Self-Organisation in Commons-Based Peer Production
* PhD Thesis: Self-organisation in Commons-Based Peer Production (Drupal: “the drop is always moving”). By David Rozas. University of Surrey, Department of Sociology, Centre for Research in Social Simulation, 2017
Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. This work was partially supported by the Framework programme FP7 ICT-2013-10 of the European Commission through project P2Pvalue (grant no.: 610961).
- 1 Abstract
- 2 Contents
- 2.1 1 Free/Libre Open Source Software and Commons-Based Peer Production
- 2.2 2 Drupal: case study and research questions
- 2.3 3 The exploration of self-organisation via contribution activities: conceptualising Drupal through an Activity Theory lens
- 2.4 4 Methods 125
- 2.5 5 Identifying contribution activities in a “code-centric” community
- 2.6 6 Socio-technical systems of non-core Drupal projects
- 2.7 7 The socio-technical system of core projects
- 2.8 8 Socio-technical systems of local events and DrupalCamps
- 2.9 9 The socio-technical system of DrupalCons
- 2.10 10 Loosen control without losing control
- 2.11 11 Conclusion
- 2.12 Summary
- 3 Excerpts
- 3.1 FLOSS Statistics
- 3.2 Contributions
- 3.3 Polycentric Governance
- 3.4 From the Conclusion
"Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP) is a new model of socio-economic production in which groups of individuals cooperate with each other without a traditional hierarchical organisation to produce common and public goods, such as Wikipedia or GNU/Linux. There is a need to understand how these communities govern and organise themselves as they grow in size and complexity.
Following an ethnographic approach, this thesis explores the emergence of and changes in the organisational structures and processes of Drupal: a large and global CBBP community which, over the past fifteen years, has coordinated the work of hundreds of thousands of participants to develop a technology which currently powers more than 2% of websites worldwide.
Firstly, this thesis questions and studies the notion of contribution in CBPP communities, arguing that contribution should be understood as a set of meanings which are under constant negotiation between the participants according to their own internal logics of value. Following a constructivist approach, it shows the relevance played by less visible contribution activities such as the organisation of events.
Secondly, this thesis explores the emergence and inner workings of the sociotechnical systems which surround contributions related to the development of projects and the organisation of events. Two intertwined organisational dynamics were identified: formalisation in the organisational processes and decentralisation in decision-making.
Finally, this thesis brings together the empirical data from this exploration of socio-technical systems with previous literature on self-organisation and organisation studies, to offer an account of how the organisational changes resulted in the emergence of a polycentric model of governance, in which different forms of organisation varying in their degree of organicity co-exist and influence each other."
1 Free/Libre Open Source Software and Commons-Based Peer Production
- 1.1 Free/Libre Open Source Software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
- 1.2 Research on Free/Libre Open Source Software . . . . . . . . . . 40
- 1.3 Commons-Based Peer Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
- 1.4 Research on Commons-Based Peer Production . . . . . . . . . . 56
- 1.5 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
2 Drupal: case study and research questions
- 2.1 What is Drupal? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
- 2.2 Key moments in the history of Drupal and its community . . . . 67
- 2.3 The growth of the community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
- 2.4 Life in a “do-ocracy”: a model of governance? . . . . . . . . . . 95
- 2.5 Research questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
- 2.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
3 The exploration of self-organisation via contribution activities: conceptualising Drupal through an Activity Theory lens
- 3.1 A historical overview of Activity Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
- 3.2 Why draw on Activity Theory for the study of peer production? 112
- 3.3 Conceptualising Drupal through an Activity Theory lens . . . . 115
- 3.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
4 Methods 125
- 4.1 Methodological approach: an ethnographic perspective . . . . . 125
- 4.2 Data collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
- 4.3 Ethical considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
- 4.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
5 Identifying contribution activities in a “code-centric” community
- 5.1 Contribution beyond source code in FLOSS . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
- 5.2 “Object-oriented” and “community-oriented” contribution activities
- 5.3 Representation of contribution activities in user profiles . . . . . 168
- 5.4 “Come for the software, stay for the community”: the role of
affective labour in the Drupal community . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
- 5.5 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 178
- 5.6 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
6 Socio-technical systems of non-core Drupal projects
- 6.1 The emergence of the socio-technical system of contributed projects
- 6.2 The Project Application Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
- 6.3 Case study: following a contributed project . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
- 6.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
7 The socio-technical system of core projects
- 7.1 The emergence of the socio-technical system of core projects: “in the beginning was Dries” . . . . .
