Collaborative Panel at IASC: The Open Source Hardware Commons - Resources and Follow-Up

We had a great turnout for the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) 2023 Conference in Nairobi, and this year OSH was represented in a handful of panels, including:

The Open Source Hardware Commons: Exploring the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of OSH and the Right-to-Repair movement :muscle:t4: :hammer_and_wrench:

This panel explored how the OSH Commons can help provide alternatives to the current predominant model to ensure that physical goods can be made available to those who need them in a way that is more environmentally sustainable, socially beneficial, and economically viable. We had broad representation across the IOPA with the following panel presentations:

  • A New Standard for Open Electronics Design-data to Aid Repairability, @AlexKimber (representing co-authors @kaspar and Shrouk El-Attar)

  • The role of AfricaOSH in the open science/source hardware movement, and how networked ecosystems of community and shared events are transforming the work of OScH, @Frank_AfricaOSH

  • Trust in material peer production, @TiberiusB (representing co-author Unai Gaztelu)

Over the course of the conference week, the receptiveness and collaborative nature of attendees from all over the world was impressive - however, the lack of awareness of OSH, generally by attendees, was surprising! At the end of our panel session, attendee Dr. Charles Schweik (current president of the IASC), posed the question - “what comes after Nairobi?”

The general consensus amongst session attendees is that there is strong interest in continuing conversations, and getting cross-industry dialogs like this one happening more frequently. This could come in the form of collaborative OSH-focused events between the IOPA and IASC. This then leads to a question for this community:

What sort of events would you like to see, and/or would be of the greatest benefit to the global OSH community?

Your thoughts and feedback are most welcomed as we continue our dialog with a global organization that is academe-focused, helping to make connections and seek out new partnerships across sector divisions. Share your ideas here in this thread, or directly with panel co-chairs @max_w and @schutton

Frank Bentum, Executive Manager at Africa Open Science and Hardware (AfricaOSH)


Hi @schutton, thank you for the invitation to join this inspiring session and be part of the global conversations surrounding Open Source Hardware.

What sort of events would you like to see, and/or would be of the greatest benefit to the global OSH community?

In my perspective, there is a need for a regionally and globally dedicated effort to raise awareness and promote open-source practices across various disciplines. At AfricaOSH, we are actively contributing to the open-source hardware movement through our advocacy, educational, and training programs. Our aim is to help Africans understand the immense potential of OSH both within the continent and on a global scale.


I am happy to see this initiative to benefit from the momentum that was created during IASC 2032. When people come out of a gathering, almost every time they feel energized and imagine ways to create a continuity. Most of the time people go back to their activities and this feeling of belonging to this larger thing fades away. Sometimes new relations are created between some actors that are not visible to the rest. I am sure you know what I am talking about and I invite us to acknowledge this reality and think of ways to improve the outcome.

From my experience, one way to create long-lasting relations is to put in place what we now call formal bridges. A formal bridge is an interface between organizations that doesn’t depend on individuals. They can be pieces of infrastructure that channel information and signals from one organization to another (ex. interlinking communication channels or sharing documentation repositories). They can also be rituals (ex. regular meetings, gatherings). They can be economic in nature (ex. institute a collaboration on funding proposals and create shared ventures and partnerships), etc. See formal bridges as a conjunctive tissue between various organizations, communities and networks. When we say conjunctive tissue we mean something tangible that lasts in time and becomes independent of agents operating within these organizations and in the space between them. It is also worth underlining that a conjunctive tissue is not a node, so we’re not talking about building a hub where people from various organizations can meet. In other words, I advocate against seeing IoPA as a space of convergence, but rather as a node in a distributed network. These formal bridges are created between organizations, while we all share a common vision and purpose.

