NSF CAREER Grant: The Open Source / Content Commons As A New Paradigm For Collaborative Scientific Research: A Research And Teaching Agenda

PI: Charles Schweik

Awarded: February 2005; 5 year project.

Free/Libre and open source (FOSS) software projects are Internet-based “commons” involving a virtual team of programmers who collectively produce and maintain software. But the FOSS collaborative model can be applied to other content beyond software, and can provide a new paradigm for collaboration on scientific problems. The proposed research seeks to identify factors that lead to success and failure of FOSS commons and to understand how these factors relate to more generic, open content (OC) projects.

There are two specific research objectives:

(1) To develop a theory of success and failure of FOSS programming projects as a commons; and

(2) To undertake a longitudinal study of open content projects to see if they exhibit similar success/failure characteristics.

The goal of both will be to develop design principles for the organization of future FOSS or OC projects. To achieve these objectives, an empirical study of the institutional designs of FOSS and OC projects will be undertaken. An expected contribution of the work will be to connect the rich body of theoretical and empirical research on the governance of “environmental commons” to the recent research related to OS found largely in the field of information systems. The teaching objective is to take the knowledge gained from the research program to create a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) curriculum based on OS GIS software. In addition, students will be taught about participation in FOSS/OC GIS projects.

The online teaching component of this project, which embraces the open access principles of FOSS and OC, has the potential to reach a broad GIS community worldwide and could make an important impact, especially in developing world contexts. But perhaps more importantly, through the identification of FOSS/OC commons design principles, the proposed work could provide new insights on how to organize Internet-based collaborative scientific research in the future.