ITID Special Issue on Open Development (Vol 7, Issue 1 – Spring 2011)
“Open development refers to an emerging set of possibilities to catalyze positive change through “open” information-networked activities in international development. While there is evidence to support the observation that these changes could be coming, we are only now beginning to glimpse their potential for developing societies. Consequently, embedded in this theory are a high level research question and hypothesis. The research question asks how these information-networked activities work, in what circumstances, and to whose benefit? The hypothesis states that these new models of networked activities can lead to development outcomes that are both inclusive and transformative.
The theory of open development emerged through observation and experience. The importance of openness for ICT4D came to light following a long day of meetings at a secluded farm near London, Ontario in 2008. Many of the participants had been grappling with the future of ICT4D, and after having drawn an issue map, participants had an “ah ha” moment. The issue of “openness” in IT systems, policy, and development sectors seemed to permeate every element of our (IDRC) ICT4D programming. From access to use, and from content to creation, it appeared that some form of openness was a component of much of the research we supported, including open participation in use, open licensing to provide services, open content, open source, and open government.
Openness is, however, perhaps a better marketing term than analytic concept. Its fuzziness and current trendiness make it susceptible to multiple interpretations and co-option by actors who subscribe to a range of positions and ideologies. For example, openness is used to describe unfettered markets, but it also describes, for others, the justiªcation of state support for maintaining access to public goods. Others have even seen the underlying “open source” ethos, which questions principles of ownership, as akin to socialism.
In this special issue, we differentiate ourselves from these perspectives. We are concerned with open development; i.e., openness that serves the purpose of development, not openness for openness’ sake. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; ªrst we must be clear about what openness and open development mean.”