- 7.2 Core initiatives, leaders and gates: formalisation and decentralisation in core
- 7.3 Case study: the story of an unofficial core initiative . . . . . . . . 216
- 7.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
8 Socio-technical systems of local events and DrupalCamps
- 8.1 Socio-technical system of local Drupal events . . . . . . . . . . . 238
- 8.2 Socio-technical system of DrupalCamps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 242
- 8.3 Case study: emergence of local institutions and selection of presentations in DrupalCamps
- 8.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259
9 The socio-technical system of DrupalCons
- 9.1 Emergence of DrupalCons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 262
- 9.2 Growth of DrupalCons: “DrupalCons used to be like DrupalCamps” 265
- 9.3 Case study: formalisation and decentralisation in the organisation of “modern DrupalCons” . . . . .
- 9.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294
10 Loosen control without losing control
- 10.1 Drupal as a CBPP community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 299
- 10.2 Degrees of organicity in peer production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
- 10.3 The emergence of polycentric governance in peer production . . 313
- 10.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316
- 11.1 Key insights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 319
- 11.2 Impact and implications of this thesis for practitioners . . . . . . 324
- 11.3 Future work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 329
David Rozas (excerpted from preface):
"This thesis presents a study of self-organisation in a collaborative community focussed on the development of a Free/Libre Open Source Software, named Drupal, whose model responds to the latter: a Commons-Based Peer Production community. Drupal is a content management framework, a software to develop web applications, which currently powers more than 2% of websites worldwide. Since the source code, the computer instructions, was released under a license which allow its use, copy, study and modification by anyone in 2001, the Drupal project has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of participants. More than 1.3 million people are registered on Drupal.org, the main platform of collaboration, and communitarian events are held every week all around the World. Thus, as the main slogan of the Drupal project reflects — “come for the software, stay for the community”, this collaborative project cannot be understood without exploring its community, which is the main focus of this thesis.
In sum, over the course of the next eleven chapters, this thesis presents the story of how hundreds of thousands of participants in a large and global Commons-Based Peer Production community have organised themselves, in what started as a small and amateur project in 2001. This is with the aim of furthering our understanding of how, coping with diverse challenges, CommonsBased Peer Production communities govern and scale up their self-organisational processes.
* Chapter 1 provides an overview of the phenomenon of Free/Libre Open Source Software and connects it with that of Commons-Based Peer Production, allowing the theoretical pillars from previous studies on both phenomena to be drawn on.
* Chapter 2 provides an overview of the main case study, the Drupal community. Throughout the second chapter the Drupal community is framed as an extreme case study of Commons-Based Peer Production on the basis of its growth, therefore offering an opportunity to improve our understanding of how self-organisational processes emerge, evolve and scale up over time in Commons-Based Peer Production communities of this type.
* Chapter 3 provides an overview of Activity Theory and its employment as an analytical tool: a lens which supports the analysis of the changes experienced in complex organisational activities, such as those from Free/Libre Open Source Software communities as part of the wider phenomenon of CommonsBased Peer Production.
* Subsequently, chapter 4, explores the fundamental methodological aspects considered for this study, which draws on an ethnographic approach. The decision for this approach is reasoned on the basis of the nature of the research questions tackled in the study. Firstly, on requiring an inductive approach, which entails the assumption that topics emerge from the process of data analysis rather than vice versa. Secondly, on the necessity of drawing on a methodological approach which acknowledges the need to understand these topics from within the community.
