Peer Producing Public Policy: Nicholas Negroponte, Walter Bender, and the OLPC


In April 2008, Walter Bender sat down at his laptop. For the last two years, he had worked at One Laptop per Child (OLPC), more often referred to as the $100 laptop project. This non-profit organization hopes to change the world by constructing a cheap and robust laptop to be used in the education of children in developing countries. OLPC’s vision is to empower children and enable them to use the $100 laptop as a learning tool and a way to contact the rest of the world.


The idea of the OLPC project was to reduce the costs of laptop computers to less then $100, by turning Moore’s law on its head (instead of aiming for increased speed, the idea was to reduce cost and power consumption) and by selling directly to governments in batches of 1 million for distribution in schools. The project has been able to capture the imagination of the world. At times, it was seen as a competitor to the big hard- and software companies, it led to commercial copies such as the EeePC, was hailed by the open source software development community, and promised to transform primary education worldwide. The project created a new market for low-budget laptops and initiated many policy debates about educational approaches in primary education.

Walter Bender, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and champion of the constructivist model of learning, had been the managing director responsible for software and content until the project was restructured in early 2008, “demoting” him to the role of the managing director of deployment. Reflecting on the initial years of the project, he wrote the following e-mail:

To: undisclosed

After more than two years without a break at One Laptop per Child, I have decided to take some time to reflect on how I can best contribute going forward to the goal of giving children around the world opportunities for a quality learning experience. The OLPC Association is making headway getting laptops into the hands of children and it is encouraging to see that other non-profit and for-profit organizations are following suit. My personal interest is in helping build a community of developers, educators, and learners dedicated to advancing the quality of free and open source software for learning and the sharing of pedagogical approaches in this community by adopting the spirit and methodology of the open-source movement.

While my goal is to create a complementary effort to broaden the reach of the software and pedagogy, a free and open framework in support of “learning learning”, I hope to continue working with the great team at OLPC as well as the various groups that have formed around the world in support of one-laptop-per-child deployments.

Thank you for all of your support over the past two years and for all the feedback and encouragement you have given me.

– Walter


Dr. Philipp S. MüllerDr. Philipp S. Müller



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Müller, Phillip S. (2015): Peer Producing Public Policy. Published in: Available online:


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