Organizing the Unorganized: The Role of Nonprofit Organizations in the Commons Communities
53 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2010
Date Written: July 8, 2010
In recent years, commons communities, such as Wikipedia and free or open source software communities, have received extensive attention from academia. Conventional wisdom holds that these communities have produced information across boundaries, rendering formal organizations obsolete. Nonetheless, this article demonstrates that nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are actually playing a vital role in the digital commons production process.
This conclusion is based on current commons and NPO scholarship and a series of in-depth, semistructured interviews with officers of NPOs and for-profit organizations associated with commons communities. NPOs’ function for those communities in managing property rights, transacting with other entities, protecting individuals from potential liabilities, and institutionalizing various decision-making and standard-setting processes. The unique organizational structures of NPOs, associated with a “nondis-tribution constraint,” have provided indispensable trust for community members. This article proposes that the commons environment has provided an “environmental niche” in which NPOs thrive. That is, the nature of NPOs is more consistent with commons-environment culture than is the nature of for-profit enterprises or governmental units.
Keywords: nonprofit organizations, commons, free software, open source software, peer production, Wikipedia, copyright
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation