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Governing for Growth in Scope



One of the early challenges for any peer production collective is how to govern the growth of new members or contributors. Scope growth was not a topic of concern when scholars were focused on understanding the emergence of peer production collectives as a phenomenon and on identifying the conditions enabling their growing prevalence. But, with the emergence of peer production communities addressing domains as diverse as problem solving at NASA; to engaging in other innovative and technical endeavors, the time has come to treat the topic of scope growth with the import it deserves. Scope growth is important to understanding the current and future challenges that maturing peer production collectives face for several reasons. Governance rights offer participants the opportunity to make decisions that affect the participation architecture, or the social, legal, and technical capabilities that guide interactions and exchange in a collective.
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Handbook of Peer Production
Chapter 11: Governing for Growth in Scope: Cultivating a Comparative Understanding of
How Peer Production Collectives Evolve
Rebecca Karp, Amisha Miller, Siobhan O’Mahony, Boston University Questrom School of
Management, USA
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Many scholars have been fascinated by the rise of peer production collectives and how
governance mechanisms can either foster or inhibit the growth of new contributors. Few
scholars have attended to what explains changes in the scope of innovation activities peer
production collectives take on. We identify five different roles that peer collectives can play in
the innovation lifecycle, from idea generation to post production review and compare 12
mature peer collectives to understand how their scope evolved over time. Our provisionary
comparative analysis suggests that peer collectives that expanded either their vertical or
horizontal scope were more likely to distribute governance rights to contributing participants
and support activities throughout the innovation lifecycle through a more collaborative mode
of production. We offer a framework for analyzing why peer collectives grow differently and
articulate a research agenda that embraces a dynamic approach to examining how scope and
governance evolves.
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Governing for Growth in Scope:
Cultivating a Comparative Understanding of How Peer Production Collectives Evolve
Rebecca Karp, Boston University Questrom School of Management, USA
Amisha Miller, Boston University Questrom School of Management, USA
Siobhan O’Mahony, Boston University Questrom School of Management, USA
1. Introduction
One of the early challenges for any peer production collective is how to govern the
growth of new members or contributors. Since the goal of peer production communities is to
foster the collaborative generation of knowledge, and peer production communities are largely
open to self-directed volunteers, most are founded with few barriers to participation. As many
peer collectives convene to produce innovative or knowledge work through a common platform
(Parker & Van Alstyne, 2017), some form of founding governance mechanisms help establish the
rules that initially guide open and collective participation (e.g. West & O’Mahony, 2008; Gawer,
2014) as well as the scope of the platform’s purpose (Gawer & Henderson, 2007). Following
O’Mahony & Bechky, we defined governance as “the rights available to members of an
organization, their modes of representation, and the structures and processes that conduct power
and resources” (2008, p. 16).
As Benkler (2016) notes, peer production collectives are often marked by participatory
meritocratic processes where contributors often maintain diverse motivations. When peer
collectives grow in size, new governance mechanisms tend to emerge over time, distributing
rights that enable contributing participants to either vote or give voice to increasing
administration or coordination responsibilities (e.g. O’Mahony & Ferraro, 2007; Dahlander &
O’Mahony, 2011; Shaw & Hill, 2014). However, an influx of new members and ideas can strain
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both the infrastructure and the norms upon which any peer production collective is founded. For
example, Ferraro and O’Mahony (2012) show how open boundaries to the Debian free and open
source operating system project were flooded to the point that the community stopped accepting
new members to redesign how members could participate. Thus, mechanisms to address
unregulated growth of participants and their contributions often emerge (Aaltonen & Lanzara,
2015) in ways that come to distinguish core vs. periphery participation (e.g. Brown & Duguid,
2001; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lakhani & Von Hippel, 2004) and can segment participant rights
based on these differences (Dahlander and O’Mahony, 2011). Often governance roles are
allocated to select members and there is some evidence that as contributors take on new
coordinating or administrating roles, they devote more time to this type of work (Dahlander &
O’Mahony, 2011; Shaw & Hill, 2014). While the relationship between governance mechanisms
and the growth of new contributors has been examined, little research explores how peer
production collectives govern the growth of their scope.
Scope growth was not a topic of concern when scholars were focused on understanding
the emergence of peer production collectives as a phenomenon and identifying the conditions
enabling their growing prevalence. But, with the emergence of peer production communities to
address domains as diverse as problem solving at NASA (Lakhani, Lifshitz-Assaf, & Tushman,
2013; Lifshitz-Assaf, 2018); to engaging in other innovative and technical endeavors (Mollick,
2014; Boudreau, Lacetera, & Lakhani, 2011), the time has come to treat the topic of scope
growth with the import it deserves. Scope growth is important to understanding the current and
future challenges that maturing peer production collectives face. As Aaltonen and Lanzara argue,
a peer production collective “must learn to execute new and progressively complex tasks and
steer production toward shifting objectives” (2015, p. 1653) in order to sustain their growth.
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Scholars have long defined an organization’s scope as the range of different activities
(markets, services, product offerings) an organization is actively engaged in (Jones & Hill, 1988;
Peng, Lee, & Wang, 2005). Building on Jones and Hill (1988), scope can be adapted in one of
two ways: vertically or horizontally. When a collective grows its vertical scope, it takes on new
activities in the innovation lifecycle or the range of activities supporting the emergence,
development or implementation of new innovations or knowledge– from generating concepts to
fundraising (Garud, Tuertscher, & Van de Ven, 2013). Alternatively, collectives can expand their
horizontal scope when they take on new domains or address new types of audiences.
The triggers of scope change have been well examined by scholars interested in the
expansion of firm boundaries (Santos & Eisenhardt, 2009; Williamson, 1971); the adaption of
product portfolios (Sorenson, 2000); and the diversification of firms (Helfat & Eisenhardt, 2004).
Much scholarly research on firms focuses on identifying the antecedents to changes in scope, but
is less attentive to the dynamic process of making scope changes in collectives. Unlike firms, in
collectives, decision making is less hierarchical (Adler, 2001) and most likely the product of a
growing body of participants and their evolving interactions (e.g. Aaltonen & Lanzara, 2015).
But, with new contributors, come new ideas that can expand or shift a community’s founding
scope in ways that are difficult to anticipate ex ante (e.g. Massa & O’Mahony, 2019). As peer
production collectives often have open or permeable boundaries, the growth of new members can
expand the growth of production scope in ways that stretch a collective’s founding purpose (e.g.
Grodal & O’Mahony, 2017).
If peer production collectives are to be taken seriously as either a rival or substitute to
firm based modes of production (von Hippel, 2005; Baldwin & von Hippel, 2011; O’Mahony &
Lakhani, 2011; Seidel, Langner & Sims, 2016; Benkler, 2017), then scholars need to examine
what leads communities to change their scope and how governance mechanisms evolve to
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support scope changes. In doing so, we can inform the next frontier in the maturity of peer
production. We argue that by examining the shifting nature of innovation tasks performed (e.g.
Barley & Kunda, 2001), we can learn how peers adapt to take on “increasingly complex
activities” (Aaltonen & Lanzara, 2015). With an activity-based perspective, we identify five
different roles that peer collectives fulfill in the innovation lifecycle, from idea generation to post
production review and testing. Building on Garud, Tuertscher and Van de Ven (2013), we define
the innovation lifecycle as: activities that foster the emergence, development and implementation
of novel ideas. With published sources, historical and publicly available data, we conducted a
multi-case comparative study of 12 mature peer collectives, in existence for at least a decade, to
understand how their scope of innovative activities evolved over time.
With this cursory review, we found that some peer collectives expanded their scope
vertically to take on new activities in the innovation lifecycle, while others expanded their scope
horizontally to take on new domains. Some experienced both types of scope growth while others
maintained their scope. However, none narrowed their scope – possibly because we selected
mature, high growth collectives to examine. We identified three different modes of peer
production (Collaborative, Co-creative or Aggregative) and trace their evolution at a macro
level. Drawing on this analysis, we articulate a research agenda that treats peer production as a
mature rather than an emergent phenomenon and encourages a shift from single case studies to a
comparative case approach (Bechky & O’Mahony, 2015) to foster an appreciation for the varied
ways in which peer collectives evolve over time.
2. Case Analysis
This comparative research draws from published sources and historical data to explore
how the activities of peer production collectives evolved. Even experts disagree on what
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constitutes a peer production collective – while some forms of peer production compensate
contributors when they compete for prizes (such as Kaggle) or complete tasks (as in MTurk);
other forms are purely voluntary (such as Wikipedia) (Benkler, 2016). To advance the research
frontier, our aim was to examine a breadth of these forms at a mature stage and assess how the
tasks they engaged in across the innovation lifecycle changed over time. We realized that
collectives varied in the scope of innovation activities they engaged in: from a single activity
such as idea generation, to engaging in all activities across the innovation lifecycle –through post
production review and idea refinement. With this activity-based approach, we guard against
assuming that the activities peer collectives conduct are the same.
We identified 5 different types of roles peer production collectives engaged in throughout
the innovation process. Collectives involved in Idea Generation generated a wide range of ideas
to support innovation challenges. Collectives engaged in Innovation Search and Reference
generated content to create a public or private informational resource, whether that be a curated
collection of images or an online encyclopedia. Collectives engaged in Funding and Sourcing
accumulated investments to fund or support new innovations. Collectives engaged in Post
Production conducted peer reviews, user testing, and provided feedback which often informed
the next iteration of innovations (Seidel, Hannigan, & Phillips, 2018). End to End or full life
cycle collectives performed all activities from idea generation to post production. We selected 12
mature peer production collectives across these five roles to compare, two per phase, and over
sampled on the most prominent activity- Innovation Search and Reference. Where possible, we
sought to include collectives owned by a firm that managed the rules of participation (e.g. Shah,
2006; West & O’Mahony, 2008) as well as independent collectives that featured representation in
governance and decentralized decision making (e.g. O’Mahony, 2007). We chose mature
collectives in operation for at least 10 years that offered a rich set of publicly available data.
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While most in our sample were associated with a commercial business model, the majority
produced publicly available information goods. Table 1 provides descriptive data on each
collective at their founding, including their role in the innovation lifecycle and what each
collective produced.
Insert Table 1
To inform a provisionary, comparative analysis, we drew from publicly available
historical and published sources to unpack observable changes in scope and governance among
the twelve cases. We did not conduct a comprehensive history of each collective at a granular
level. Rather, our intent was to compare the activities peer production collectives engaged in and
how this evolved at a macro level. We triangulated between scholarly texts and historical sources
to identify critical changes over time, comparing the validity of each text with other available
data (Kahl & Grodal, 2016; Golder, 2000). Following case based analysis techniques (Yin, 1994;
Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007), we traced how the scope of innovation activities and governance
rights changed over time. We first developed each case discretely and then compared across
When collectives took on an expanded set of activities in the innovation lifecycle, we
coded this as expansion in vertical scope. For example, when Pinterest transitioned from
enabling contributors to pin and collate images as part of a publicly available resource to
encouraging contributors to review and recommend recent purchases, we coded Pinterest as
expanding their vertical scope. Pinterest shifted from creating an innovation resource to support
post production activities. When a collective expanded their scope to address new domains or
audiences, we coded this as expansion of horizontal scope. For example, when Yelp expanded
from supporting restaurant bookings to also supporting bookings for hotels and other services,
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we coded this as expansion of horizontal scope. Yelp did not change the types of innovation
activities conducted, but rather, expanded the domains to which those activities applied.
We also identified if each collective made a change in the allocation of governance rights
over time. We examined how rights over technical control, decision making, and ownership of
intellectual property were distributed among peers contributing within the collective and the
sponsor or hosting firm (if relevant) at founding and at present. We then assessed, to the best of
our ability, if the collective gained or lost rights in these three domains over time. Even if only
some participants in the collective gained rights, we coded this as a gain in collective rights.
First, we coded technical control as the degree to which the collective gained some
degree of control over the rules guiding peer participation. For example, the founders of
Topcoder initially made all strategy decisions. However in 2018, participants could nominate
“MVPs” who could participate in strategy meetings (Topcoder website, 2018).
Second, we examined if rights to make decisions about what the collective produced and
how it was produced changed. For example, when Eclipse was managed by IBM, IBM decided
who could become a member. However, after 2004, members gained the right to collectively
determine the criteria that constituted membership (O’Mahony & Karp, forthcoming).
Third, we assessed if contributors to peer production gained any new intellectual property
rights to what they produced. For example, in 2007, YouTube introduced a content management
tool, Video ID, to help copyright owners determine whether to block their content or share in the
revenue gained from the content (Kim, 2012).
We then compared which collectives experienced changes in vertical or horizontal scope
and if any governance rights were distributed toward the collective and analyzed these data to
identify patterns. We summed the scope changes for each collective and plotted them on the x
axis and summed changes in the governance rights allocated and plotted them on the y axis in
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low, medium and high categories. This configurational approach helped cluster the twelve cases
into three modes of production (collaborative; co-creative or aggregative). Collaborators allow
individuals to work together to support expanding roles in the innovation lifecycle. Co-creators
build on each other’s individual contributions to create a coherent body of work. Aggregators
cooperate by contributing their own content to a collective resource without building upon the
work of others. These modes of production help explain how collectives integrate or accumulate
their individual work to take on different activities in the innovation lifecycle. Based on this
provisional framework, we explored plausible mechanisms and relationships to advance a
research agenda, rather than to reach causal conclusions.
3. Scope of the Innovation LifeCycle
Most (9 of 12) of the collectives we sampled grew in either vertical scope (by taking on
new types of innovative activities in the innovation lifecycle) or in horizontal scope (by
addressing new domains or audiences) between the 10-20 years from their founding until 2018.
Only three collectives (Wikipedia, Kickstarter and TripAdvisor) experienced no significant
change in scope, although they grew in other ways such as in the number of contributors or
content produced (Statista, 2019;, 2019).
Insert Table 2
Expanding Horizontal Scope. Half (6 of 12) of the collectives sampled expanded their
horizontal scope (Eclipse, Topcoder, Threadless, InnoCentive, Kiva and Yelp)– broadening their
relevant domains of production. For example, in 2010, Kiva expanded from funding low income
entrepreneurs to offering loans for higher education in low income countries. The Student
Microloans program, initially launched in Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, was expanded further
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in 2014, to provide educational loans for poor and low-incomes students (Kiva, 2014). Yelp also
expanded their horizontal scope from restaurant bookings to serve a broader variety of services
(florists, lawyers, golf clubs, etc.). By making these changes, both Kiva and Yelp expanded their
relevance to address the needs of new audiences.
Expanding Vertical Scope. Approximately half (5 of 12) of the collectives (Threadless,
InnoCentive, YouTube, Reddit and Pinterest) expanded their vertical scope by incorporating new
activities in the innovation lifecycle. For example, Threadless expanded their vertical scope from
idea generation to hosting individual artists’ design collections. At founding, artists could
generate new tee-shirt design ideas in online competitions and vote to determine a winner, but
Threadless management ultimately chose what designs to produce (Lakhani & Kanji, 2008;
Langner & Seidel, 2015). In 2016, Threadless began inviting artists to create their own “artist
shops” and sell their own designs, manufactured and shipped by Threadless. This change
addressed an unmet need for artists to produce their own work and was well received as
indicated by the 100,000 shops created in the first year. One artist, James White, recounts: “I've
been looking for something like this for over 7 years, an on-demand product company who could
handle my wild colors professionally and swiftly. Artist Shops has genuinely altered the
trajectory of my brand, allowing me to reach my audience with ease.” (Threadless website,
2019). Threadless extended the innovation activities peers could engage in vertically: artists
could now sell their collections directly without relying on Threadless deciding what to produce.
Maintaining Scope. Only three collectives maintained their scope during the period of our
analysis (TripAdvisor, Kickstarter and Wikipedia). While Kickstarter rapidly increased the
number of individuals receiving funding on its website as well as the totals funds amassed, its
founders fought to retain focus on sourcing and funding creative projects. As reaffirmed by
Kickstarter’s leadership team (Strickler, Chen & Adler, 2015): “From Kickstarter’s inception,
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we’ve focused on serving artists, creators, and audiences to help bring creative projects to life.”
To maintain their horizontal scope, Kickstarter rejected projects that ventured into medical,
health, food or contraband territories. To retain their vertical scope, Kickstarter restricted
participants from evaluating each other’s creative projects until they agreed to fund a project.
One could argue that a mission of empowering and engaging “people around the world to
collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to
disseminate it effectively and globally” (Wikimedia Foundation website, 2019) is so broad that it
would be subsequently difficult to expand. Wikipedia has remained focused on its founding
mission with efforts to improve the quality of encyclopedia entries produced (Aaltonen &
Lanzara, 2015) rather than to produce more ways to apply that knowledge. As founder Jimmy
Wales stated: “We’re going from the era of growth to the era of quality” (Levine, 2006). Both
Kickstarter and Wikipedia deliberately chose to “stick to their knitting”, adopting new
mechanisms to improve the quality of projects and entries while resisting expansion into new
4. Governance Rights
Governance rights offer participants the opportunity to make decisions that affect the
participation architecture or the social, legal and technical capabilities that guide interactions and
exchange in a collective (West & O’Mahony, 2008, p. 146). These include technical control
rights (the rules governing how participation can happen), decision rights (what is being
produced and how) and IP rights (rights over the intellectual property produced by both
individuals and collectives). To encourage contributions, the founder or sponsor of a peer
production collective may, as the collective matures, convey rights to contributing members to
cultivate collective engagement (O’Mahony & Karp, forthcoming). As O’Mahony and Karp
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show in their study of the Eclipse community, contributors can be reluctant to deepen their
engagement to a collective without a way to influence production activities.
All of the collectives sampled, except for two (TripAdvisor and Kickstarter), conveyed
some governance rights (technical control, intellectual property rights, or decision rights) to
enable contributing participants to vote or give voice to administration or coordination
responsibilities over time. For example, the management team of Threadless were aware that if
they wanted to continue to generate the best “ideas”, they needed to involve artist contributors in
the strategic decision-making process to maintain strategic alignment: “if the business direction
of the company ultimately does not meet the needs and interest of the community, then
everything starts to break down” (Langner & Seidel, 2015, p. 534). Collectives that engaged
early in the innovation life cycle (idea generation) or throughout the entire life cycle were more
likely to share governance rights with the collective than those supporting funding and sourcing
or post production activities.
Distribution of Governance Rights. When rights were distributed, this was often done
unevenly, allocated to the most active or powerful participants, as research on Wikipeda suggests
(Piskorski & Gorbatai, 2017; Aaltonen & Lanzara, 2015). Both Wikipedia and Reddit
transitioned new decision rights to core contributors to lead content co-creation. Reddit founders
distributed decision rights to moderators to set participation rules for forums dedicated to
specific topics and ban participants at their discretion. Some reddit users highlighted perceived
power abuses at the hands of moderators in new forums such as r/subredditcancer. As one
indignant contributor named Chernoobyl argued: “I can't think of a single reason someone
should be banned in one [subreddit] for posting in another.” This raises the question of how the
differentiation of rights for peripheral versus core contributors (Dahlander & O’Mahony, 2011)
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creates tiered governance (Gulati, Puranam & Tushman, 2012) and affects the on-going vitality
of the collective.
Gulati and colleagues suggest that tiered models reduce coordination complexity and
create a motivational mechanism – which may be critical to setting aspirations for collectives
reliant on volunteers (2012, p. 578). Although much research has showed that tiered governance
emerges over time (Piskorski & Gorbatai, 2017; Aaltonen & Lanzara, 2015) or how a tiered
model emerges (O’Mahony & Ferraro, 2007; Dahlander & O’Mahony, 2011; Ferraro &
O’Mahony, 2012), little research has explored how tiered governance models affect the
generation or accumulation of ideas (e.g. Murray & O’Mahony, 2007). Does more filtering,
editing and mechanisms of control emerge as a core group gains more power? Dahlander &
O’Mahony (2011) show that once assuming a leadership role, free and open source contributors
significantly increased their coordination efforts. Shaw and Hill (2014) suggest that as people
gain more wiki editorial rights, they are more likely to wield their power –and revert the entries
of others over time. When governance rights are distributed to a small segment of the collective,
it is not clear if the segmentation produced fosters ossification and the creation of oligarchy (e.g.
Shaw & Hill, 2014) or enhances the coordination of complexity (Gulati et al, 2012). Further
research could investigate the relationship between the distribution of governance rights and the
innovating capacity of the collective.
Types of Governance Rights. Many (10 of 12) of the collectives we examined allocated
some governance rights to the collective, most commonly decision rights about what was
produced and how (9 of 12). Technical control rights (6 of 12) and new intellectual property
rights (5 of 12) were more rarely distributed. Changes in technical control typically allow
participants to revise the rules guiding participation (O’Mahony & Karp, 2019; Boudreau, 2010)
or make changes in the participation architecture. Six of the collectives studied experienced
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changes in technical control over the platform – four of these engaged in most phases of the
innovation lifecycle (Topcoder, Eclipse, InnoCentive, and Threadless). For example, initially
only IBM could decide when to accept a new project to the Eclipse platform. After creating an
independent, representative governing body, Eclipse members designed a review and approval
process for anyone to propose a new project – which put decisions over technical scope in the
hands of project members (O’Mahony & Karp, forthcoming). As explained by the foundation’s
Executive Director, the process by which requirements get put into plans is “bottom up.” This
enabled contributors to “lobby for the things they need to see happen in Eclipse”. Collectives
engaged in more phases of the innovation lifecycle were more likely to distribute technical
control to participants than collectives with narrow vertical scope.
Other decision rights enable collectives to decide what is being produced and how. Both
Wikipedia and Reddit transitioned new decision rights to core contributors to lead content
editing. For example, Reddit founders initially determined who could participate, but later
distributed decision rights to moderators to set participation rules for forums dedicated to
specific topics (subreddits) and ban participants at their discretion (Bond, 2018). Similarly,
Topcoder and Eclipse also distributed decision rights to the collective and allowed them to
become involved in reviewing submissions and distributing rights to the collective. Collectives
engaged in all stages of the innovation lifecycle tended to be more likely to distribute decision
rights to contributors than collectives with more limited scope.
Finally, at founding, most collectives did not ask contributors to assign legal rights to
their work to the sponsor. Five collectives distributed new intellectual property rights to
contributors over time (Topcoder, Eclipse, InnoCentive, Threadless, and YouTube). For example,
Eclipse transitioned to a new license that gave users more rights and both Threadless and
YouTube gave artists more rights to the works they created over time. Solvers in the InnoCentive
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collective initially worked on idea generation challenges and assigned their intellectual property
rights to seekers through a license (Lakhani, Jeppersen, Lohse, & Panetta, 2007; Allio, 2004).
When a new electronic Request for Proposals was created, solvers were granted rights to
negotiate their own terms directly with seekers. Only three collectives made the assignment of
intellectual property rights an ex ante requirement of participation (Topcoder, Threadless and
InnoCentive), although this could be done under non-exclusive conditions. Collectives like
YouTube and Pinterest retrospectively monitor contributions to assess potential violations rather
than prospectively establish ownership of content as a condition for participation. It appears as
though collectives that generate more scientific, technical or creative content are more likely to
be proactive than reactive in ascertaining intellectual property rights. Proactive vs reactive
intellectual property requirements share different assumptions about individuals’ contribution
behavior and likely can shape the culture of what is viewed as permissible in a collective, but
little research has examined this difference.
5. Patterns of Growth
As shown in Figure 1, collectives that maintained their scope (like Kickstarter and
TripAdvisor) were less likely to experience a change in governance rights. Collectives that made
more changes in either vertical or horizontal scope were more likely to allocate some governance
rights to the collective. Or, quite possibly, collectives that redistributed governance rights were
more likely to experience a change in scope – we cannot determine causal primacy from these
data. For example, Threadless and InnoCentive made both vertical and horizontal scope changes
and distributed all three types of decision rights but more fine-grained, longitudinal data is
needed to explain the relationship between scope change and the distribution of governance
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rights. Figure 1 provides a provisional framework, plotting changes in scope on the x axis and
changes in governance on the y axis.
Insert Figure 1
This analysis helped cluster the 12 peer production collectives into three modes of production
(Collaborators, Co-creators and Aggregators) to understand how peer collectives accumulate or
integrate their activities to fulfill different roles in the innovation lifecycle. These three
categories lie on a continuum – from the least integrative, aggregators, to the most integrative,
collaborators. We elaborate on these three modes to better explicate how collectives either
sustain or expand their role in the innovation lifecycle and use this framework to help advance a
research agenda.
Collaborators. Peer production collectives are collaborative when individuals have the
right to work together to support expanding activities in the innovation lifecycle. InnoCentive,
Topcoder, Eclipse and Threadless did not initially support collaborative modes of production at
their founding, but all now leverage a collaborative mode of peer production – where individuals
can integrate their contributions directly with each other. At its founding, InnoCentive was
concerned that collaborative work to solve innovation challenges would muddy the provenance
of ideas (Allio, 2004; Lakhani, 2009). As they grew in scope to address a broader range of
scientific and technical challenges, InnoCentive shifted towards a more collaborative mode of
production, and in 2010, began to invite individuals to solve challenges in teams. As shared by
InnoCentive on their website: “[s]ome challenges inherently call for insight from multiple
[individuals] with diverse knowledge and skills… Creating solutions with other [individuals]
will likely increase the quality of the solution.” At Threadless, artists demanded new forums for
feedback, iteration, and collaboration, fostering the creation of artist studios.
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Similarly, as the scope of innovation challenges stretched the capabilities of founding
contributors, Topcoder (Lakhani, Garvin, & Lonstein, 2010) and Eclipse found themselves
breaking down barriers to individuals collaborating with each other. Eclipse encountered
provisioning problems (e.g. Ostrom, 1990) where growing numbers of people contributed code
in surprising and uncoordinated ways that threatened software quality (O’Mahony & Karp,
forthcoming). To manage these issues and foster collaboration among diverse contributors, the
foundation began requiring members from different firms to collaborate on new projects. The
Executive Director of the foundation recognized that more collaborative modes of production
could create friction, but also improve quality: “anything that any group is doing which is
complex and strives for high quality requires some institutional friction. Collaboration creates
that friction… people pushing back, that process is normal and healthy.”
While these collectives started by sourcing new ideas through broadcast search of diverse
sources (Jeppesen & Lakhani, 2010), over time, they created new means to recombine diverse
knowledge (Fleming, 2001, 2007; Murray & O’Mahony, 2007), largely to improve the
integrative quality of solutions offered. Gulati et al argue that designers of collaboration systems
must consider who can collaborate with whom and what linkages are desired to shape knowledge
sharing (2012, p. 581). More research on how the design of the participation architecture
underlying peer production either inhibits or fosters collaboration among contributors would be
helpful. For example, how did the creation of team rooms on the InnoCentive website influence
the subsequent quality or complexity of submissions? Future research would do well to examine
what prompts a transition to collaborative modes of production and what norms, standards,
processes and infrastructure change to support this shift.
Co-Creators. When peer production collectives co-create, individuals share their work in
a cooperative manner and may build on each other’s work by following design rules (e.g
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Baldwin & Clark, 2000) without necessarily integrating individual content to create a cohesive
body of work. For example, Wikipedia relies on contributors to edit and build on each other’s
entries to update changing information– but these entries remain modular and, although
maintaining a common format, do not have to integrate like software. Contributors need not
collaborate to put forth new entries or add information, they can contribute as individuals and
some can maintain control specific entries (Forte, Larco, & Bruckman, 2009; Benkler, Shaw, &
Hill, 2015). Jimmy Wales explains that co-creative modes of production, where individuals build
on one another’s work enable deeper investigation than individual efforts could: “You can’t put
up a website called the Denver Guardian and say ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ and trick the Wikipedia
community. They’re information obsessives. They’re very sophisticated. They spend a lot of
their time evaluating the quality of sources.” This was the case when Wikipedia captured more
accurate and rapid information about the Grenfell fire in London, than the mainstream press
(Thornhill, 2017).
While Wikipedia always supported co-creative modes of production, Reddit transitioned
from an aggregative mode of production to a co-creative mode of production when they
introduced the ability for contributors to comment back and forth, shortly after founding. Both
Reddit and Wikipedia have an interest in maintaining the quality of content produced and have
distributed governance rights to empower the collective to participate not just in creating content,
but also in monitoring the quality of what is produced (e.g. Ostrom, 1999; Simcoe, 2012). Larger
samples are needed to assess how co-creating collectives balance quality concerns with
maintaining open participation (e.g. Ferraro & O’Mahony, 2012) as they grow. Co-creative
modes of peer production like Wikipedia and Reddit have experienced high growth in
contributors and content, but, maintained a stable scope. Largely, this appears to be the product
of deliberative decisions to maintain scope, which is governance work in and of itself. What is
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
unexplored are the decision-making processes that allow growing communities like Wikipedia
and Reddit to maintain a stable scope.
Aggregators. When peer production collectives aggregate production, individuals
cooperate by contributing their own content to a collective resource without building upon each
other’s work. Aggregation constitutes the weakest form of integration, as peers need not
coordinate standards, norms, formats or efforts to support activities in the innovation lifecycle
but just comply with modest submission design rules. Half (6 of 12) of the collectives we studied
(TripAdvisor, Kickstarter, YouTube, Yelp, Pinterest and Kiva) engaged in aggregation as the
mode of production at founding and maintain this as their current mode of production, with
minimal changes in scope. Aggregators differ from co-creation in fundamental ways as
contributions need not follow a standard format or design rules.
