On governance in collaborative communities
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This study explores how collaborative communities are governed. It investigates governance problems and mechanisms found in collaborative communities as well as the process of designing such mechanisms. It is an exploratory, multiple-case study of four communities within the domains of enterprise IT analytics, sustainable products and services, drug discovery, and digital marketing and communication. The study has involved 75 interviews with informants in multiple countries across Asia, North America, and Europe. I find that the governance challenges in communities are particularly associated with when multiple actors share resources in community commons, collaborate in teams, and facilitate contact and exchange between members. Important governance mechanisms are mutual monitoring among members, member selection, values, rules, and incentives. These mechanisms are mainly enforced on a peer-to-peer basis rather than through conventional hierarchical means. Collaborative communities are found particularly suited for complex problem solving which requires dynamic mobilization, coordination, and governance of diverse sets of interdependent actors and resources across time and space. Through a focused study of a drug discovery community we identify five mechanisms for governing large-scale complex problem solving: 1) protocols for searching and broadcasting, which guide the exploration and sharing of problems and findings; 2) means of identifying and amplifying promising problem-solving (or problem-state) pathways; 3) structured commons that enable effective sharing of heterogeneous problem-solving resources; 4) openness and transparency, enabling diversity, self-assignment, and peer-based control; and 5) incentive structures supporting the concurrent creation of participant and community benefits from exploration. Together, these mechanisms allow for the generation of great variety and broad evaluation as participants collectively explore rugged and uncertain solution landscapes. Community designs emerge over time and the process has both deliberate and emergent properties. First, extensive experimentation with alternative design options and ways of challenging structural constraints are taking place in the case communities. Second, the freedom to deliberately design the values, rules, and incentives is significant in the early stages of a community’s development and diminishes sharply over time due to institutionalization processes. The communities have self-reinforcing properties that play out in two distinct forms: expanded opportunities for collaboration, sharing, and exchange from increased participation; and a gravitational effect of resource commons becoming more attractive to use and contribute to as they grow. The study improves our understanding of collaborative organizational designs, how they are governed, and implications for practitioners and scholars.