The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
Reviews (Sharing is Sparing: Open Knowledge Sharing in Fab Labs) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

1. Is the subject matter relevant?


2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

I think the authors chose an unfortunate approach to their topic. Their aim is theory (model) development, but the paper does not read as the report of theory-building research. My strong suggestion is change their perspective into a report of a multiple-case study, and to rewrite the paper accordingly. I am elaborating this comment in the attachment.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

Yes. I think the best way to repair this is by making this the report of a different type of research, as explained in the attachment.

4. Is the article well written?


5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The balance in length of the various sections is OK (apart from the description and elaboration of the problem definition; that needs more attention), but my strong suggestion is that their main orientation be altered. This may also lead to some shortening and expansion.

I chose to develop my main concerns with the paper in a separate argument instead of developing the individual answers, because I felt that there would be a disbalance in the length of my answers to the various questions. I hope this is OK with you.

Addressing collaboration among FabLabs is an interesting research theme. I am afraid, however, that in its current form, the paper suffers from major defects that would need to be addressed before it can be accepted for publication. The main reservations I have are the following:

The paper is insufficiently clear as to its research objective. Apparently the authors aim at theory development (conceptual-model building), but the exploration of the literature and the identified research gap is not sharply phrased in a way that inevitably and convincingly leads to identifying the need for that type of research. Why they choose to start by limiting their quest for theory via the four aspects identified on p. 2 is not convincingly substantiated. That selection would be more suited in informing research that is to aim at understanding how, empirically, collaboration between FabLabs in certain projects has developed.

A model building paper has to be strong in conceptual rigour, and throughout the development of the argument, the paper skips almost all in-depth conceptual discussion. It does not really read as the report of a conceptual, model-building exercise.

Section 3 Findings is not the type of section one would expect in a theory-building paper; the focus here should be on (core) categories and not on listing disparate elements that popped up in the interviews. Why section 4.1 has been moved to the Discussion section is hard to understand, given the fact that this presents outcomes related to the initial theoretical lens adopted by the authors. Also in this section the conceptual interpretation of the data does not clearly come to the foreground.

The conclusion drawn on p. 14 regarding barriers that do not exist, is not in line with the type of research the authors say they set out to perform, and can hardly be supported by the data (given the choice to aim at selecting successful collaborations – even if not all case studies actually included appeared to be successful).

How exactly the concepts and conceptual relationships in section 4.2 derive from or relate to the data collection and analysis does not become clear. This section does not qualify as an elaboration of a theory-building exercise in which the ‘discovered’ theory is further developed by linking to extant theories. It would fit much better in the type of Discussion section that one would expect in a study aimed at presenting empirical data

The theoretical embedding of the research outcomes is not exactly strong. At least one would expect some referral to the many theories available for the four initially selected aspects to warrant not having developed these aspects in much depth in the early parts of the paper, but such a referral is lacking.

The concept of knowledge sharing is not systematically developed: neither the concept of knowledge (in light of FabLabs) nor the concept of sharing in relation to knowledge is defined. Wang & Noe’s definition (p. 2) is not discussed from a knowledge perspective (I am not immediately convinced that theirs is a good definition of knowledge sharing, at least because in that definition a linkage to knowledge remains implicit, at best) and in the remaining analysis that definition is not really used systematically. Neither does the concept of knowledge sharing appear in the conceptual model that is presented in section 4, nor is that model easily linked to issues of knowledge or sharing of knowledge. Would that model have looked differently for broad concepts such as cooperation, communication or interaction instead of knowledge sharing? I would strongly suggest choosing a less contentious concept than knowledge sharing for couching the discussion.

My suggestion would be to rewrite the paper as a report of an in-depth empirical multiple-case study of cooperation (or some other general concept) among FabLabs, and to avoid any terminology referring to theory development before the Discussion section. The outcomes of the interviews warrant publication. As a theory-building paper, I am afraid that certainly in its current form my verdict would have to be a rejection.

Review B

Reviewer: Adrian Smith

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, very relevant. It addresses a topic central to the whole FabLab movement, which is sharing of knowledge and collaboration in open projects, and where activity aspires to be distributed across physically (and socially?) distant workshops. One minor comment up front: the title needs to change. The sub-title is fine, but ‘sharing is sparing’ is unclear in its meaning for me.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

The subject matter is very interesting. Intellectually, I appreciate the early sections that set out the research problem and methodology. It is very clear and systematic. The problem and research design is inspired by an analogy drawn between FabLabs and Open Software Communities. The literature on knowledge sharing in open software is cited, and four aspects/barriers critical to whether knowledge is shared, and how, are developed: motivational; social; technological; legal. This is done very clearly, and is great. The analysis concludes there is not enough documentation of projects, which is an open software solution, but without really considering if there are other factors inhibiting the sharing and co-production of knowledges (plural) across space and time in collaborative projects.

As such, collaboration across FabLabs in material design and build projects is analysed as if it were an open software problem. This is itself problematic, and the paper needs to reflect more critically on the limitations of the analogy. As the article concedes (but does not develop), there are differences between coding and documenting software, and the development of material objects. Moreover, the paper also conceded that making things involves tacit knowledges too, but does not develop the analysis to consider how this might or might not be shared, whether through codification of the knowledge in some way, or by other means (see below). I think the paper needs to explore this difference in much greater depth.

Overall then, the concept of ‘knowledge’ needs unpacking. It is unclear in the paper what forms of knowledge are being shared in the different projects. Nor are relationships between different forms of knowledge and practice and the forms and proximities/distances in which they can be shared. Everything seems to be about whether or not an unspecified knowledge gets codified or not – the inhibiting and promoting aspects. But are some knowledges more codifiable than others? Or can some knowledges be better shared by other means? And are some forms limited to face-to-face interaction, or does new social media allow them to be shared over greater distances? And how do different forms of sharing reinforce one another and deepen knowledge? And wht about the relationship between knowledge accumulation and learning?