For example, TripAdvisor has created a publicly accessible compendium of ranked travel
reviews written by individuals all using very different standards, formats, styles and judgement.
As expressed by Orlikowski and Scott (2015, p. 885): “The evaluation categories that
TripAdvisor provides its reviewers are open ended and variably interpreted”. There are few
common writing or editing routines as at Wikipedia (e.g. Aaltonen & Lanzara, 2015). Unlike
Reddit and Wikipedia, peers in Aggregator collectives cannot modify each other’s contributions
nor determine how content is sorted or prioritized. For example, TripAdvisor’s algorithms
determine how reviews are displayed. This separation between the provision of content and how
content is prioritized is part of the value Aggregator sponsors believe they create (e.g. Orlikowski
& Scott, 2015), but this is not co-creation. TripAdvisor, YouTube, Yelp and Pinterest have an
interest in maintaining perceived “objectivity” over how content is curated and propagate this
perception through algorithms inaccessible to those who contribute reviews and evaluations. This
may help explain why aggregating collectives distribute fewer governance rights: the rules
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
governing the display of content are not always clear and cannot be changed by participants. It
would be interesting to examine what happens to content curation when aggregators distribute
more governance rights to the collective.
Peer collectives focused on funding and financing face a different set of regulatory
concerns that can inhibit the free sharing that could kick off co-creation and collaboration. For
example, Kickstarter funders cannot affect each other’s investments nor collaborate through the
site to research or make funding decisions. Kickstarter encourages potential funders to conduct
due diligence independently off their site: “If you're not sure about something, you can look
elsewhere on the web” (Kickstarter website). Kickstarter has been open about their desire to
ensure that investment advice is not offered as a way to minimize fiduciary responsibility
associated with giving advice. This interest in minimizing risk might help explain Kiva and
Kickstarter’s sustenance of an aggregative mode of production that limits collaboration among
peers. More research is needed to examine how these types of policies affect participants’ on-
going ability to share and accumulate knowledge. We do not know if contributors to aggregating
collectives develop alternative means to find each other and connect. Clearly aggregating
collectives play a vital role in fostering innovation by culminating raw materials for
recombination and making them accessible (e.g. Murray & O’Mahony, 2007), but little research
has examined how aggregators foster innovation in the larger markets or fields they target.
6. Advancing a Research Agenda
Our approach in this chapter focused on how peer production collectives changed the
innovation activities they engaged in. Studies of peer collectives often focus on one collective at
a time, which has inhibited the development of theoretical frameworks for understanding how
peer collectives growth patterns vary. Building on Aaltonen and Lanzara’s (2015) call for a more
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
dynamic perspective, we started with the premise that changes in the nature of the work (Barley
& Kunda, 2001) conducted by collectives could inform the evolution of their governance. We
show that peer production collectives vary in whether and how they grew the scope of their
innovative activities over time. Based on the transitions made in our sample, we identified three
modes of production that differ in the participation rights given to contributors and the degree of
integration made possible among them. Table 3 compares the three modes.
Insert Table 3
While Collaborators allow contributors to create and collaborate directly and build on
each other’s ideas, Co-creators primarily foster cooperation rather than collaboration.
Aggregators do not require either but ask contributors to comply with modest submission rules.
Future research needs to determine how and why these decisions were made. Why do some
collectives expand their scope while others retain theirs? What triggers a change in scope?
Changes in scope can influence the type of creators or inventors that are attracted to contribute to
a collective, but little research has examined this relationship. How do changes in scope affect
the subsequent type and rate of incoming contributors to a collective?
The question of what determines an organization’s scope is central to strategy scholars
(Rumelt, 1982; North, 1986; Williamson, 1991; Grossman & Hart, 1986; Hart & Moore, 1990;
Hart, 1995; Kekre & Srinivasan, 1990; Sorenson, 2000; Sorenson, McEvily, Ren, & Roy, 2006;
Santos & Eisenhardt, 2009) but has not yet been empirically applied to peer production
collectives. Perhaps what is needed is research collaborations that marry expertise from both
worlds to create integrative research designs. For example, a research design could predict scope
evolution for peer collectives that focus on a particular set of innovation activities, such as idea
generation, to better capture competitive dynamics within a segment of the innovation lifecycle.
From a research perspective, one of the great benefits of peer collectives is that their interactions
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
are largely recorded in publicly available forums. Discourse analysis or machine learning
techniques could be leveraged to analyze how the structure and narrative of participants’
dialogue informs scope decisions and their associated consequences for participation, growth and
innovation capability.
When the distribution of governance rights evolves, the expectations of participants in
how they can interact with others, produce work and support their own interests can be either
upgraded or upended. We examined only three types of governance rights but there are many
other domains of governance to be considered – some that are difficult to observe. For example,
we have not considered the role non-human actors play in the governance of peer production
(Orlikoswki, 1992; 2000). Yelp, TripAdvisor and Youtube employ ranking algorithms to
recommend the most helpful or most relevant content to each user. Future research could
examine how these rankings contribute to differentiation among contributors and whether and
how contributors game algorithms to achieve prominence.
Our approach takes to heart Benkler and colleagues’ suggestion to advance the “science
of the mechanisms, procedures and techniques necessary for the effective production of
networked informational resources” (2015, p. 9). One limitation of our study is that, like much of
the work on peer production, we selected on success. We focused on changes in governance
rights and scope in a small comparative sample of mature collectives, to the neglect of
identifying what predicts the emergence or failure of new types of peer production collectives.
There are many other domains such as culture, organization, and motivation that can also shape
how governance evolves (e.g. Benkler, 2016) as peer production collectives mature.
Hopefully, what we contribute is a broadened conception of the range of activities peer
production collectives engage in and advanced a research agenda to explore scope changes in
collective production. To us, the interesting future research questions to address are not: “What
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
are all the different types of peer production collectives?” but, “What explains how peer
production collectives vary in the ways they grow?” We argue that what is needed is a
comparative perspective that considers how changes in scope and governance affect the long-
term innovative vitality of a collective.
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Table 1: Peer Production Collectives Founding Characteristics
Lifecycle Definition Collective Year Founded Ownership
What was Produced
public or privately available
Idea Generation
Generate a range of ideas for
focused or unfocused
innovation challenges
Threadless 2000 Sponsored T-shirt designs – public
InnoCentive 2001 Sponsored Scientific/technological solutions – private
Search and
Generate or curate content to
create a public or private
informational resource
Wikipedia 2001 Community
managed Encyclopedic content – public
YouTube 2005 Sponsored User-generated videos – public
Reddit 2005 Sponsored Advice and aggregated content – public
Pinterest 2009 Sponsored Curated collections of images / videos – public
Funding and
Fund innovations, creative
works or small enterprises
Kiva 2005 Sponsored Micro loans – public
Kickstarter 2009 Sponsored Creative works and products – public
Post Production
Provide peer reviews, testing,
and feedback for products
and services
TripAdvisor 2000 Sponsored Agglomerated travel information – public
Yelp 2004 Sponsored Reviews of local businesses – public
End to End
Manage the full innovation
lifecycle from emergence to
Eclipse 1998 Sponsored Software development – public
Topcoder 2001 Sponsored Software development – private
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Table 2: Change in Scope and Governance Rights
Initial Scope Change in Scope Adapted Scope Change in Governance Rights
IP Rights
Observed initial role in
the innovation lifecycle
Expansion into different
across the innovation
into new
Observed current role in
the innovation lifecycle
What is being
and how
Rights over
IG = Idea Generation
ISR = Innovation Search and Reference
FS = Funding and Sourcing
PP =Post Production
Note: End to end collectives are represented by illustrating all of their activities across the innovation lifecycle
Black = Initial and adapted scope in the innovation lifecycle
Light Grey = Change in scope
Dark Grey = Change in governance rights
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Table 3: Advancing a Research Agenda on Governing for Growth
Mode of
Production Definition
Distribution of
Example Advancing a Research Agenda
Coordinating efforts
to create content with
other participants in
the collective.
On InnoCentive, individuals have solved
challenges in teams since 2010. For
example, teams can collaborate in
specialized team rooms to collaborate to
solve complicated problems such as the
eradication of polio.
Is the move to a collaborative mode of production
triggered endogenously by decisions from the
collective, or exogenously by industry shifts?
How does a firm’s strategy inform what types of
collaboration are permitted by a peer collective’s
participation architecture?
Are contributors with high levels of technical or
creative expertise more likely to demand
opportunities for collaboration than less specialized
Producing content
which builds directly
upon the work of
other contributors
without coordinating
individual efforts.
On Wikipedia, contributors edit and build
on each other’s entries. These entries are
modular: contributors add work and can
control specific entries as individuals, and
they need not collaborate to put forth new
entries or add information (Forte et al.,
2009; Benkler, et al., 2015). "Editing
most Wikipedia pages is easy":
Wikipedia: FAQ/Editing, 2019.
How do co-creating collectives balance the need to
maintain quality with open participation?
Is a broad mission a condition of a co-creative
How does increasing core versus peripheral
differentiation affect the collective's vitality?
Contribute to a
collective resource
without coordinating
content, standards,
norms, formats or
efforts, but often
comply with modest
submission rules.
On TripAdvisor, individuals contribute
travel reviews using different standards,
formats, styles and judgement. Peers do
not coordinate evaluation categories or
standards and do not edit or rank each
other’s work (Orlikowksi & Scott, 2014).
How does the control of content creation affect
contributors’ ability to share and accumulate
How does reactive versus proactive pursuit of IP
rights affect content accumulation?
How do aggregators foster innovation in the markets
or fields they target?
Chapter 11 – Governing for Growth
Figure 1: Modes of Collective Production
Note: Modes of production are circled and vary based on degree of integration required
Black circle – indicates collective transitioned to this mode of production over time
Gray circle – indicates collective transitioned to this mode of production very shortly after founding
White circle – indicates collective used this mode of production at founding and currently
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