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The rise of open collaboration

01.07.2014
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The whole concept of open collaboration has come alone way over the past few years.  What started off as the sole preserve of the open source software industry has now spread its tentacles into a whole array of different fields.

A new paper discusses how open collaboration is not just influencing how industries behave but is also helping to forge entirely new corporate structures.

They describe this new type of organisation as something between a non-profit and a traditional corporation.  It’s the kind of thing that Steven Johnson might describe as a peer progressive organisation.

The notion of an open collaboration organisation is defined by the authors as “any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike.”

The paper reveals how these collaborative organisations are emerging not just in the high tech world typified by open source or Wikipedia but also in medicine, science, and other facets of everyday life.  Such organisations perform particularly well in seemingly harsh environments,  for example, when cooperators are members of a minority group, “free riders” who tag along, where diversity is lacking, or when goods rival one another.

The authors are optimistic about the future of this open collaboration model, with expectations that it will continue to expand into new domains, displacing more traditional organisations as it goes.  It’s a movement they suggest that leaders can not afford to ignore.

The authors cite the obvious example of Wikipedia and its impact upon the business of Encyclopedia Britannica, but also cite other examples from across a range of online and offline industries.  The paper concludes with some useful insights into the core principles of open collaboration, detailing how such organisations operate and where they’re most likely to succeed.

They outline four such principles that sit at the heart of open collaboration:

  1. They create goods and services of economic value
  2. They exchange and reuse each other’s work
  3. They labour purposefully with just loose coordination
  4. They permit anyone to contribute and consume

The authors believe these four principles set open collaboration style organisations apart from other organisational forms.  The performance of collaborative organisations is then tested along the three elements they believe impact on the effectiveness of the organisation:

  1. The cooperativeness of participants
  2. The diversity of their needs
  3. The degree to which the goods are rival (subtractable)

Pleasingly, the authors find that open collaboration is effective even in environments that are seemingly hostile to it, therefore the prospects of the approach spreading are good.  Of course, it would be nice for all of you if they could apply their approach to the academic publishing industry and make the paper freely accessible, but slowly slowly.

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