Take for example knowledge about the properties of a material? Or the know-how on how to cut it with a laser cutter? Or the tweaks needed to get a machine running through the material smoothly? Or even how different humidity levels might affect the work? The smell when a material is being cut too fast? How are these different forms of knowledge, and how do they get shared?

Therefore the missing literature for me is that which can take a more plural view on ‘knowledge’ and the diverse ways of ‘sharing’ it. It needs to be a literature that relates to the material/physical world of making things, and not just the on-line world of developing and sharing software and documentation. I suggest the sociology of knowledge and following up on recent work using Polanyi and tacit knowledge; but also literature looking at skills and social practices, or material culture, or sociology of knowledge.

So, for example, Nicola Wood and colleagues have done interesting work to see how craft skills can be shared with the assistance of video on line, but in interaction with learners working together in groups. (Wood, N., Rust, C., & Horne, G. (2009). A Tacit Understanding : The Designer ’ s Role in Capturing and Passing on the Skilled Knowledge of Master Craftsmen. International Journal of Design, 3(3), 65–78.). This might be relevant for some of the on-line academies etc used by FabLabs, and the kinds of knowledge and skill that can be shared or transmitted through FabLab networks.

Alternatively, since my suggestion would perhaps involve an unreasonable level of revision, the authors could reflect more on their conceptual framing of the problem and their research design. They might consider some of the issues raised in this review, and situate the contributions of their own study accordingly, without actually studying the broader issues and literatures raised here? Finding that documentation is limited and argiung it ought to be done more is OK, and a worthwhile contribution. However, reflecting on the activities in workshops, the knowledges invovled, and why this is different to open software communities is required at the end. Even if documentaiton was fantastic, it still might not be enough because some of the knowledge involved infabrication resists codifcation in documents – so you need to think about other ways to share that kind of knowledge. Kowledge is not uniform. The quite narrow analysis of knowledge and sharing needs to be qualified by putting it into context.

Finally, a more minor point. The different governance arrangements, organisational models, or institutional situations of the FabLabs is not considered. It is mentioned in passing, for example, that University-based Labs might inhibit knowledge sharing. But how might the specific norms in each workshop affect the practices of sharing and collaborating with other FabLabs and networks (in contrast to the general principles of the Fab Charter, which different FabLabs probably implement differently)?

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

My answer to question two addresses this question also. In addition though, I think the paper lacks any detail about the projects studied. We do not know what they made nor do we know in any detail what was involved in terms of practices (including skills) and knowledges, and how this was distributed, and redistributed or brought together through various forms of sharing. The actual/empirical attempts and processes of sharing knowledge and producing collaboratively are unavailable to us. Different kinds of project are likely to involve different forms of knowledge? The possibilities and forms of sharing might differ project type by project type?

Another issue with the paper is the development of the model towards the end. This is very interesting and potentially very good. However, it comes with too little elaboration, and some of the ideas are not really justified over the preceding paper. I suggest removing the model and writing a separate paper about it. This would free up space to be much more reflective about knowledges in FabLabs and across networks.

4. Is the article well written?

Yes, the language and structure is clear.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The article is 10417 words long – more than 2000 words longer than the limit. So it needs shortening. Some of the method descriptions could be shortened for a research audience, such as details about semi-structured and narrative interview techniques, but these might be helpful or interesting for a practitioner audience? Other sections are written in a clear and concise way. It is difficult to see how they could be cut.

That said, I think (as discussed above) that this manuscript is really two papers squeezed into one. So another way of shortening the article is to focus only on the first paper, which analyses the processes, conditions and forms of knowledge sharing. The second paper, which develops a model after Ostrom, seems to come in to abruptly at the end and is insufficiently substantiated and justified in the space available. It is an interesting model. It deserves its own paper.

So, to conclude, the paper needs to focus more on what is meant by ‘knowledge’ in a much more discriminating and pluralistic way, and explore how different forms of knowledge do or do not get shared. It would be interesting to see how the four aspects/barriers relate differently to different forms of knowledge. In doing this, I suggest the model is dropped and developed as a separate paper. This way, the potential for two really good papers could be realised.

Review C

Reviewer: maxigas

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, the article asks how and if peer production actually happens in the Fab Lab network, e.g. between actual Shared Machine Shops. Its critical edge comes from contrasting the idealistic discourse of Fab Labs with interview data on actual practices. Furtermore, its political significance lies in its well-grounded conclusions which can provide inspiration for practitioners about how to develop their SMSs. Therefore it is highly relevant for this special issue.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

Despite the exciting promise of a systematic approach to a problem which is usually addressed in more essayistic terms, the treatment of the subject matter is ultimately utterly boring. A presentation which focuses on the most fruitful aspects of the data (for instance the fact that documentation facilities are not formally part of Fab Labs, or that sharing documentation is the primary means of peer production across physical laboratories) would be more interesting than the current more mechanical approach.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

I am not sure if social science can ever be able to produce solid data on the motivations of subjects because such a phenomena is deeply rooted in individual psychology and life history. If this would be possible, I am not sure it would be relevant for the social sciences, for the same reasons. The taxonomic analysis of data risks fragmenting the analysis and loosing the thread which leads to useful conclusions. For instance the analysis of the legal and business environment asks potentially interesting and/or relevant questions but the interview material does not seem to turn up interesting answers beyond what is generally understood about the tensions between legal regimes and sharing or the social logics of business versus community.

4. Is the article well written?

The article is well written and structured logically – perhaps too logically, as noted above.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

Again, the article would perhaps be more successful in driving home its conclusions if the structure was conceived with the morals of the story in mind.