In Summary: Closing the open hardware distribution and documentation working group

Source: Jack Baldwin, The Lead South Australia

This is the 16th and final post of the series of the Open Hardware Distribution and Documentation Working Group. The group aims to produce a proof of concept for distributed open science hardware (OScH) manufacturing, exploring key aspects like quality, documentation, business models and more using as a starting point a paradigmatic case study. We hope the experience motivates others to discuss and implement new strategies for OScH expansion.

By Shannon Dosemagen and Brianna Johns

From across open hardware (and specifically in this case, hardware for science) people have been thinking through dilemmas around business models that will support the growth, availability and scaled distribution of independent hardware projects.

In June 2020 a small group of us got together to start talking through some of the key issues that we were experiencing, namely how could we better enable distributed manufacturing in open hardware for science (OScH)?

Our goal was to identify a pathway for more OScH projects to have greater impact and use out in the world, while providing equitable distribution of the value (to the creator/developer, and to global rather than centralized production), and a manufacturing community to drive quality and innovation in the process itself (identify better production methods, lower cost components, etc.). Some of the commonalities we decided to tackle were:

  • Investment in shared development tools for distributed manufacturing
  • Creation of common legal, documentation, and QA / QC toolchains
  • Testing this manufacturing process with a use case and identifying opportunities and strategies moving forward.

Over eleven months we spent time discussing these topics, building out tools and potentials and in some cases, tearing it all down and starting over again. The increased time at our computers during COVID presented us with the opportunity to dig into questions and problems that we might not otherwise have a chance to connect around until the next time we saw each other at a GOSH global session.

We’ve now decided that the purpose of the bigger working group has come to a natural closing point. So we’re sunsetting the group in a way that we hope will leave traces of our conversations and work, point to additional questions and challenges, and highlight some of the bright spots that we saw as emerging potentials. The below posts provide a long-running summary of the trajectory these conversations took and we’ll soon have a succinct report of learnings coming out though NYU’s Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy. More on this soon, but until then, you can read the summaries of our meetings written by Julieta Arancio, and the authors of this post, Brianna Johns and Shannon Dosemagen (plus a couple by other working group members):

  1. Open Hardware Distribution & Documentation Working Group: Intro
  2. Values-based standards for manufacturing (part 1)
  3. Values-based standards for manufacturing (part 2)
  4. Defining Priorities
  5. Interlude — Adjusting the Compass
  6. Introduction to Documentation and Quality Assurance Frameworks
  7. Same brand, different products
  8. Building for your audience
  9. Getting better by tracing failures
  10. The importance of a name
  11. Creating a network
  12. A centralized hub to support decentralized distribution
  13. Governing a central organization
  14. Pyramids versus circles — the need for more cooperative/collaborative business models for OScH
  15. Contracts and agreements

While we’ve decided to draw this working group to a close, a smaller manufacturing sub-group has formed. They are ready to test out distributed manufacturing with their own companies and organizations have created the group to focus on building a collaborative manufacturing structure and outlining the necessary business agreements needed to bring products to market in the coming months. Keep an eye on the GOSH forum for updates as their work progresses.

Thanks to all the working group members for input over the year: Julieta Arancio, Greg Austic, Richard Bowman, Andre Maia Chagas, Shannon Dosemagen, Stephane Fadanka, Ryan Fobel, Nat Irwin, Brianna Johns, Jenny Molloy, Valerian Sanga, Julian Sterling, and Michael Weinberg.