* Chapter 5 begins the presentation of the findings of this study. Concretely, it presents the findings regarding the study of contribution in the Drupal community, a notion which is fundamental for the choice of the main unit of analysis, contribution activity, in Activity Theory. The results from this study enabled the identification and consideration, throughout the subsequent chapters, not only of activities which are “officially” understood as contributions, such as those listed in the main collaboration platform, but also of those which have remained less visible in Free/Libre Open Source software and Commons-Based Peer Production communities and the literature on them. Having carried out this exploration of the notion of contribution in the Drupal community, the conceptual underpinnings necessary to carry out the study of self-organisation in the Drupal community, by focussing on contribution activities, are laid out.
- More precisely, chapters 6 and 7 address the study of the development
of projects, activities whose main actions and operations are mostly performed through an online medium;
* while chapters 8 and 9, the organisation of events, whose main actions and operations are mostly performed through an offline medium. Throughout these chapters the main argument that binds this thesis together is presented: the growth experienced by the Drupal community led to a formalisation of self-organisational processes in response to a general dynamic of decentralisation of decision-making in order for these processes to scale up.
This research identified these two general organisational dynamics, formalisation and decentralisation of decision-making, affecting large and global Commons-Based Peer Production communities as they grow over time. Thus, throughout these chapters, the means by which these general dynamics of formalisation and decentralisation shaped the overall systems which emerged around these different contribution activities are explored. The exploration of the organisational processes of this case study does not only show the existence of these dynamics, but it provides an in-depth account of how these dynamics relate to each other, as well as how they shaped the overall resulting system of peer production, despite the main medium of the peer production activities studied being online/offline, or the significant differences with regard to their main focus of action — writing source code or organising events. For each pair of chapters this exploration starts with the most informal systems and progresses towards the most formal respectively: custom, contributed and core projects, in chapters 6 and 7; and local events, DrupalCamps and DrupalCons, in chapters 8 and 9.
After carrying out this in-depth exploration of self-organisation, the overall identified changes experienced in the self-organisational processes of the Drupal community are brought together according to general theories of selforganising communities, organisational theory and empirical studies on CommonsBased Peer Production communities, in order to connect the exploration with macro organisational aspects in chapter 10.
- This (10th) chapter argues that this study
provides evidence of the emergence of polycentric governance, in which the participants of this community establish a constant process of negotiation to distribute authority and power over several centres of governance with effective coordination between them. In addition, this chapter argues that the exploration carried out throughout the previous chapters provides an in-depth account of the emergence of an organisational system for peer production in which different forms of organisation, varying in their degree of organicity, simultaneously co-exist and interact with each other. Finally, chapter 11 summarises the main contributions of this thesis and provides a set of implications for practitioners of Commons-Based Peer Production communities."
"The period that comprises the arrival of the new millennium to nowadays saw a continuation in the growth of FLOSS. For example, a study of the economic impact of FLOSS on the European Information and Communication Technologies sector carried out in the early 2000s indicated that the code base of quality FLOSS applications was doubling every 18-24 months, and represented 20.5% of the total software investment in Europe and 20% in the United States (Ghosh, 2006).
The presence of FLOSS as a model of development in the private sector is prevalent nowadays.
The following excerpt by the CEO of Black Duck (2016), a company which has run an annual survey to study the use and development of FLOSS in the private sector since 2006, provides an illustration of the changes experienced over the past ten years:
- “When the first survey launched 10 years ago, hardly anyone would have predicted that open source use would be ubiquitous worldwide just a decade later, but for many good reasons that’s what happened. Its value in reducing development costs, in freeing internal developers to work on higher-order tasks, and in accelerating time to market is undeniable. Simply put, open source is the way applications are developed today.”
