Carrots and Rainbows

Around 4 years ago, we started working on a paper that contained a literature review on individuals motivation to contribute to open source software, concluding that the frameworks being used were too narrow to capture all aspects of what was happening. We concluded that open source software development needs to be seen as a social practice, and created a framework that will allow a more holistic exploration of the interplay of motivations, practices, and institutions supporting (but also constraining and corrupting) OSS. The framework draws on the work on Social Practices by the moral philosopher McIntyre.

We submitted the article to MISQ, and 3 years and four(!) major revisions later, we just got accepted. The editors and reviewers were giving us a hard time, but they also helped to improve the paper significantly as a result of the hard work that was put into it.

May I proudly present:

Carrots and Rainbows: Motivation and Social Practice in Open Source Software Development

by Georg von Krogh, Stefan Haefliger, Sebastian Spaeth, and Martin W. Wallin

The preprint abstract is available online on this website, if you are interested in the full paper, let me know.


Open source software (OSS) is a social and economic phenomenon that raises fundamental questions about the motivations of contributors to information systems development. Some developers are unpaid volunteers who seek to solve their own technical problems, while others create OSS as part of their employment contract. For the past 10 years, a substantial amount of academic work has theorized about and empirically examined developer motivations. We review this work and suggest considering motivation in terms of the values of the social practice in which developers participate.
Based on the social philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre, we construct a theoretical framework that expands our assumptions about individual motivation to include the idea of a long-term, value-informed quest beyond short-term rewards. This “motivation–practice” framework depicts how the social practice and its supporting institutions mediate between individual motivation and outcome. The framework contains three theoretical conjectures that seek to explain how collectively elaborated standards of excellence prompt developers to produce high-quality software, change
institutions, and sustain OSS development. From the framework we derive six concrete propositions and suggest a new research agenda on motivation in OSS.

UPDATE: And it is finally officially out in this June issue.