Journal of Information Technology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 361–379 | Cite as

The emergence of openness in open-source projects: the case of openEHR

  • Daniel Curto-Millet
  • Maha ShaikhEmail author
Research Article


The meaning of openness in open source is both intrinsically unstable and dynamic, and tends to fluctuate with time and context. We draw on a very particular open-source project primarily concerned with building rigorous clinical concepts to be used in electronic health records called openEHR. openEHR explains how openness is a concept that is purposely engaged with, and how, in this process of engagement, the very meaning of open matures and evolves within the project. Drawing on rich longitudinal data related to openEHR we theorise the evolving nature of openness and how this idea emerges through two intertwined processes of maturation and metamorphosis. While metamorphosis allows us to trace and interrogate the mutational evolution in openness, maturation analyses the small, careful changes crafted to build a very particular understanding of openness. Metamorphosis is less managed and controlled, whereas maturation is representative of highly precise work carried out in controlled form. Both processes work together in open-source projects and reinforce each other. Our study reveals that openness emerges and evolves in open-source projects where it can be understood to mean rigour; ability to participate; open implementation; and an open process. Our work contributes to a deepening in the theorisation of what it means to be an open-source project. The multiple and co-existing meanings of ‘open’ imply that open-source projects evolve in nonlinear ways where each critical meaning of openness causes a reflective questioning by the community of its continued status and existence.


open source openness process of metamorphosis maturation processes of concreteness changing ideology agnosticism 



The authors would like to thank the senior editors and the reviewers for their developmental feedback on previous versions of the manuscript. Daniel Curto-Millet gratefully acknowledges funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; and the Fundación Ramón Areces for his PhD studentships.


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© Association for Information Technology Trust 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Economics and Business StudiesUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Warwick Business SchoolUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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