Elia Giovacchini
Elia Giovacchini

The phenomenon of firm sponsored open source software (OSS) projects has become an established and widely used approach to develop and release new products in the software industry. In this arrangement, a sponsoring firm and a community establish a relationship to create a common project. When a firm fully commits to this type of development, it enters into a symbiotic relationship with its OSS community. This implies their mutual dependence and the presence of competing demands, both for openness – so that everyone can contribute to the common project and appropriate value from it, and for control – to affect the project content and direction. Although earlier studies have recognized the paradoxical nature of these competing and interrelated demands, so far there have been only limited attempts to understand its implications for maintaining such a symbiotic relationship.

Hence, the aim of this thesis is to deepen our understanding of the symbiotic relationship by answering the following question: How is a symbiotic firm-community relationship maintained?

To address this question, a qualitative research design is adopted through a single in depth longitudinal case study of the relationship between a Nordic European firm and its OSS community throughout their 14 plus years of history, from 2002 till 2015, by combining archival resources, observations and interviews. Recognizing the nature of these competing demands, a paradox lens is introduced as a way to frame the firm-community relationship.

This allows identification of six paradoxical tensions that affect the relationship and five responses used to address the paradoxical tensions as they manifest. Building on these different insights a conceptual model of the firm-community relationship is developed. The model highlights that responses in many instances become the cause of subsequent paradoxical tensions. This insight underpinned the search for an alternative understanding of maintenance beyond instances of single tensions and response, by suggesting three different approaches to maintaining the firm-community relationship, namely, improvising, separating and weaving.

This study contributes to extant literature by giving prominence to the relationship as a conduit of interaction in which both the firm and community should be able to extend their influence while also being subject to the influence of each other. In particular, based on the insights of the weaving approach, I suggest understanding maintenance as a process of creation, where quite apart from the design of the relationship, there is a need to reconsider the features of key actors, not solely in terms of motivation, but also including their knowledge, skill and ways of thinking.