Similarly, a growth in the adoption of FLOSS in the public sector can also be observed during this period. For example, the Brazilian government launched an initiative to promote the adoption of FLOSS in 2006 (Schoonmaker, 2007), the Ecuadorian government passed a similar law in 2008 (Correa, 2008), the British government specified a set of recommendations to foster the use of FLOSS instead of proprietary software in 2014 (Gov.uk, 2014), and the US government established a policy in August 2016 to promote its use and to determine the release of at least 20% of the custom code commissioned by federal agencies (Scott & Rung, 2016), to name but a few cases. The main case study of this research is also one more example of the adoption of FLOSS technologies in the public sector, including in hundreds of cases in more than 150 countries (Drupal.org, 2009c), such as the platform used for the website of the White House. Overall, in the public sector today FLOSS represents a minimal requirement in the agendas of governments seeking to encourage open innovation (Lee, Hwang & Choi, 2012)."
" “Object-oriented” and “community-oriented” contribution activities:
When studying what types of activities are perceived as contributions in the Drupal community, two main types of contribution activities emerged.
The first was “object-oriented” contributions, encompassing all the activities whose focus of action are objects, typically digital commons such as source code, documentation and translations.
The second category is “community-oriented” contributions: those in which the focus of action is directed towards the community. Examples are the organisation and participation in face-to-face events, activities related to supporting other users, and mentoring.
These perceptions of what can be considered contribution contrast with those represented in the main collaboration platform. Not surprisingly for a FLOSS community with a strong “code-centric” character (Zilouchian-Moghaddam et al., 2011; Sims, 2013), there is a mismatch between the perceptions of the importance of “community-oriented” activities and those “officially” reflected in the main collaboration platform. This mismatch is illustrated, for example, in the main pages that explain how individuals could contribute to Drupal.
On the one hand, all the categories identified as “object-oriented” (G1) are represented in the “Get Involved” page138 relating to contribution in the main collaboration platform. Some of them are differentiated and highlighted. For example, in the case of contribution activities related to source code (SG1.1), there is an explicit distinction between ‘theming’ and ‘backend’ development.
On the other hand, “community-oriented” activities (G2) are only partially reflected in user support, donations and marketing. For example, a sub-page named “Contribute to Drupal.org139”, provides information about contributions related to the main collaboration platform itself. This area refers to some of the “online community management” (SG2.4) contributions. However, no explicit mention is made of the “organisation and participation in face-to-face events” (SG2.5). The first reference can be found only after navigating through a secondary link in the “General Resources” section to the Drupal Groups.
This allows the user to start browsing by geographical criteria after several steps, where the first references to the organisation of events can be found. The main aim in this section has been to show the need to widen our understanding of contribution activities beyond the traditional view of source code or other “object-oriented” activities, and the existence of differences with regard to the internal perceived value. Additionally, evidence was provided with regards to the lack of visibility of “community-oriented” activities in the main collaboration platform. To further understanding of this lack of visibility, the next section explores the representation of the identified contribution activities at an individual level, by studying user profiles.
By drawing on the concept of “affective labour”, this study connects the findings with the larger literature on the commons. Participation in the Drupal community “transforms the local subjectivities” of Drupalistas, in a way reminiscent of Singh (2013), in her research on community-based forests in India. By looking at an extreme “code-centric” case study, this research provides additional empirical evidence of the importance of affective labour in CBPP communities, which was argued by Bollier (2014) to be its “lifeblood”.
The lack of representation of “community-oriented” activities cannot be understood as due solely to socio-cultural reasons. The “code-centric” character of the community offers only a partial explanation. Technical limitations also have a major impact. For example, while certain activities are easily quantifiable (e.g. the number of commits of source code, or the number of editions of wiki pages), others are more difficult to quantify or represent in concise, useful ways. In some cases, although indicators are available, the information is beyond the scope of, and therefore not reflected in, the main collaboration platform.
For example, external platforms such as Meetup.com, commonly employed for the organisation of local events, provide an account of the number of events attended and organised by a certain user. Nevertheless, this information is stored in proprietary third-party platforms and therefore absent from Drupal.org.
