Public Lab Research note

our values are related to and distinct from basic peer production

by liz | March 15, 2015 14:34 15 Mar 14:34 | #11680 | #11680

Back in the fall, Public Lab organizers worked on a values statement for Public Lab.

  • Learning, inquiry, knowledge production, dissemination
  • Collaboration and coming together across space and time
  • Inclusivity and openness
  • Democratization and empowerment
  • Accessibility
  • Fun, playfulness, imagination, creativity
  • Celebrating diversity, putting people first, ethics in science
  • Relevance and applicability in research

Just now as i was reading a 2009 article by Benkler, i was struck by the similarities and also the notable points we include about accessibility, diversity, and ethics.

The following is excerpted from Yochai Benkler's Peer Production and Cooperation, 2009. Part 4.

1. Communication. Unlike the standard game-theoretical assumption of no communications best response systems; a critical design focus of cooperative human systems is to assure extensive communications. Communications systematically improve cooperation in experimental set-ups (Sally 1995); human, unstructured exchanges, rather than canned messages, are important (Putterman 2009); and face to face, or more humanized exchanges, are important too. Low cost communication has been a pervasive feature of economic models of peer production (Baldwin and von Hippel 2010) , and the persistent role of open and continuous communications has been core feature of anthropological and sociological descriptions of peer production (Coleman 2006; Kelty 2008; Reagle 2010).

2. Fun. A repeated finding in surveys of FOSS developers is that fun, and a sense of self-efficacy, or the ability to do something well under one's own direction, are important motivators. Lakhani & von Hippel (2003); Lakhani and Wolf (2005); van Ahn (2008). While fun is not a prosocial motivation, it is a fuzzy, intrinsic motivation that will drive behavior without requiring that it be formalized into price or command allocation mechanisms.

3. Normative framing and norm setting. How a situation is framed normatively effects the set of motivations most salient to an interaction. Framing cannot, in the long term, be an exercise in manipulation, because participants learn when the framing is inauthentic. Rather, the normative framing of an interaction must be authentic and sustained in order to permit the relevant motivations to develop and become fixed in the interaction. Both Kelty and Coleman make normative negotiation and self-creation central to their accounts of FOSS (Colman 2006; Kelty 2008), and Reagle (2010) locates normative negotiation at the heart of Wikipedia governance. Moreover, in the case of FOSS, normative framing has been described as permitting mixture of monetary and non-monetary rewards, as long as monetary rewards are separated from governance of the project. Alexy & Leitner (2010). A less explicit model involves behavioral patterning of horms. In particular, social network analysis has shown that people pattern even basic behaviors, like overeating, on observed near nodes. (Christakis and Fowler 2007). Setting standards for “normal” behavior can lead to prosocial behavior when that behavior is perceived as normal.

4. Reciprocity, reputation, transparency. Reciprocity has long been understood as a central mechanism for sustained cooperation. Bowles and Gintis (2002, 2011). Over time, evolutionary biology in particular has shown that looser and looser definitions of indirect and network reciprocity can sustain cooperation in a population of strangers, Nowak 2006. The surveys of FOSS programmers have long placed reciprocity at the heart of FOSS practices (Ghosh 2002.) Algan et al 2013 show that a behaviorally-measured proclivity for reciprocity indeed predicts a substantial amount of contributing behavior among Wikipedians. As the set of people who engage in reciprocity increases, reputation mechanisms that enable some persistence of identity across contexts, and a level of transparency regarding past behavior of participants can all improve levels of contribution.

5. Fairness. Extensive experimental and observational work has documented the importance of perceived fairness of outcomes, intentions, and processes to maintaining levels of prosociality. (Fehr and Schmidt 2001). Repeated studies of FOSS and Wikipedia emphasize the suspicion of power (There is No Cabal TINC), and continuous negotiation of assuring that the processes, outcomes and intentions of participants and leaders in particular are accepted by participants as fair. (Colman 2006; Kelty 2008; Reagle 2010).

6. Empathy and solidarity. Cooperative systems perform better when they emphasize other-regarding motivational vectors. In particular, systems that allow an agent to see and interact with, or take the perspective of other individuals improve cooperation. They effectively include an argument in each agent's utility function that takes the payoffs of the other into account (albeit, mostly discounted). Moreover, ingroup bias, or solidarity, is a distinct motivational driver that triggers higher degrees of contributions to public goods and cooperative games where present. Measures to develop collective identity, sometimes as simple as naming a team or wearing a uniform, can significantly affect contribution levels (Haslam 2001). The clearest instance of ingroup-outgroup solidarity used in FOSS relates to the long-standing conflict particularly among those FOSS developers who associate more with the more political interpretation of FOSS development, that is the “Free Software” movement as distinct from “Open Source” development.


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