Engine change at 80MPH: OSS projects as laboratories for participatory governance transformation
Online communities are high-throughput laboratories for governance change and innovation. Elinor Ostrom's idea of institutional diversity, that sustainable resource governance requires a diversity of governance forms and approaches, is well represented by the diversity and complexity of online regimes. One major challenge in the study of self-organized governance institutions is extending our understanding of incremental governance change processes to more transformative or even "revolutionary" changes. Because of their intermittency, revolutions are difficult to anticipate, isolate, induce, and therefore to systematically study. But online communities have constraints and structure that make them ideal for understanding governance transformation. This is especially true of open source software (OSS) project communities. Because of the nature of the peer-production of code, most successful OSS projects start as "benevolent dictatorships" and transfer to community governance only after becoming successful. By treating OSS projects as governance laboratories, with special attention to the evolution of benevolent dictatorships, we gain a unique platform for understanding institutional transformations into participatory and accessible forms of government.