Open Hardware Distribution and Documentation Working Group: Governing a central organization

Brianna Johns Open Science Hardware News Leave a Comment

This is the 13th post of the series of the Open Hardware Distribution and Documentation Working Group (which we’ve shortened to “DistDoc”). The group aims to produce a proof of concept for distributed open science hardware (OScH) manufacturing, exploring key aspects like quality, documentation, business models and more using as a starting point a paradigmatic case study. We hope the experience motivates others to discuss and implement new strategies for OScH expansion.

By Brianna Johns

During recent sessions, the group has reached a consensus that a centralized administrative organization is necessary to support a distributed network of manufacturers. Agreements will still need to be made between developers and manufacturers to fill roles and establish responsibilities, however a central administrative structure helps establish and maintain support for sales, marketing, and quality marks as previously discussed. You can see this interaction below in a drawing of the distributed manufacturing agreement:

Maintaining our values

In the past, the group spent time mapping out the goals and values of the working group, which you can read more about in the second blog post of this series. These values include accessibility, empowerment and openness, in alignment with other open hardware communities such as GOSH and OSHWA. 

When deciding that a centralized structure is necessary, the question of governance was brought to the table. How do we effectively govern this centralized structure while maintaining our values, which often emphasize the need to work in a decentralized way?

Deciding on the cooperative

The group began to look at the option of a cooperative-style governance structure, as it’s democratic nature has the potential to prevent the central administrative structure from becoming too centralized. However, the group still had several questions surrounding the logistics of running a cooperative, such as:

  • How does a cooperative governance structure function within an international context? What is the value of a cooperative in different countries? Tax laws vary in different countries, meaning that the central administrative structure would need to be aware of the varying tax regulations for it’s manufacturing partners.
  • Will cooperative members consist of individuals or businesses? The group agrees that it would be best to have both options
  • How do we avoid situations where it is easier for members from certain countries to join than others?

As the group continued brainstorming ideas surrounding a cooperative governance structure, it helped bring forward conversations on decision-making and feedback mechanisms. As of now, the working group has been operating off of consensus based decision making, but as a centralized, cooperative structure takes shape, this decision making process may be subject to change. How do different stakeholders provide input in the decision making process, or provide feedback? Does this process look different for different stakeholders? 

Having a decision making mechanism will allow for commitments to be made, providing an opportunity to bridge the gap between what distributed manufacturing partners want and what the centralized structure can provide. Circling back to the drawing of the distributed manufacturing agreement above, this decision making mechanism is critical to ensuring successful distributed manufacturing agreements. 

But as one group member pointed out, the goal is not to make the cooperative itself financially successful, but an organizational tool for us all to be successful. In the coming weeks, the group will continue to explore resources related to cooperative governance structures, especially within an international context.

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