However, the main limitation lies in the difficulty to provide indicators to measure and aggregate the value of some types of contribution, or even distribute it beyond the CBPP community itself; an issue that is under exploration by researchers (e.g. De Filippi & Hassan, 2015) as well as CBPP communities (e.g. Open Value Network, 2014) themselves. The Drupal community is also attempting to find suitable indicators. For example, there is an ongoing initiative145 to improve how activities are represented in user profiles at Drupal.org, to “[...] go beyond code creation activity and into more community-oriented contribution stuff, since that’s also a huge part of what makes Drupal healthy.”, and some of the elements, such as the peer-to-peer mentorship references illustrated in figure 5.7, indicate the will to follow that direction.
Overall, this issue should be understood within the wider context of CBPP, and the need to enhance and expand the conceptualisation and measurement of value in these communities, as well as the incorporation of indicators of such contribution into the socio-technical systems employed to support their organisation. This is an aspect that becomes especially relevant in large and global communities as they scale up since, due to their growth and their global character, the generation of perceptions between unknown members becomes more frequent in these communities, and the role of the platforms employed to support their self-organisation becomes more relevant.
By studying an extreme “code-centric” case study, the findings presented in this chapter expose the need to broaden our understanding of contribution activities in FLOSS communities beyond the most easily quantifiable and “object- oriented”. The ethnographic approach taken showed how certain activities, whose focus is directed towards the community, are indeed understood as contributions.
These activities foster collaboration, as well as affecting the creation or modification of emotional experiences, varying according to the degree of experience of the participants.
Most of these contributions are poorly represented in the main collaboration platform as compared to “object-oriented” ones. This unequal representation was found at an “official” level, such as in the main sections of the platform dedicated to contribution, as well as at an individual level, such as in the study of user profiles. This disjunction between the relevance and lack of visibility of this type of contribution casts doubt on the “object-centric” myth illustrated in the motto “Talk is silver, code is gold”, which has been traditionally present in FLOSS communities.
These findings extend previous studies on FLOSS to connect it to the wider area of CBPP, drawing on the concept of affective labour. Through participation in “commoning” processes, the subjectivities of participants are transformed."
"Rather than a “Do-ocracy”, this study concludes that the development of these multiple governing authorities as a result of the identified dynamics of formalisation and decentralisation in the Drupal community represents the emergence of polycentric governance. The notion of polycentrism from which this study develops is that of Ostrom et al. (1961) employed in the study of communities regulating commons such as natural resources (e.g. Gelcich, 2014), which refers to the co-existence of several centres of governance which blend the distribution of authority and power with effective coordination between these centres. Although originally coined for the study of the organisation of government in metropolitan areas, and subsequently employed for the study of self-governance of natural resources, the concept of polycentric governance has been more recently employed to further understanding of self-governance in communities managing the peer production of digital commons, such as Wikipedia (Hartswood, Grimpe, Jirotka & Anderson, 2014).
In the case of “mostly-online” activities, for example, the polycentric character of the governance model of the Drupal community is illustrated by the emergence of autonomous spaces for decision-making on how to regulate the maintenance of contributed projects examined in chapter 6, or by the definition of the working groups in core presented in section 7.2. Similarly, for the case of “mostly-offline” activities, it is shown by the emergence of numerous autonomous local groups and institutions holding events of different scopes explored in chapters 8 and 9.
