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.

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