How can we understand collaborative behaviours in Maker projects on platforms?

Makers very often work in collaboration with other people, and several times they share their work online as open source (software, hardware, design, …). I’ve been researching how people work collaboratively especially in Open Design projects for several years, and now a bit also in MAKE-IT as well, especially in how these collaborative behaviours could be understood in connections with platforms and especially Collective Awareness Platforms (CAPS).

Makers (and designers and engineers and …) could engage in Open Design in several ways: designing projects, discussing projects, discussing Open Design itself, building platforms that host Open Design projects (like, the open source platform of the global Fab Lab network)… and so on. These are among the many activities that could be done in the Open Design world and that have an influence on it, and platforms have an increasingly strong impact on these collaborative behaviours. Understanding collaborative processes by makers on such platforms is also an important steps towards understanding platforms in general. For these reasons I wrote a paper for the Design for Next conference (and published in The Design Journal) and a software library that tries to answer to this research question: how could the analysis of social interactions over time on such platforms improve the understanding of design-related collaborative processes?

Understanding this would enable us to advance our understanding of how platforms connects and influence makers and designers in their collaborative work on Open Design, and to provide support to the activity of Maker and Design researchers and of reflective practitioners as well. In this case I focused on analysing projects managed with the Git software and GitHub platform, which are very popular among software developers especially but also among makers. These tool and platform have been investigated with several approaches, papers and softwares, but not with makers, designers and Open Design as the main focus. Furthermore, it’s hard to find reusable software from these researches so that it would be easier to replicate them, especially for reflective practitioners (you would need to have some programming and data science skills, but several makers already have them!). For this reason I developed a software library in the Python language, since it is arguably the most popular language for data science, and therefore anybody can use the library for extracting data about collaborative behaviours on Git and GitHub; the analysis is up to you, with the tools that you prefer. This is therefore not only research, but also innovation as in disseminating research results and tools to make them available to everybody.

I called this library platform_analysis since its aim is to analyse interactions over time in several platforms; for the moment it works with Git and GitHub, but it will be soon extended to other platforms. The library extracts the data from projects and returns a graph of time-stamped interactions that can be then analysed with social network analysis: interactions can be then analysed for the project as a whole or as they happen through time, and we can see therefore how participants collaborated in a project, in which kind of interactions and when. This would enable researchers and practitioners to understand what is happening in such projects and platforms.

This is one of the software applications or libraries we are releasing from MAKE-IT (we will publish more of them soon!), available for discussion and development in a GitHub repository and for the installation as a Python module. This is based on a couple of previous experimentations and tests, now finally fully integrated and structured in a complete software library that is then much more structured, complete and easier to use for all the researchers and reflective practitioners (designers and makers) for analysing their projects!
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Analytics around concepts and terminologies defining the Maker movement at the Internet Science Conference

In September last year the 3rd International Conference of the Internet Sciences took place in Florence, Italy. I had the chance to present some work my fellow researchers (Calkin Suero Montero and Massimo Menichinelli) did on concepts and terminologies used by the Maker movement. You can find links to the paper, the presentation and the conference website below this posting if the topic interests you!

The work I presented was part of the MAKE-IT project which in turn is part of the CAPS program – one of the most interesting and exiting streams of activities I have seen in Horizon 2020. Technologies such as fabrication tools typical for the Maker movement as well as sharing platforms are researched not only to evaluate their technological capabilities but also to better understand and promote their potential to be used as essential ingredients to solutions which are more mindful of our use of resources.

The Internet Science Conference was a perfect place to show how broadly the term ‘resources’ should be applied. Of course, makers use and re-use materials and potential changes to distribution networks may reduce fuel consumption and CO2 production. However, the Internet Science Conference showed that human attention is a scarce resource as well that needs to be managed wisely as is privacy, a resource often not missed until we are confronted with the consequences (e.g. some aggregated but incomplete data taken from our digital footprint lead to a completely wrong depiction of ourselves). In that sense the conference presented many valuable opportunities for exchanging views on issues we shared in our respective projects (e.g. analyzing community data) but approached them from different perspectives.

All in all 12 interesting CAPS projects shared their views on a wide range of topics such as peer production and distributed governance, user control of personal data, bottom-up networking, free and open source and monitoring the impact of public outreach campaigns.

These projects were present at the conference

The paper has was published in the proceedings of the conference,  you can find a pre-print copy here below (together with my presentation), on the Publications page and on ResearchGate.



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