814.863.3975 innovation@psu.edu

Welcome to the first in a series of posts regarding the Dynamics of Self-Organizing Systems (DSOS) research initiative. This initiative is interested in exploring the complex social dynamics that propel large-scale, self-organized, knowledge-building collectives such as Open Street Map, Citizen Science, and Open Educational Resources. Many of these collaborative, peer-driven collectives represent intriguing efforts to respond to real problems and complex challenges. For example, OpenStreetMap provides valuable geographic details for crisis situations such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake (“Crisis Mapping”); the Plant Village project welcomes citizen scientists to assist in identifying infectious plant viruses to support local growers; and OpenStax aims not only to make educational content freely accessible but to serve also as a place where teachers can share, modify, adapt and re-use curricular materials to suit their local learning context.

In this initial post, I’d like to highlight a few key questions guiding the focus of this initiative and provide a brief roadmap of how I hope the project will be realized over for the next several months. The questions that frame this initiative emanate from an awareness that there has been a considerable and impressive body of research generated regarding two of the most well-known open, peer production phenomena: Free/Libre Open Source Software (F/LOSS) and Wikipedia. However, as I briefly sketch on the main DSOS summary page, there appears to be a noticeably smaller volume of research regarding other forms of these open collectives. Yet importantly, like F/LOSS and Wikipedia they offer the general community valuable ways to participate in large-scale, meaningful knowledge building projects. Given the disparity in research, it seems worthwhile to explore the different ways in which these large-scale, peer productions may exhibit commonalities in terms of their structure, production practices, governance mechanisms and sustainability efforts. Awareness of these points of commonality as well as divergence, could assist in the development of analytical frameworks and methodological toolkits that could serve useful for implementing cross-disciplinary investigations. With this in mind, some key questions guiding this initiative include:

  • In what ways do these lesser known collectives follow or emulate the practices of Wikipedia or FLOSS?
  • Where do they diverge?
  • What are the underlying dynamics that facilitate their growth?
  • How do they maintain or sustain the various activities that enable their identity as a peer-production system?

These questions, of course, only represent an initial starting point and similarly, in the spirit of this open-facing initiative, please feel free to add other questions in the comments below.

In terms of the roadmap for this initiative, as a first step, I’m reaching out to PSU faculty whose research shows some level of direct or indirect relevance to the general field of researching open peer production communities, large-scale collectives or similar phenomena. So the first phase of this research initiative will involve a series of interviews with current or former PSU researchers whose work directly or indirectly explores some facet of a peer-production collective and which I’ll share as posts here on this blog. After I have finished a couple rounds of interviews, the plan is to convene a series of speaker sessions and/or workshops to explore cross-disciplinary collaborations (e.g., January-April, 2017). I’d also like to explore the potential of software tools like Wikity for helping with continuing and sustaining the initial rounds of collaborative knowledge sharing that happens during the face-to-face sessions. Although these workshop sessions will be geared towards PSU researchers, it would be great to hear from those outside this immediate community as well.

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