What Open ICT4D Is Not

We do not include in the definition of openness the concepts of property (proprietary and non-proprietary), public goods or the commons. An alternative approach to defining openness would be one that focused on directly these issues. Benkler, for example, takes this focus with his notion of “commons-based development” (Benkler, 2006). Benkler is concerned with when, how and why commons-based (non-market or state-based) management and production using ICTs might be good for development. However, we have opted not to follow this path for the following two reasons:

  1. It is controversial: Sometimes (but certainly not always) the arguments for openness can take on (or be perceived as taking on) a more ideological position – for example, as a direct challenge of the notion of property rights in many domains. Rather than taking this position a priori, we are looking to establish an empirically informed position regarding the benefits of open processes for ICT4D and what legal-institutional arrangements are best for achieving developmental outcomes.
  1. It is an overly narrow definition: Our focus is on understanding when, why, and how ICT4D processes have increased value when employing open processes that may come from market, state or commons-based methods. Given the different nature of the goods we are dealing with (technologies and content) different combinations of property regimes are probably required in diverse contexts to maximise developmental benefit – and to limit the discussion to those that are commons-based development would thus limit the range of potential applications that we consider.

This is not to say that these concepts are not important to understanding the role of openness. Indeed, our understanding is that the nature of property rights regimes used to manage resources plays a crucial role in determining openness. It is not, however, openness itself. This is because, as discussed above, openness of some good (content, decision-making or production process) will generally depend upon a variety of different property regimes operating concurrently. For example, content may be freely available while running on proprietary software over an open wireless spectrum. Thus, we are agnostic as to organizational and proprietary regimens through which content or technology should be produced and managed, be it through a market, state or commons-based property regime. For example, a well-functioning and sustainable production and management scheme that is mostly proprietary but provides relatively open content is arguably preferable to a non-sustainable system that is commons-based.

Furthermore, openness also is not about competitive or liberalised markets or trade regimes, or open competition (Wunsch-Vincent, Reynolds & Wyckoff, 2007). To reiterate: the existing configuration of property regimes and organizational forms that produce, disseminate and maintain certain goods are essential components of the social environment that determine the relative openness of a particular good. Indeed, it was through the market liberalisation and increased competition in the telecommunications sector that access to the Internet has been opened up to a broader public. However, such a situation provides the platform upon which more openness is made possible, but is not itself openness.

Next: Determinants of Openness

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