In the end, the story told through the exploration of organisational changes in previous chapters is that of continuous negotiation, emergence and development of organisational structures to constantly seek to distribute authority in order to scale up decision-making, in which the participants in peer production systems “have authority to make at least some of the rules related to the use of that particular resource” (Ostrom, 1999, p. 528). This constant negotiation was illustrated, for example, by the emergence, definition and enforcement of the rules regarding the quality assurance processes of the activities previously examined. For instance, in the case of “mostly-online” activities, this was illustrated by the Project Application Process (PAP) of contributed projects presented in section 6.2, or by the Core Gates and Initiatives discussed in section 7.2. Analogously, for the case of “mostly-offline” activities, it was depicted by the processes related to the definition of quality assurance for the selection of presentations at DrupalCamps explored in the case study in section 8.3, as well as those related to the selection criteria for presentations and selectors of DrupalCons examined through the case study in section 9.3. Overall, these processes illustrate how the autonomy and legitimacy to define rules in these different spaces emerged and how authority was distributed and legitimised over time.
While the ontological use of the concept of polycentricity (Thiel, 2016, pp. 13- 15) enables light to be shed on the understanding of the governance of complex, adaptive socio-technical systems, such as those which emerged in the Drupal community, polycentric governance as an explanatory theory has tended, however, to emphasise structuralist and static perspectives (Thiel, 2016, pp. 8-9). In other words, when polycentric governance has been used as an analytical lens, these explanations have favoured approaches which assume stability, rather than dynamism and change, resulting in a lack of studies on “how it [polycentricity] emerged, sustains or outlives itself” (Thiel, 2016, p. 7).
In this way, the explored changes in the organisational processes and the identified dynamics of decentralisation and formalisation, in chapters 6 to 9, as well as the interactions between socio-technical systems of contribution, as those discussed in section 10.2, contribute to the literature by providing a dynamic approach of how such a polycentric model of governance has emerged in a large and global Commons-Based Peer Production community, while also shedding light on how participation is regulated in FLOSS communities beyond the model of bazaar governance (Demil & Lecocq, 2006)."
From the Conclusion
David Rozas, chapter 11:
"This thesis has presented a study of self-organisation in peer production, a story of how hundreds of thousands of Drupalistas have organised themselves during the past fifteen years, from which three main contributions resulted.
Firstly, questioning and studying the notion of contribution in CBPP communities. Secondly, identifying the general dynamics of formalisation in the organisational processes and decentralisation in decision-making, providing an indepth account of how they are intertwined. Thirdly, offering an in-depth account of how the organisational changes explored, as shaped by the aforementioned dynamics, resulted in the emergence of a polycentric model of governance, in which different forms of organisation, varying in their degree of organicity, co-exist and influence each other. These insights, which fall within the field of Science and Technology Studies, contribute to the literature on CommonsBased Peer Production and Free/Libre Open Source Software, whilst also providing implications which are of interest for the practitioners in these communities. This chapter concludes this thesis, firstly by summarising the key insights and contributions of this study to the aforementioned fields in section 11.1, subsequently presenting a set of implications for practitioners in section 11.2, and finally discussing possible avenues for future research in section 11.3.
This study of self-organisation in Commons-Based Peer Production was based on a single and in-depth case study which, as discussed in section 2.3, should be understood as an extreme case because of the significant growth experienced by the Drupal community. Studies focussed on a single, in-depth and extreme case are valuable to shed light on organisational aspects which are pivotal for the main body of work on Commons-Based Peer Production and Free/Libre Open Source Software. These approaches help to tackle issues derived from other research designs, such as over-generalisation, over-simplification and neglect of complexity. As discussed in chapter 1, previous research on self-organisation of CBPP and FLOSS communities was criticised (Viegas et al., 2007; Mateos- ´ Garc´ıa & Steinmueller, 2008) for lacking social and institutional aspects, which resulted in offering oversimplified accounts. Thus, it is through the study of extreme cases, such as this, by which it is possible to unveil these aspects of peer production, which are less prominent in smaller and organisationally simpler communities.
Beyond “object-centric” notions of contribution in peer production
This study shows the need to broaden our understanding of the notion of contribution in the study of peer production beyond the most traditional “objectcentric” conceptions, which in the concrete case of Free/Libre Open Source Software studies has been more prominently present in the form of “codecentrism”. The notion of contribution should be understood as a set of meanings which are under constant negotiation between the participants in peer production communities according to their internal logics of value.
This constructivist approach towards the notion of contribution has implications for studies aiming to further our understanding of Commons-Based Peer Production. For example, to show the relevance of intangible assets in these communities, such as those which emerged from this case study in the form of affective labour (Hardt, 1999). “Object-centrism” within the notion of contribution is still commonly present in the studies of CBPP communities. For example, studies on contribution in Wikipedia are commonly focussed on the edition of articles (e.g. Kittur, Chi, Pendleton, Suh & Mytkowicz, 2007; Crowston, Jullien & Ortega, 2013; Matei & Bruno, 2015); or studies on contribution in OpenStreetMap on the edition of maps (e.g. Haklay, Basiouka, Antoniou & Ather, 2010; Neis & Zipf, 2012). While Coleman (2013) showed a relationship — highlighting some of these affective, moral, economic, and political dimensions — between face-to-face events and the public in FLOSS communities, this study is novel in showing how these “community-oriented” activities are understood as relevant contributions. This study connects a constructivist approach towards the notion of contribution to the wider literature on Commons-Based Peer Production through the concept of affective labour. Furthermore, this study provides evidence of the role which these less visible contributions play to transform the emotional experiences of the participants in becoming “commoners”, as well as to scale up the overall sense of community. This notion of contribution also has implications for the provision of indicators that measure, aggregate and incorporate these forms of value in the technical artefacts employed to support the organisation of peer production.
Hence, this finding is also relevant for more technical fields, such as Computer Science, as well as research initiatives (e.g. European Comission, 2015) aiming to develop platforms to support and foster the development of peer production. For example, by assuming a constructivist approach, a high degree of flexibility is expected for the design of mechanisms that indicate the notion of value in the collaboration platforms employed by these communities. In other words, rather than creating tools which impose “one-fits-all” indicators, such as “likes”, a broader understanding of contribution in peer production implies for these platforms the need to offer mechanisms that enable communities to define these indicators dynamically, allowing them to reflect the results of their processes of constant negotiation.
Formalisation and decentralisation in peer production
The research identified two general organisational dynamics affecting this case of a large and global Commons-Based Peer Production community as it grew over time: the formalisation of organisational processes and the decentralisation of decision-making. The exploration of the organisational processes of this case study provided a detailed account of how these dynamics are intertwined and how they shaped the overall resulting system of peer production. This is despite the main medium of the peer production activities studied being online/offline or the significant differences with regard to their main focus of action — writing source code or organising events.
At first glance, this could be perceived as contrasting with some of the hacker values which were initially introduced in this study (see section 1.1.2).
For example, Levy (2010, pp. 34-35) explains how one of the main hacker values consists of a mistrust of authority by promoting decentralisation. Hackers avoid formal and bureaucratised systems, since these systems invoke arbitrary rules to consolidate power and react interpreting their creative impulses as a threat. However, previous chapters show how the evolution towards an increased formalisation of self-organisational processes around decision-making is explained as a means to achieve this decentralisation. These apparently contrasting ideas, which were conceptualised as a systemic contradiction from an Activity Theory perspective (see section 3.1.3), were employed in this study as a “window of opportunity” (see section 2.4) to follow and collect data to explore the emergence of the processes and structures which the Drupal community has created over time. Formalisation and decentralisation, it was shown, resulted in the emergence of several socio-technical systems of contribution, some of which were explored in this thesis.
This finding is congruent with recent quantitative studies in FLOSS (e.g. Schweik & English, 2013) and CBPP communities (e.g. Wang & Cheliotis, 2016). For example, drawing on Social Network Analysis techniques, Wang and Cheliotis (2016, p. 4) concluded that:
- “[...] despite recent claims about the value of loosely coordinated entrepreneurial online action, the introduction of some structure to peer production can be beneficial. Specifically, providing participants with the tools to self-organize (e.g., by defining roles in subprojects) can lead to less centralized engagement; on the other hand, providing no such tools could result in participant engagement that coalesces around community leaders who exert a disproportional influence on the output of the community.”
