Date of Award

Fall 12-10-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Information Systems

First Advisor

Lars Mathiassen

Second Advisor

Arun Rai


Decentralized systems online—such as open source software (OSS) development, online communities, wikis, and social media—often experience decline in participation which threatens their long-terms sustainability. Building on a rich body of research on the sustainability of physical resource systems, this dissertation presents a novel theoretical framing that addresses the sustainability issues arising in decentralized systems online and which are amplified because of their open nature. The first essay develops the theory of polycentric information commons (PIC) which conceptualizes decentralized systems online as “information commons”. The theory defines information commons, the stakeholders that participate in them, the sustainability indicators of information commons and the collective-action threats putting pressure on their long-term sustainability. Drawing on Ostrom’s factors associated with stable common pool resource systems, PIC theory specifies four polycentric governance practices that can help information commons reduce the magnitude and impact of collective-action threats while improving the information commons’ sustainability. The second essay further develops PIC theory by applying it in an empirical context of “digital activism”. Specifically, it examines the role of polycentric governance in reducing the threats to the legitimacy of digital activism—a type of information commons with an overarching objective of instigating societal change. As such, it illustrates the applicability of PIC theory in the study of digital activism. The third essay focuses on the threat of “information pollution” and its impact on open collaboration, a type of information commons dedicated to the creation of value through open participation online. It uncovers the way polycentric governance mechanism help reduce the duration of pollution events. This essay contributes to PIC theory by expanding it to the realm of operational governance in open collaboration.