The impact of heterogeneity in a global knowledge commons: Implications for governance of the DNA barcode commons

Janis Geary, Trish Reay, Tania Bubela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The extent of actor heterogeneity is known to influence the outcomes in natural resource commons, and scholars have recently begun addressed the impact of heterogeneity on knowledge commons creation and sustainability. There is increasing evidence to challenge the dominant theory that heterogeneity is uniformly disadvantageous, but little is known about heterogeneity in knowledge commons. Here, we analyse heterogeneity as it applies to rules for governing a knowledge commons – the DNA barcode commons. DNA barcodes are short, standardized gene regions that can be used to inexpensively identify unknown specimens, and proponents have led international efforts to make DNA barcodes a standard species identification tool. The dominant actors in the commons are researchers in diverse fields, and the global scope of barcoding means these researchers work in countries with varying levels of biodiversity, research infrastructure, and financial resources for scientific endeavours. This cultural and wealth heterogeneity among actors results in challenges for constructing and governing the commons, including its supporting infrastructure of databases and biorepositories. We interviewed participants in DNA barcoding, and collected organizational documents. We applied the grammar of institutions to identify institutional statements, and categorized each statement based on institutional logics theory. We found that institutional logics theory is an effective applied research tool to study heterogeneity in knowledge commons. Our analysis also suggested that heterogeneity is a challenge to developing shared expectations in global knowledge commons, but participants can design institutional statements to bridge gaps in expectations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-930
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA barcoding
  • Global
  • Grammar of institutions
  • Heterogeneity
  • Institutional logics
  • Knowledge commons


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