Deliberate change without hierarchical influence? The case of collaborative OSS communities

Sladjana Nørskov (Department of Management, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark)
Peter Kesting (Department of Management, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark)
John Parm Ulhøi (Department of Management, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark)

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Publication date: 8 May 2017



This paper aims to present that deliberate change is strongly associated with formal structures and top-down influence. Hierarchical configurations have been used to structure processes, overcome resistance and get things done. But is deliberate change also possible without formal structures and hierarchical influence?


This longitudinal, qualitative study investigates an open-source software (OSS) community named TYPO3. This case exhibits no formal hierarchical attributes. The study is based on mailing lists, interviews and observations.


The study reveals that deliberate change is indeed achievable in a non-hierarchical collaborative OSS community context. However, it presupposes the presence and active involvement of informal change agents. The paper identifies and specifies four key drivers for change agents’ influence.


The findings contribute to organisational analysis by providing a deeper understanding of the importance of leadership in making deliberate change possible in non-hierarchical settings. It points to the importance of “change-by-conviction”, essentially based on voluntary behaviour. This can open the door to reducing the negative side effects of deliberate change also for hierarchical organisations.



Sladjana Nørskov, Peter Kesting and John Parm Ulhøi (2017) "Deliberate change without hierarchical influence? The case of collaborative OSS communities", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 346-374

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