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Institutionalisation and Informal Innovation in South African Maker Communities

Chris Armstrong, LINK Research Associate
Jeremy de Beer, University of Ottawa
Erika Kraemer-Mbula, University of Johannesburg
Mieka Ellis, Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR)

This article explores the current modalities at play in respect of institutionalisation and informal innovation within maker communities in South Africa. A national scan in 2016-17 generated data on more than 20 maker communities across South Africa. The data provide insights into a number of management, spatial and activity variables present in the practices of the maker communities and their members. This article focuses on two of the dimensions found to be present when looking across the management, spatial and activity variables: institutionalisation and informal innovation. Institutionalisation is conceptualised as resulting in, and from: (1) formalisation of maker communities’ practices; (2) partnerships between maker communities and formal organisations; and (3) embedding of maker communities in formal organisations. Informal innovation is conceptualised as manifesting in: (1) constraint-based innovation; (2) incremental innovation; (3) collaborative innovation; (4) informal approaches to knowledge appropriation; and (5) innovation in informal networks/communities in informal settings. Our data show that since the emergence of the maker movement in South Africa in roughly 2011, there has been an increase in institutionalisation of, and within, maker communities. At the same time, we find that there continues to be a strong spirit of informality in the communities, with most of the communities, including the relatively more-institutionalised ones, actively seeking to preserve emphasis on informal-innovation modalities. Our conclusion is that, in the present stage of evolution of the South African maker movement, elements of institutionalisation appear be largely offering synergies, rather than tensions, with the ethos of informal innovation. Such synergies are allowing South African maker communities to play an intermediary, semi-formal role, as mediating entities between formal and informal elements of the country’s innovation ecosystem.

maker movement, South Africa, maker communities, innovation, institutionalisation, formalisation, informal innovation, constraint-based innovation, incremental innovation, knowledge appropriation, informal networks, informal communities

Recommended citation
Armstrong, C., De Beer, J., Kraemer-Mbula, E., & Ellis, M. (2018). Institutionalisation and informal innovation in South African maker communities. Journal of Peer Production (JoPP), 12, 14–42.