Open source as a tool for communal technology development: using appropriate technology criteria to determine the impact of open source technologies on communities as delivered through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Fab Lab Projects

Abstract This paper aims to determine whether open source technologies are able to address community-specific needs more appropriately than proprietary equivalents and are therefore more relevant to the needs of the communities that create them. To this end, the paper argues that open source initiatives are not solely bound to the realm of software creation. An example of this is provided through a study of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Fabrications Laboratories, or Fab Labs. Two studies of Fab Lab projects are used to determine the role that open source plays in the developing of appropriate technologies. Criteria for appropriate technologies are therefore discussed and the case studies are unpacked accordingly. To answer the central research question, this paper explores written theory, includes an analysis of the case studies, and presents personal interviews with team leaders that have conducted Fab Lab projects. It was found that an open source framework does indeed contribute towards effective appropriate technologies, and that the term open source may be applied to non-software specific technology creation. Because this paper has identified that open source is applicable to non-software situations, more research is necessary to explore this varied fields, especially in the development sphere.