Self-organisation in Commons-Based Peer Production. Drupal: "the drop is always moving"

Seminar - GRASIA (Research Group on Agent-Based, Social and Interdisciplinary Applications) at Universidad Complutense (Madrid, 14/02/2018)

In this talk I will summarise the main findings of my PhD thesis, in which I carried out a study of the Drupal community drawing on an ethnographic approach. The study is to be contextualised in the context of Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP): 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. This thesis explored 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.

As part of this thesis, three main contributions to the literature resulted:

  1. Questioning and studying the notion of contribution in CBPP communities.
  2. Identifying the general dynamics of formalisation in the organisational processes and decentralisation in decision-making, providing an in-depth account of how they are intertwined.
  3. 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.

In addition, I will finish my talk by summarising a set of implications to practitioners related to these findings, and suggesting possible points of connections with the main lines of research of GRASIA.