With a multi-method study of one open source software community (Debian), we found that members developed a shared basis of formal authority, but limited it with democratic mechanisms that enabled experimentation with shifting conceptions of authority over time.
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This research has been supported by the Stanford Center for Work, Technology and Organization, the Stanford University Technology Ventures Program, the Social Science Research Council and the Harvard Business School Division of Research. The data collection and processing efforts of John Sheridan, Vikram Vijayaraghavan, Daniel Berch, Mariano Belinky, Jordi Colomer and editorial support provided by Clare Flaherty and Alyssa Razook were much appreciated. We thank Steve Barley, Beth Bechky, Bruno Cassiman, Michael Cohen, John King, Karim Lakhani, Mark Mortensen, Woody Powell, Marc Ventresca, JoAnn Yates, and the Harvard Qualitative Inductive Research (QUIET) group for their helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. We also thank Sara Rynes and our reviewers for their thoughtful and detailed comments which improved the paper. All errors or omissions are our own. Both authors contributed equally to this work.