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How participative is open source hardware? Insights from online repository mining

  • Jérémy Bonvoisin (a1), Tom Buchert (a2), Maurice Preidel (a2) and Rainer G. Stark (a2)


Open Source Hardware (OSH) is an increasingly viable approach to intellectual property management extending the principles of Open Source Software (OSS) to the domain of physical products. These principles support the development of products in transparent processes allowing the participation of any interested person. While increasing numbers of products have been released as OSH, little is known on the prevalence of participative development practices in this emerging field. It remains unclear to which extent the transparent and participatory processes known from software reached hardware product development. To fill this gap, this paper applies repository mining techniques to investigate the transparency and workload distribution of 105 OSH product development projects. The results highlight a certain heterogeneity of practices filling a continuum between public and private development settings. They reveal different organizational patterns with different levels of centralization and distribution. Nonetheless, they clearly indicate the expansion of the open source development model from software into the realms of physical products and provide the first large-scale empirical evidence of this recent evolution. Therewith, this article gives body to an emerging phenomenon and contributes to give it a place in the scientific debate. It delivers categories to delineate practices, techniques to investigate them in further detail as well as a large dataset of exemplary OSH projects. The discussion of first results signposts avenues for a stream of research aiming at understanding stakeholder interactions at work in new product innovation practices in order to enable institutions and industry in providing appropriate responses.

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