Openness as social praxis

Authors : Matthew Longshore Smith, Ruhiya Seward

Since the early 2000s, there has been an explosion in the usage of the term open, arguably stemming from the advent of networked technologies — including the Internet and mobile technologies.

‘Openness’ seems to be everywhere, and takes many forms: from open knowledge, open education, open data and open science, to open Internet, open medical records systems and open innovation. These applications of openness are having a profound, and sometimes transformative, effect on social, political and economic life.

This explosion of the use of the term has led to multiple interpretations, ambiguities, and even misunderstandings, not to mention countless debates and disagreements over precise definitions.

The paper “Fifty shades of open” by Pomerantz and Peek (2016) highlighted the increasing ambiguity and even confusion surrounding this term. This article builds on Pomerantz and Peek’s attempt to disambiguate the term by offering an alternative understanding to openness — that of social praxis.

More specifically, our framing can be broken down into three social processes: open production, open distribution, and open consumption. Each process shares two traits that make them open: you don’t have to pay (free price), and anyone can participate (non-discrimination) in these processes.

We argue that conceptualizing openness as social praxis offers several benefits. First, it provides a way out of a variety of problems that result from ambiguities and misunderstandings that emerge from the current multitude of uses of openness.

Second, it provides a contextually sensitive understanding of openness that allows space for the many different ways openness is experienced — often very different from the way that more formal definitions conceptualize it.

Third, it points us towards an approach to developing practice-specific theory that we believe helps us build generalizable knowledge on what works (or not), for whom, and in what contexts.


The openness buzz in the knowledge economy: Towards taxonomy

Authors : Anna Lundgren, Hans Westlund

In the networked information and knowledge-based economy and society, the notions of ‘open’ and ‘openness’ are used in a variety of contexts; open source, open access, open economy, open government, open innovation – just to name a few.

This paper aims at discussing openness and developing a taxonomy that may be used to analyse the concept of openness. Are there different qualities of openness? How are these qualities interrelated?

What analytical tools may be used to understand openness? In this paper four qualities of openness recurrent in literature and debate are explored: accessibility, transparency, participation and sharing. To further analyse openness new institutional theory as interpreted by Williamson (2000) is used, encompassing four different institutional levels; cultural embeddedness, institutional environment, governance structure and resource allocations.

At what institutional levels is openness supported and/or constrained? Accessibility as a quality of openness seems to have a particularly strong relation to the other qualities of openness, whereas the notions of sharing and collaborative economics seem to be the most complex and contested quality of openness in the knowledge-based economy.

This research contributes to academia, policy and governance, as handling of challenges with regard to openness vs. closure in different contexts, territorial, institutional and/or organizational, demand not only a better understanding of the concept, but also tools for analysis.