Open Collaboration

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= concept, book, and paper



= “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". [1]


* Article: Sheen S. Levine, Michael J. Prietula, Open Collaboration: Principles and Performance, Organization Science, 2014, DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2013.0872


"Key points in the paper:

  • Open collaboration is likely to expand into new domains, displacing traditional organizations. They suggest that executives and civic leaders should take heed.
  • Open collaborations perform well even in seemingly harsh environments, for example, when cooperators are members of a minority group, are “free riders” who tag along, where diversity is lacking, or when goods rival one another.

Such ventures have been affecting traditional firms, with, for example, Wikipedia supplanting Encyclopedia Britannica as a major general research tool. But despite the impact, the operating principles of open collaboration were opaque. The new research explains how these new organizations operate, and where they are likely to succeed." (


"The principles of open collaboration for innovation (and production), once distinctive to open source software, are now found in many other ventures. Some of these ventures are Internet based: for example, Wikipedia and online communities. Others are off-line: they are found in medicine, science, and everyday life. Such ventures have been affecting traditional firms and may represent a new organizational form. Despite the impact of such ventures, their operating principles and performance are not well understood. Here we define open collaboration (OC), the underlying set of principles, and propose that it is a robust engine for innovation and production. First, we review multiple OC ventures and identify four defining principles. In all instances, participants create goods and services of economic value, they exchange and reuse each other’s work, they labor purposefully with just loose coordination, and they permit anyone to contribute and consume. These principles distinguish OC from other organizational forms, such as firms or cooperatives. Next, we turn to performance. To understand the performance of OC, we develop a computational model, combining innovation theory with recent evidence on human cooperation. We identify and investigate three elements that affect performance: the cooperativeness of participants, the diversity of their needs, and the degree to which the goods are rival (subtractable). Through computational experiments, we find that OC performs well even in seemingly harsh environments: when cooperators are a minority, free riders are present, diversity is lacking, or goods are rival. We conclude that OC is viable and likely to expand into new domains. The findings also inform the discussion on new organizational forms, collaborative and communal."


Book: Open collaboration. Alpha Io. Lulu, 2008


"This is an encyclopedia that brings together a lot of the amazing work being done out there to pioneer models of open collaboration, participation and self-organization."


"The Qualities Of An Open Collaborative Project

• nonhierarchical (vs hierarchical) • open (vs closed) • emergent (vs planned) • nonowned (vs owned) • participatory (vs watching)"


"This shift is about a way of doing things that is more collaborative and sharing-based, – less on command and control hierarchy, tit-for-tat resource exchange, and centralized planning. It taps into the power of self-organization. It taps into the power of community, local and global. Bicycle shares, tool libraries, potlucks, town squares, place-making, online social networks, ideabanks and ecovillages tap into this power. This shift is about a way of doing things that is more emergent, evolving and dynamic. Social permaculture taps into this power. Open Space Technology facilitation methods tap into this power. Agile project management taps into this power.

Our world is in a difficult state right now, and what is clearly called for is a way to create system-wide change, in the environment, in the way we behave, and in what is considered socially acceptable action by governments and business institutions. There has thus far proven to be no central agency, no closed group of world-controllers, capable of micro-managing the infinite complexities of such a world as ours, at least without adversely affecting the human spirit. However, one way we have seen which holds promise to create such fundamental and systemic changes, and which still remains to be given a full try, is to tap into the power of open collaboration. The openness allows limitless people to contribute, and the collaborative part, if well-facilitated, allows the energies of different individuals to add together rather than cancel each other out. In a word, it taps the genius at the table, and the table is large. For every one-in-a-million mind, as of this writing there are 6,796 others like them on the planet. We have now the technologies to bring such people together easily.

But lets not just believe the hype, or idly think of all those great things we could do, if only… We must come to application, here, now. How can you organize your town, or your state, or your company, or your country, to ride this tide of transformation, to be ready for the new game that is emerging? That is where this present study of open collaboration can be very, very useful. By mastering some of the techniques contained in this book, untold numbers of projects and organizations have become many times more effective than than they were before. Scores of communities and businesses have much more efficiently achieved their actual goals, creatively, participatively, and made their members and employees happier in the process.

The cultural shift we are in the midst of is also about the changing values of a society. It’s about ever-greater social and institutional expressions of becoming more loving, honest, accepting, embracing, empathic, connected with deeper purpose, emotionally intelligent, responsible, contributing. As these are the foundation ethics of this book, many of the entries contained here may not initially make sense to a conditioned dog-eat-dog mind, or to those who, in their own interest, have callously applied half-understood Darwinism to economics and social science. To some, these principles contained herein might even at casual glance appear naive. Of course there is another perspective, and this book is a testament to that perspective, and that an open, caring, intelligent, and just system is forever on the higher ground, and with more view of the actual landscape, despite the inning’s score.

To effectively accomplish the transition implied here, the shift in the social structures needs to be accompanied by, and in many cases preceded by, a shift in the values. The shift in values needs to be accompanied by, and in many cases preceded by, a shift in social structure. It works both ways. These changes may be in many cases, and especially initially, guided by people and groups adept at facilitation, with the ability to bring people together and enable them to work together and co-create, to bring people of differing views into harmony, to assist people to listen and come to care more about each other. Such facilitation creates the conditions that allow people to realize they may want to shift to a higher value system, to create social architectures that allow everyone to participate, and to seed grassroots efforts – people like Sharif Abdullah who is a catalyst for inclusivity and consciousness transformation, Joanna Macy who facilitates people to connect at deep levels with each other and the environment, Marshall Rosenberg and his lineage of Non-Violent Communication facilitators, and Linus Torvalds who facilitates the growth of Linux open source software with an inclusive, caring, transparent and allowing style. Also groups and movements such as Search for Common Ground, the United Religions Initiative, the Village Building Convergence, the Heart Circle network, and the Transition Town network. These changes will be aided by our further study, understanding and spread of facilitation techniques like World Café, Appreciative Inquiry, Deep Democracy, and Dynamic Facilitation.

The essence of many of these facilitations, and many open collaborative projects, involves tuning into the larger picture, whatever it is we are doing. It is about tuning into humanity, the earth, and the life we share it with. It’s sensing how our open collaborative projects harmonize and fit into the larger system, and checking our compass often, that we remain complementary.

These shifts are also mirrored by changes in our scientific perspective. The late 20th century has seen a dramatic rise in the study of systems, network theory and how systems can self-organize. The study of emergence in systems theory looks at how complex behavior can arise out of simple rules without the need of hierarchical control or planning. They provide a hopeful basis upon which we can understand how a social structure, in the absence of command-and-control hierarchies, can self-organize to form a well-functioning society populated by responsible members.

In general these system theories like Complex Adaptive Systems have looked at agents that are concerned mostly about themselves, a cynical generalization of human nature that has persisted in, and underlies the data in, numerous fields of study. We have seen that cultural values, from a familial to national level, play a large part in where an individual falls on the spectrum of altruism. As such we are adding in a new variable into the equation, and this is expansion of consciousness, and inclusivity of identity. What we hope is that systems theory will begin to look at how emergence can arise out of agents who are not acting in pure self-interest but in ways where they care about each other. Part of the vision of this book is to begin to lay out what this new systems theory will look like.

In our research for this book, and our experiments in our communities, we have come to find that open collaborative systems work differently as the amount of caring in the system increases. They also work differently as people are able to tap more deeply into their identity, below certain culturally conditioned layers, and give of themselves from that place. We are in the process of mapping a phase transition in the way open collaborative systems behave as these parameters increase.

The open collaborative systems also undergo yet another behavioral shift/phase transition as people are supported by the system to enter into more inclusive consciousness states, allowing them to more easily tap into the collective consciousness field, a group mind so to speak, and allowing it to guide their behavior. The independent agents of the collaboration begin to work more as one unit, and the action of the whole is somehow amplified by this synergy. People, processes, theories and groups involved with helping this aspect of the transition include Integral Ecology, Council of All Beings, Theory U facilitation techniques, Spiral Dynamics in its turquoise and higher levels, global meditations, and Sri Aurobino’s work with collective consciousness.

... In this spirit, this present book is a compilation of many of the ideas and examples that are bringing this new and also ancient worldview into the forefront of our culture today. It is an open collaborative project itself, tapping into the power of the collective, by being not only about open collaboration, but the product of it as well. It draws encyclopedic content from the communal well of open-source wikis such as Wikipedia, and architects these isolated pieces of information into a form that gives a sense of this new paradigm landscape. Its principals have been engaged in it as an open collaborative experiment from the outset. Further, as an iterative book, now in version 2.2, it is an experiment of the principle that projects don’t have to be finished before they are put out to the world, as ‘finished’ is in some sense just an idea; everything is always evolving. So as you read study and apply it, do please consider this book to be in perpetual beta, and one which you can give feedback to and participate in; it is an emergent and perpetually changing, hopefully improving, collaboration. A bit like this world."