How do you create and sustain a successful and innovative community?

With two principles: modularity and granularity.

These two principles drive an effective standardised framework in which one open source community in particular is thriving. 

The BioBricks Foundation (BBF) is an initiative that seeks to enrich the field of synthetic biology; they have successfully embraced modularity and granularity. 

Their missions is “to ensure that the engineering of biology is conducted in an open and ethical manner to benefit all people and the planet.  We envision a world in which scientists and engineers work together using freely available standardized biological parts that are safe, ethical, cost effective and publicly accessible to create solutions to the problems facing humanity.”

More about BioBricks Foundation’s can be found here


Investing in the ‘bank’

Scientists participating in the BBF project create a multitude of standardised biological parts and add them to a “bank”.  Over time the resources in the “bank” become more numerous which in turn enhances possibilities for new technologies that in turn can be re-engineered and subsequently re-invested into the bank as it grows. 

Through standardisation you can facilitate variation and inventiveness.  The more standardised a part is the more its properties and functions are specified and the cranial capacity to combine these can be done in novel ways.  Standardisation therefore naturally becomes a precursor to inventiveness and adding the principles of modularity and granularity to the way in which you standardise the part of a project ensures its success. 

Building brick by brick

Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler describes modularity as the “property of a project that describes the extent to which it can be broken down into smaller components, or modules, that can be independently produced before they are assembled into a whole.” (Benkler: 2006)

For BioBricks, this modularity takes the form of the “bricks” they create from biological materials. These bricks are independent from one another and can be used easily by individual contributors who have the autonomy to choose what and when to contribute to the BioBricks project. 

Benkler describes granularity as “the size of the modules in terms of the time and effort that an individual must invest in producing them” (Ibid).  BioBricks’ range of bricks is deliberately small in size.  This enables synthetic biologists of all abilities to build with them, ultimately benefitting the community by lowering barriers to entry, encouraging creativity and fostering innovation while ensuring that their bank of resources is constantly expanding. 

Modular problem solving

Standardisation as a precursor to inventiveness needn’t be limited to open sources projects like BioBricks.  Often, Accelerated Solutions Environment event modules are tailored around the need for a project team to standardise their approach to certain parts of a project while simultaneously carving them up in a very modular and granular way.  This allows project teams to redefine the way in which they engage with tasks and, as we have seen from the BioBricks example, if they carve up their tasks in such a way that lowers barriers to entry, a greater number of team members become able to contribute to a project tasks.  In turn, this leads to a deeper, creative and more holistic approach to problem solving. 



  • Benkler, Yochai (2006) The Wealth of Networks, Yale University Press
  • To find out more about the BioBricks Foundation, please visit their website: