Lessons from Volunteering and Free/Libre Open Source Software Development for the Future of Work

Kevin Crowston
  • January 2011, Springer Science + Business Media
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-21364-9_14

What is it about?

Past research on volunteer organizations has identified a set of characteristics of this mode of work, including non-monetary motivations for work, unclear job expectations, a core-periphery structure, reduced real-time coordination and knowledge of other workers and limited organizational control. The example of free/libre open source software development shows that increased technology support for work can mitigate some of these problems, but others remain.

Why is it important?

We argue that the future of work will take on some characteristics of volunteering. As a result, understanding how teams of free/libre open source software developers have been so successful in the face of the problems of volunteer work offers suggestions for the future of work more generally. For example, we suggest that managers should expect to see a core-periphery structure in the groups they manage and so identify ways to increase workers' knowledge of each other and promote alternative forms of leadership.


Kevin Crowston (Author)
Syracuse University

A lot of the literature on open source software development in particular and online work more generally tries to apply a model of an organization. Writing this paper helped my clarify why that model seems like a poor fit and why a different model was desirable. That is, open source software development doesn't look like IBM, but rather like the Girl Scouts. But maybe IBM in the future will also look that way.

The following have contributed to this page: Kevin Crowston