Governing open source software through coordination processes

Maha Shaikh, Ola Henfridsson

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Governance provides the authoritative framework for coordinating activities in open source development. Prior studies of open source governance have largely focused on its changing nature over time. In this work, we argue that the nature of governance varies across open source communities, and, in its evolution, multiple traces of authority may co-exist. We propose that such multiplicity can be understood by close examination of the authoritative structures embedded in coordination processes. We collected eight years of data on the coordination related to version control of the Linux kernel. Drawing on in-depth qualitative analysis, we investigate how coordination processes with different authoritative structures come together in the governance of open source software. We trace four coordination processes (autocratic clearing, oligarchic recursion, federated self-governance, and meritocratic idea-testing), each grounded in different authoritative structures (autocracy, oligarchy, federation, meritocracy) with their own form of legitimation. We offer a two-fold contribution in this paper. First, we enhance the open source governance literature by advancing a new theoretical perspective in which governance is seen as a configuration of coordination processes. Configurations give complementary support and are a source of tension and renewal. Second, we articulate a view on the conceptual relationship between governance and coordination where these concepts are understood as a duality, both working together to give rise to efficient and dynamic organizing in open source.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-135
JournalInformation and Organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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