this will be translated into governance interventions, that affect the architecture of participation.

What this research paper offers then, is a detailed typology of these structural interventions, and the effects they have on the type of cooperation that will emerge.

So, if you have the question: how does a corporate commons affect the nature of peer production, here’s definitely concrete material to start answering that important questions.

According the authors’ research, this attempt at influencing processes is done around three axes:

1) intellectual property rights (for example, through the use of dual licensing)

2) the specifics of the development (the production process itself) approach, and

2) the models adopted for community governance.

The result is the differentiation of two types of openness: namely transparency and accessibility.

In their own words:

While transparency offered potential contributors the ability to follow and understand a community’s production efforts, accessibility determined the degree to which external contributors could influence that production.

In designing a community, sponsors were more likely to offer transparency than they were to offer accessibility to external community members. We found that sponsors faced a control vs. growth tension. To leverage the ability of communities to contribute to their firm’s bottom line, sponsors sought to maintain control over the community’s strategic direction. However, sponsors soon discovered that by restricting access to community processes, they limited their community’s ability to attract new members and grow.

We contribute to the literature on open source communities, technical communities and firms and community collaboration in three ways.

First, we identify some key distinctions between sponsored communities and autonomous communities that can help further research on firm-community collaboration and innovation.

Second, we develop the construct of participation architecture and show how it is operationalized in a sample of open source communities.

Third, we illustrate the “control-growth” tension that sponsors building communities face when making design decisions.

Our research shows that participation in a community is determined not only by the technical architecture identified by Baldwin and Clark (2006), but also by the organizational structure that results from a sponsor’s community building design decisions.”

You can find the detailed participation architecture typology in our wiki.

4 Comments The governance of sponsored open source projects and their communities

  1. AvatarJoel West


    Thank you very much for your kind words. We thought we’d identified something important, and wanted to get it out to see if we could influence how people thought about sponsored open source projects, so it’s gratifying to see it recognized by your blog and others.

    There’s a couple of words I would ask to change in the characterization — things that might not seem important in industry but matter in academia. First, in our field an ‘essay’ reflects armchair theorizing, but what we did would be called a ‘research paper’: both Siobhan and I talked to a lot of open source leaders over several years about how they organize and lead open source projects.

    Second, this would be “authors’” (plural) not “author’s” (single) because we worked together on the ideas for many years, from the first paper in May 2004 until finalizing this paper earlier this year.

    Again, thanks for the mention and glad you found it valuable.


  2. Pingback: Enlaces sugeridos por K-Government el 29 de Agosto, 2008 | K-Government

  3. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » How do corporations and communities relate?

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