What is Openness?

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Open ICT for Development wiki at http://openict4d.wikidot.com/

Essay at http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-133699-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html


What is Openness?

"The term openness, or open, is often applied as a descriptive adjective appended in front of a variety of structures (e.g., open government, open architecture, open society) and activities/products (e.g., open access to education materials, open source software). Note that openness is not a novel concept, especially with respect to development theory. For example: democracy and participation represent an opening up of decision processes to more people; and transparency and accountability are about opening up organizations, people and processes to scrutiny and feedback.

We propose a concept of openness that is a generalized abstraction from these particular instances of openness.

Openness is a way of organizing social activities that favours:

  • universal over restricted access
  • universal over restricted participation, and
  • collaborative over centralized production.

At the core of our concept of openness are two important concepts: egalitarianism and sharing. Egalitarianism suggests an equal right to participate (access, use and collaborate). Sharing is embedded in the idea of enhanced access to things that were otherwise normally restricted. This enhanced access is often motivated by the normative desire to share – whether through an obligation to contribute to the common good or to participate in a coordinated or collaborative activity." (http://openict4d.wikidot.com/open-ness-to-open-ict4d)

Determinants Of Openness

"For analytical purposes, it is useful to delineate the three central dimensions that determine the relative openness of a good: Who produces the good (and how)? Who owns the good? Who can access and use and reuse the good? Note that these dimensions should not be thought of as binary; they represent ranges of openness from completely open to completely closed. Also, these dimensions refer to a broad notion of “goods” that moves beyond the traditionally physical. Our notion of goods includes information and knowledge (e.g., cultural content, educational resources), technologies (e.g., telecommunications infrastructure, open hardware), as well as decision-making (e.g., government) and production (e.g., businesses, open source) processes.

The following is a closer look at the three dimensions, which all interact at various levels to produce a particular level of openness:

  • Who produces the good? This refers to the openness of the good at the stage of production. Production can be thought of as a continuum from closed to open production. On the one more closed side of the continuum are goods whose production is more closed, i.e., goods people can read/use-and-comment thus adding something to the good (e.g., blogs, photo and video sharing applications, online newspaper comment sections, e-government service complaints). More open production include modifying existing open goods through user-innovations and producing goods through participatory/collaborative production (e.g., wiki, open source software, participatory budgeting). The continuum can be understood as a movement from centralized to de-centralized (and perhaps non-collocated) production.

  • Who “owns” (and how they own) the good? The openness of a good is a function of (among other things) property rights ranging from proprietary (owned and controlled) information to open (a public good/commons). The nature of the property regime (fair use, IPR law, creative commons, etc.) determines the legality of access to and use of this good.

  • Who can access and use the good? Who can access and use a good refers to the factors that underlie an individual’s or a group’s ability to access and make meaningful use of a particular good. This is, of course, dependent upon a multitude of factors, social and technological (see section 4 for more discussion). To provide just one example, open standards make it possible for good to be disseminated via the network architecture and underlying net neutrality keeps market bias out of the information flows."