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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 29, Issue 3.
Management and the Future of Open Collaboration
Open collaboration gained prominence as a practice with the advent of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities in the 1980s. Since then, technological advances have enabled individuals, firms and communities to implement applications relying on large-scale, open collaboration. Open collaboration research is a field of rapid growth in organizational theory and innovation. Initial work in this area has focussed on the management and governance of FOSS projects as well as on a wide range of user communities in fields as different as sports, scientific equipment users and manufacturers, library information systems, computer games, and medical equipment. Another research stream has focussed on open innovation from a corporate perspective, studying the ways in which traditional organizations can harness the power of communities to innovate, or on the creation of “boundary” or “hybrid” organizations that facilitate collaboration between open-source communities and firms. Yet another stream has focussed on open collaboration platforms, with particular focus on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, assessing participation processes and collaboration outcomes in this particular setting.
The role of open collaboration in organizations and communities has been showcased in numerous research studies. However the wealth of practical and theoretical development has progressed hand in hand with a lack of conceptual clarity. Phenomena as diverse as open innovation, FOSS, wikis such as Wikipedia and other collaboration platforms, social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and CouchSurfing, game environments such as FoldIt, and online review sites such as Yelp! and Virtual Tourist, have been variously described as crowdsourcing, prosumption, co-creation, social, peer and collaborative production, user-generated content, Wikinomics, open innovation, participatory culture, produsage or as wisdom of the crowds. The social consequences of the rapid development of new modes of collaboration have been described in terms ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative. Even relatively minor terminological differences, e.g., distinguishing between open collaboration communities and virtual communities of practice, indicate deep divisions in interpretations of similar processes.
With this special issue we aim to present a multi-faceted portrait of open collaboration practices within organizations and communities, highlighting the prevalence and significance of this phenomenon in our social and economic lives. An additional purpose of this issue was to further the conceptual mapping of these phenomena by examining a variety of open collaboration structures and by proposing a classification scheme for these organizational forms in relation to existing structures. Taken together, the five papers selected for publication address this goal through a diverse range of contributions in terms of research setting and conceptualization of open collaboration.
Hackathons and open collaboration for production
In the first article, entitled “Performing Hackathons as a way of positioning boundary organizations”, Anna Seravalli and Luca Simeone employ ethnographic methods to present, in a comparative case study, two “boundary organizations” oriented toward open production. Boundary organizations such as foundations are usually established in order to facilitate communication and collaboration between open collaboration projects and firms. In this instance, the authors examine two organizations created by the same research institute as settings for innovation and design by local citizens, and where academic researchers and local businesses gather to collaboratively develop software or build objects within a brief, 24-48 hour interval. The post hoc examination of how these organizations set up and communicate their boundaries during their opening Hackathon events enables the authors to highlight cultural differences in open production and collaboration in these two spaces, and to evaluate the success of the focal organizations’ strategies. Seravalli and Simeone suggest that boundary organizations established as sites for collaboration among different types of actors should match event structure and agenda to stakeholder expectations, while clearly communicating their own mission and goals to potential participants.
Dilemmas within commercial involvement in OSS and open collaboration
In the second article, titled “Dilemmas within commercial involvement in open source software”, Malgorzata Ciesielska relies on mixed methods and a case study approach to examine six levels of commercial involvement in open source software, and the tensions inherent at each of these levels. The author pays particular attention to the multiple logics circumscribing open source involvement, and examines how the interplay of economic, technological and social logics affects the allocation of benefits from open source software, as well as firm autonomy and innovation patterns. She concludes that the uppermost three levels of involvement represent a high-risk high-reward strategy, whereby firms can reap the benefit of community involvement provided they succeed in building trust and legitimacy in open source projects. This study contributes to our understanding of the porous interface between the “copyright” and the “copyleft” worlds by highlighting how organizational strategies emerge in settings governed by multiple logics.
Wikipedia strategy setting and open collaboration
In the final article, entitled “Wikimedia movement governance: the limits of a-hierarchical organization”, Dariusz Jemielniak examines the distributed governance model based on his ethnographic, long-term, participatory experience in the Wikipedia community. The author offers a detailed picture of two decisions made by local Wikipedia communities on an ad hoc basis, in the absence of a central decision-making authority, and discusses the contestation processes that accompany such decisions. These examples highlight the costs and benefits of the Wikimedia Foundation abstaining from serving as a decision center or as an information coordinating hub for Wikipedia. His analysis underscores lengthy negotiations, the overturning of decisions after a minority group consensus, and a general volatility of all agreements as the main shortcomings of a-hierarchical governance. Jemielniak concludes that the open, participatory and democratic character of Wikipedia governance, coupled with the semi-anonymous character of some of the members’ identities, render the community more empowered but also more belligerent. This paper extends current understanding of organizational dynamics and governance in open collaboration organizations, and exposes the shortcomings of this model as the inevitable tradeoff of its indisputable benefits.
Differences and similarities
The three papers in this special themed section explore open collaboration at the level of the organization as a whole, which is ideally suited for case study based approaches. The authors examine both offline (Seravalli and Simeone) and online organizations (Jemielniak); the challenges of firms involved in open source software (Ciesielska) and, conversely, the decision-making challenges of open collaboration organizations themselves (Jemielniak); and the “future of organizations,” predicated on open collaboration (Seravalli and Simeone). Acknowledging the still nascent state of research in this area, one study also advances taxonomies of the levels of firm involvement in open source software communities (Ciesielska).
Throughout this issue, we invite you to explore inter-related themes such as the advantages and challenges of open collaboration, firm strategies in engaging in open collaboration within, and outside the organization and the importance of matching organization strategy and processes with the goals and expectations of potential participants.
We hope that you will find the three papers in this special issue enjoyable and interesting, and that they will inspire and stimulate further academic conversation and research on management and the future of open collaboration.
The guest editors would like to thank the following colleagues whose work reviewing papers helped make this special issue happen. Katarzyna Bachnik, UC Berkeley; Alessandro Delfanti, McGill University; Charlie DeTar, MIT; Jérôme Hergueux, Berkman Center, Harvard University; Hila Lifshitz, Harvard University; Matthew Lee, Harvard University; Benjamin Mako-Hill, University of Washington; Yiftach Nagar, MIT and Johan Söderberg, University of Gothenburg.
Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA
Kozminski University, Warszawa, Poland
University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia
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