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Comparing the effects of indirect reciprocity and division of labor across OSS communities
More nuanced theorizing (02.09.2019)
Förderjahr 2018 / Stipendien Call #13 / ProjektID: 3844 / Projekt: Essays on Communities

In our study, we propose that in open innovation communities to induce contributions and grow their own projects, project founders have two approaches resting upon the reciprocity principle.

- One approach assumes that contributors reciprocate their work to the focal founder for her contributing to other founders’ projects.

- The other approach assumes that contributors reciprocate the focal founder for her efforts on community assembly to acknowledge, coordinate and integrate incoming contributions.

Both approaches require founders to exert different types of effort in a community. Due to limited resources and time, project founders need to formulate resource allocation strategies and pick one of the available approaches in order to ensure their projects' growth. We suggest that the second approach is more beneficial for the following three reasons.

First, the second approach promotes division of labor and co-specialization and therefore enhances efficiency and productivity. This allows founders to focus on integration and coordination of incoming contributions and act as maintainers of their repositories. In addition, such division of labor on a project also explicitly states contributors’ roles on a project and expectations on their contributions (=founders focus on maintenance, contributors bring their novel ideas).

Second, the principle of reciprocity embarked in the second approach operates more effectively. When deciding which project to join, contributors need to find out whether a particular founder is a free rider or not. One of the ways is to actually observe what founder does in a community and her projects specifically. It seems hard for complete outsiders to assess the complete community-wide activity record of a given founder, however it is fairly easy to observe founder's behavior on a given project. If founder decides to focus on the second approach, her potential contributors are more likely to be certain that their efforts would not be wasted and all their works will be integrated into the chosen for contribution repository (this could be called reciprocity in the community-specific context).

Third, contributors in open innovation communities are interested in enhancing skills and acquiring knowledge as one of the reasons of why they join OSS and certain projects. If founders take the first approach, the feedback to and appreciation of contributors’ work would be delayed or poorly provided. The second approach, on the other hand, would allow founders to focus on her contributors' needs first. This will more likely motivate existing contributors to stay on a project and put more effort (studies show that absence of feedback significantly reduces employee/contributor motivation to continue working on a given task/job in general).

These nuanced theoretical points explain why our predictions are plausible. Moreover, these points clearly specify the boundary conditions we have chosen earlier (i.e. moderation effects).

Next step requires more nuanced data context theorizing (as well as operationalization). Currently, this is work in progress.

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