We are experimenting with this for the past 2 years and the beneficial results are real. To make it more concrete, you’ve seen a few individuals interacting in this Forum coming after my interaction first with IoPA. That is because I sent signals within our network about the importance to interface with IoPS. Some of these signals have also propagated through our formal bridges with other organizations such as hREA and TaoDAO and as a consequence some individuals from these other contexts of work have joined this community forum. Not only that, but some individuals from Sensorica and the other organizations have contributed to the Contracting assignment. While doing that, they have learned about IoPA and have become ambassadors themselves. In terms of virtual collaborative environment, in the Sensorica Discord we have a channel called IoPA, that is like a portal from where people can jump on IoPA’s website and forum. Some members of IoPA have also joined the Sensorica Discord. We also have a webpage dedicated to our collaboration with IoPA.

I invite everyone here to sit down for 5 minutes and think about all these organizations that you had the chance to know better, think about potential synergies between you, your organization and them, and start imagining formal ways to interlink. Can you provide mutual access to a portion of your documentation? For example if you have a Google drive folder, can you share it with all members of the other organization? Can you place a shortcut from their folder in your folder and vice versa. Can you create a category in your communications tools that only treats information about the other organization and vice versa? Can you agree with other organization to schedule some regular events? Can you enter in some sort of agreement to share personnel, if you are a closed traditional organization? for very other organization you may find a specific type of formal bridge that you can implement. What counts is the end result, all these formal bridges linking everyone into a more tightly integrated tissue. You don’t need to coordinate at large, just do it case-by-case.

I hope this is helpful… Here’s what we put in place. As you can see, we created a menu tab called Ecosystem. This is already a lot, making everyone aware of our ecosystemic approach. This page serves as a portal to other organizations. Still under development, but it’s an example of a concrete step. There is no general recipe, do whatever you think makes sense in a particular case. The growth of this network of networks is organic.


I agree that awareness is needed @Frank_AfricaOSH - one of the reasons why I connected the IASC with the work of the IOPA ecosystem was to foster awareness - coming from the academic sector, I know full well that OSH is still predominantly an unknown across disciplines. Now that awareness (“first contact”) has been established for many, the next steps, as @TiberiusB posits, are formal bridges. I have engaged in conversation with the current IASC president regarding the possibility of adding hardware/P2P to the types of commons recognized in the current discourse, which would serve as the conjunctive tissue between our organisations.


@schutton I agree with @TiberiusB’s perspective on the importance of establishing formal bridges. When considering Charlie’s question, “What comes after Nairobi?” I believe the answer lies in constructing bridges that promote the widespread adoption of OSH practices across disciplines. It is crucial that we unite our efforts to contribute to the OSH movement, and one effective approach is through active participation in collaborative events.

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I vibe with this a great deal! Thanks for sharing the notion of the formal bridge and a couple of concrete ways we can build that connective tissue. This is something I’m thinking about a lot lately, as someone starting a new business (my design studio) - although 99% of the output of my ‘company’ is just me, the ambition is to give form to a strucutre that operates without me, so concretising the relationships between partner organisations, and I’d add to this even personal relationships and community building, plays right into this. I will indeed have a think about what resources I can share (process docs on Drive or Notion, as well as design docs & OSH), and I’m happy to give my two cents to a broader conversation on interconnectivity too.


Speaking more from my perspective as a designer, the events I’d like to see more of re. OSH would relate to: open source revenue models, contracting, quality control and development process. Sharing of examples and case studies of sucessful OSH, across various criteria, and a real looking under the hood/bonnet of the toolchain to produce the documentaion, the remuneration of the partners involved in the development and the consistency of the manufactured outcome against a product specification.

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:bulb: lightbulb moment :bulb:

This thread, in addition to supporting serves as excellent fodder for one of our Code for Science & Society (CS&S) Pathways to Divergent Tech projects that @BarbaraSchack and I are working on, as related to IOP governance.

Here is a scaffolding for building out our projects conceptually, with some of the ideas from this thread integrated for a shared program (webinar) series concept:

Project I Title

Collaborative Program/Webinar Series

Problem: How is this project moving your project forward? What problem does it solve in moving your overall vision forward?

We envision a world where everyone, from a crisis relief worker cleaning up hurricane debris in the Bahamas to a policy maker in federal government reviewing a procurement process has the same access to the information, equipment, services, and support necessary to solve some of humanity’s most pressing problems. By putting the tools to design, iterate, and prototype products into the hands of community members, rapid collaboration, new revenue streams, and sustainable business models become achievable for entrepreneurial stakeholders in a global manufacturing ecosystem. Increased access also means that products being made are manufactured with fresh community knowledge and skill, which means better products for our society, as well as increasingly diverse engineering talent that will appeal to industry and larger manufacturing companies.

We have identified several areas of overlap between topics/areas of interest between multiple global communities related to distributed manufacturing, OSS, OSH, P2P, and 4IR. The general consensus is that there is strong interest in continuing conversations, and getting cross-industry dialogs happening more frequently. This could come in the form of collaborative OSH-focused events between global stakeholders.

Partners (potential, not limited to): What organization, population, or group of people outside of yourselves will you collaborate on this project with and why?

  • IASC: The International Association for the Study of the Commons is devoted to bringing together multi-disciplinary researchers, practitioners, and policymakers for the purpose of improving governance and management, advancing understanding, and creating sustainable solutions for commons, common-pool resources, or any other form of shared resource. In addition to Common Land, Urban Commons, and the Knowledge Commons currently identified by the IASC, there is interest in establishing an additional commons/facet dedicated to OSS/OSH.

  • GOSH: The Gathering for Open Science Hardware serves the needs of the global Open Science Hardware community through convening meetings, publications, activities and providing a forum for the community. They seek to eliminate separation between communities which limits collective community action to overcome further barriers to Open Science Hardware uptake and collaborate effectively, despite obvious commonalities in approach and a need for similar standards, best practices and enabling technologies.

  • OSHWA: The Open Source Hardware Association aims to foster technological knowledge and encourage research that is accessible, collaborative and respects user freedom. OSHWA’s primary activities include hosting the annual Open Hardware Summit and maintaining the Open Source Hardware certification, which allows the community to quickly identify and represent hardware that complies with the community definition of open source hardware.

Value Proposition: Why would the collaboration be mutually beneficial? Does it need to be? Do you already have a relationship with the group?

  • Yes; all groups have identified shared/overlapping areas of interest, and have started integrating communications strategies. A single broadcast from an integrated comms method reaches additional stakeholders and crosses sectors to bring in new voices to the discussion.

Needs: What skills, connections, or support do you need to successfully complete this project?

  • Agency for developing a community engagement and communications plan
  • Domain knowledge in topic(s) of interest
  • Convening/administrative/project management skills such as facilitating dialog/meetings, moderating online events, coordinating larger collaborative projects

Skills: What skills do you have to complete this project?

  • See above/needs

Relationship structure you’re experimenting with: What relationship structure will you experiment with? What does it look like?

Adhocracies, where leadership is decentralised, decisions are made organically, and the focus is on completion of the work/getting the job done is an organizational relationship model that provides the flexibility for nimble decision-making processes and allows for creativity and interdisciplinary dialog/cross pollination. Examples of organizations that started with an adhocracy: Wikipedia, NASA.

A drawback of this model could potentially arise as the organisation matures through the growth/maturity period (as shown in the nonprofit lifecycle model by social impact architects below); interpersonal friction can become difficult to resolved but most importantly - there are larger boards/shareholders that may have difficulty tolerating an organization without a formal hierarchy (this is where education can come into play).

While this thread/continuation of the conversation we started at IASC isn’t necessarily a direct governance taskforce project, conducting all ideation/planning with our governance strategies and goals in mind is important.

Feedback on any of the information shared RE: the CS&S project, as related to this thread, is most welcomed. :slightly_smiling_face: