michael gurstein on Sat, 9 Jul 2011 17:44:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Blogpost: "Open" - "Necessary" but not "Sufficient"

(I circulated the full text of my earlier blogpost http://wp.me/pJQl5-79 a
few days ago to Nettime. Since then the extremely interesting
discussion/comments has continued including a significant set of
interventions from Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) Board member Peter
Murray-Rust and the OKF lawyer JordonH as well as comments by a number of
leading OKF members/activists and a wide range of others (39 comments to
date on the original post and 7 on the following (below)--the OKF
interventions are particularly interesting, I think. My reply to Peter
Murray-Rust in a follow-on blogpost (in .txt format without the links) is
below. The comments on this post are also very interesting.)

"Open" - "Necessary" but not "Sufficient"

(For this blogpost with extensive links and comments http://wp.me/pJQl5-7h

My somewhat off the cuff comments/reflections on the recent OKCon(ference),
the annual event of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) seems to have caused
a bit of a stir among certain of the more senior members of the latter
group. The result has been a series of comments on my original blog post and
now a blogpost on a separate blog by Peter Murray-Rust an OKF Board Member,
taking considerable issue with my comments.

Since the discussion now has moved down to #29 or so in the breadcrumb trail
of comments and responses it's probably worthwhile to reprise and refocus
the discussion a bit and hence this new blogpost taking off from the end
point of the latter discussion thread.

So where are we. First let me state FWIW as clearly as possible my own
position-I am strongly in favour of "openness" both in the somewhat trivial
sense of an "open everything" meme where not being "open" is equated with
supporting the darkside AND in the rather more thoughtful and constructive
definition given to the term by the OKF on their website "A piece of content
or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it -
subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike."

A wee bit of biography might be relevant here.  I've spent much of the last
15 years or so working in and around what has come to be known as Community
Informatics (CI)-the use of Information and Communications Technologies
(ICTs) to enable and empower communities. There are several thousand people
world wide who would in some way consider themselves as working within that
overall discipline/strategy/approach.  There is an open access open archive
peer reviewed journal (which I edit), a wiki, several elists, conferences,
several blogs (including this one), even university courses etc.etc. I
mention this because CI to some extent grew up in the broad context of
local, technical, policy, advocacy based responses to the Digital Divide
(DD)-broadly understood as the divide between those who have access to ICTs
and those do not.

CI however, added a key component to the mix which was that while "access"
to ICTs were a "necessary" condition for over-coming the DD, access alone
was "insufficient" to make available (and operational) the range of
opportunities for economic and social advance on the broadest possible basis
of which ICTs are capable and which have so massively transformed (and
enabled, enriched and empowered) business and governments. Hence the need
for additional steps and interventions/supports to transform "access" into
the opportunity for what I call "effective use".

I see a direct parallel between the issues that I and my colleagues (and
many many other  people) have been addressing over the last 15 years or so
in the context of the DD and what I am now seeing with respect to the Open
Data and related movements.

I most certainly am not against Open Data/Open Government (OD/OG) in the
same way as I am not (and as has been the focus of my work for much of the
last 15 years) against the broadest possible distribution of access to the
Internet and all of the associated ICT tools.  However, I do see Open Data
as defined above as not being sufficient to effect the positive changes in
government, science, democracy itself as is being indicated as the overall
goal of the OD/OG movement.

In some ways the argument here is even clearer than it was concerning the
efforts to overcome the DD. Egon Willighagen commenting on Peter Murray-Rusk
response to my blogpost  writes:

"Open Data is *not* about how to present (governmental) data in a human
readable way to the general public to take advantage of (though I understand
why he got that idea), but Open Data is about making this technically and
legally *possible*. He did not get that point, unfortunately."

To respond to Egon (and Peter), I did understand that very well about "Open
Data"; and it is precisely that of which I am being critical.  I am arguing
that "Open Data" as presented in this way is sufficient only (as argued in
the original post)  to provide additional resources to the Sheriff of
Nottingham rather than to Robin Hood.

"Open Data" as articulated above by Willighagen has the form of a private
club-open "technically" (and "legally") to all to join but whose membership
requires a degree of education, resources, technical skill such as to put it
out of the reach of any but a very select group.

Allison Powell in her thoughtful comments on my blogpost talks (in the
context of "Open Hardware") about those who are in a position through
pre-existing conditions of wealth, technical knowledge and power to
"appropriate" the outcome of  "(hardware) Openness" for their own private
corporate purposes.

Parminder Jeet Singh in his own comments contrasts Open Data with Public
Data-a terminology and conceptual shift with which I am coming to
agree-where Public Data is data which is not only "open" but also is
designed and structured so as to be usable by the broad "public" ("the

Originally in the context of the Digital Divide I articulated notions around
what I called "effective use" that is the factors that need to be in place
for "access" to be translated into "use" by those at the grassroots level.
In an earlier blogpost I transferred these concepts and updated them into an
"Open Data/Open Knowledge" context and I would modestly suggest that it is
through the implementation of a strategy incorporating "effective (data)
use" that the full measure and value of Open Data/Open Knowledge can be
achieved and the parallel dangers of a very damaging and socially divisive
"Data Divide" avoided.

(For this blogpost with extensive links and comments http://wp.me/pJQl5-7h)

Posted on July 6, 2011
Michael Gurstein
Vancouver, Canada

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