Open collaboration is a field of rapid growth in organizational theory and innovation research. Initial work in this area focused on the management and governance of open source software communities (Demil & Lecoq 2006; O’Mahony & Ferraro 2007) as well as on a wide range of user communities formed by lead users in sports such as, for example, canoeing and sailplaning (Shah and Franke 2003). Another research stream has focused on open innovation from a corporate perspective, studying the ways in which traditional organizations can harness the power of communities to innovate (Chesbrough and Appleyard 2007; Jeppesen and Lakhani 2010), or on the creation of 'boundary organizations' which enable collaboration between open-source communities and firms by enhancing convergent interests whilst preserving the divergent interests of the parties (O'Mahony & Bechky 2008). Yet another stream has focused on open collaboration platforms, with particular focus on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, assessing participation processes and collaboration outcomes in this particular setting (Konieczny 2009; Spinellis and Louridas 2008).
The wealth of practical and theoretical development has progressed hand in hand with a lack of conceptual clarity. Phenomena as diverse as open innovation, free and open source software, 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, social, peer and collaborative production, or as wisdom of the crowds. The social consequences of the rapid development of new modes of collaboration have been described in terms both extremely positive (Benkler 2006) and negative (Keen 2007). Even relatively minor terminological differences, e.g., distinguishing between open collaboration communities and the virtual communities of practice (Dubé et. al. 2005) indicate deep divisions in academic interpretations of similar processes.
Conceptually mapping these phenomena will generate a better understanding of the current state of research in this field. In order to do so, it is necessary to understand where open collaboration models come from, by examining their relationship to the means developed by members of epistemic communities (Haas 1992) and of communities of practice (Wenger 1998) to integrate newcomers and generate new ideas. It is also advisable to examine they owe to earlier forms of collaborative practice such as the management of public goods held in common (Ostrom 1990). Together with conceptual mapping, a core research concern is the relationship of open models to traditional corporate models, a question which can be modulated in a variety of guises:
What is the impact of the open collaboration model on other business models?
How does the existence of open collaboration enable or hamper corporate innovation and production?
What kind of regulatory framework should govern open collaboration between organizations and individuals?
Is there a model for non-intrusive corporate participation and support in open collaboration similar to that adopted in 'open source' software, and under what conditions can such models be successfully deployed?
What metrics can evaluate the success of open collaboration, and what are the development cycles in open collaboration projects?
How is organizing practiced and enacted in open collaboration? What manner of technological and social tools are combined to manage and govern open communities?
What do open collaboration settings teach us about how traditional organizations are or will be changing? Are there aspects of traditional organizations that can be illuminated by being placed in open collaboration settings?
To further develop research on open collaboration settings it would be helpful to couple attention to the specifics of open collaboration models with insights regarding the changing character of global production and commerce in light of socio-economic, technological, political and legal changes. We are particularly interested in empirical papers that employ quantitative and qualitative methods to examine open collaboration processes and outcomes, and which explicitly aim to shed light on cross-level mechanisms and outcomes, ranging from society- and industry-level consequences to individual-level ones. In addition, we encourage efforts to map existing research in the area of open collaboration on a unified conceptual map by drawing from a variety of fields, ranging from organizational theory and innovation to information systems research and anthropology of virtual communities. We plan to use this Special Issue as a foundation to further develop a community of thought in this nascent field.
Benkler, Y. (2006) The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Chesbrough, H. and M. Appleyard. (2007). Open Innovation and Strategy. California Management Review 50 (1): 57-76.
Demil, B. & X. Lecoq (2006). Neither market nor hierarchy nor network: The emergence of bazaar governance. Organization Studies 27(10), 1447-1466.
Dubé, L., Bourhis, A.I. and R. Jacob (2005). The impact of structuring characteristics on the launching of virtual communities of practice. Journal of Organizational Change Management 18(2): 145-166.
Haas, P. M. (1992). Introduction: Epistemic communities and international policy coordination. International Organization 46(10): 1-35.
Jeppesen, L., and K. R. Lakhani. (2010). Marginality and problem-solving effectiveness in broadcast search. Organization Science 21:1016-1033.
Keen, A. (2007) The cult of the amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture. New York: Broadway Business.
Konieczny, P. 2009. Governance, organization, and democracy on the Internet: The iron law and the evolution of Wikipedia. Sociological Forum 24(1):162-192.
O'Mahony, S., & B. A. Bechky (2008). Boundary organizations: Enabling collaboration among unexpected allies. Administrative Science Quarterly, 53(3), 422-459.
O’Mahony, S. & F. Ferraro (2007). The emergence of governance in an open source community. Academy of Management Journal 50(5): 1079-1106.
Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shah, S. and N. Franke. (2003). How communities support innovative activities: An exploration of assistance and sharing among end-users. Research Policy 32(1): 157-178.
Spinellis, D. and L. Panagiotis. (2008). The collaborative organization of knowledge. Communications of the ACM - Designing games with a purpose 51(8): 68-73.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.