While quantitative approaches, such as Wang and Cheliotis (2016), show the generalisability of this argument, the qualitative approach followed in this study provides an in-depth account of how formalisation and decentralisation occur in peer production. In other words, this study shows how the explored self-organisational processes increased in their degree of formality over time and their relationship with the dynamic of decentralisation of decision-making.
This was a limitation acknowledged by Wang and Cheliotis (2016, p. 18) in their study because of the quantitative approach followed. It is important to consider, however, that this study was framed, as shown in the main research question, as that of a large and global CBPP community. CBPP communities may not commonly experience such an intense increase in participation, hence, it would be suggested that they commonly possess an organisational configuration which resembles that of this case study during its initial stages: characterised by having a high degree of organicity in self-organisational processes.
Nevertheless, this does not reduce the relevance of this finding, since CBPP communities growing in participation may experience similar organisational changes and be shaped by analogous dynamics, as similar empirical studies (Viegas et al., 2007; Forte et al., 2009) suggest. Thus, this study contributes to the ´ literature by providing an in-depth account of how these dynamics are intertwined, explaining the emergence of these different socio-technical systems of contribution, as well as how these sophisticated organisational processes work in practice. This contribution, hence, furthers our understanding of the inner workings of large and global CBPP communities in congruence with the results from the aforementioned recent quantitative studies (Schweik & English, 2013; Wang & Cheliotis, 2016), which suggest the robustness of this finding.
Emergence of polycentric governance and organisational forms with different degrees of organicity
By bringing together empirical data from the exploration of the self-organisational processes of the case study with literature from organisational theory, this study shows the simultaneous co-existence of different forms of organisation found in a large and global case of a Commons-Based Peer Production community.
These different forms vary in their degree of organicity, which, in the case of Drupal, materialised through the emergence of different socio-technical systems of contribution. These socio-technical systems, it was shown, entail a set of interacting parts. They include people, institutions, software, hardware, procedures or rules among others. In other words, these socio-technical systems of contribution constitute complex wholes that revolve around networks of human activity systems towards a shared focus of action, in what is perceived as a contribution according to the internal logics of value of the community.
Furthermore, this study provides evidence of how polycentric governance emerged. Participants distributed authority and power over several centres of governance with coordination amongst them as part of a process of continuous negotiation, leading to the emergence of an organisational system for peer production in which different forms of organisation, varying in their degree of organicity, co-exist.
Following a dynamic approach which highlighted and explored changes in self-organisation, the account of the emergence of polycentric governance and organisational forms with different degrees of organicity presented in this study, thus, contributes to continue the unveiling of the hidden order (Viegas et al., ´ 2007) of Commons-Based Peer Production communities. This account furthers our knowledge of organisation in peer production in a field which, as a result of approaching a novel phenomenon, is in an incipient state of research and in which the literature focussed on its self-organisational aspects is still scarce. This scarcity finds its exception in Forte et al.’s (2009) study, whose exploration of self-organisation in Wikipedia can indeed be interpreted as depicting a simultaneous co-existence of organic socio-technical systems of contribution, in the form of Wikiprojects, with mechanistic systems with respect to the different articles produced by the participants of the well-known collaboratively built encyclopedia. Comparative studies with a wider range of case studies, especially including lesser known projects than Wikipedia and also beyond FLOSS, could confirm the generalisability of this co-existence of different forms of organisation in CBPP communities, as well as whether they also influence each other in similar ways as those found for this case study. Nevertheless, this does not undermine the relevance of this contribution, since it is through the study of extreme cases, such as Drupal, that certain organisational aspects of peer production, which are less visible in smaller and organisationally simpler communities, can be unveiled." (https://davidrozas.cc/sites/default/files/publications/files/phd_thesis_drupal_cbpp.pdf)