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.


Fifty shades of open

Open source. Open access. Open society. Open knowledge. Open government. Even open food. The word “open” has been applied to a wide variety of words to create new terms, some of which make sense, and some not so much.

This essay disambiguates the many meanings of the word “open” as it is used in a wide range of contexts.


The University of Alicante’s institutio…

The University of Alicante’s institutional strategy to promote the open dissemination of knowledge :
« Purpose : Information and communication technologies have became pervasive in people’s lives and in this changing world education cannot remain anchored in old-fashioned models which ignore the evolution through which society is going. This paper seeks to present the gamble made by the University of Alicante (Spain) on the promotion of open knowledge.

Design/methodology/approach : The educational environment cannot continue to be fixed, closed and isolated, where students – assuming a basically passive role – receive standardised teaching. It must consequently experience a fast and decisive transformation which allows it, amongst other things, to respond to the new challenge posed by society: the need for all of us to share the knowledge we generate, so that further progress can be made.

Findings : The Institutional Repository (RUA) and the OpenCourseWare of the University of Alicante (OCW-UA) were conceived from the very beginning as related projects that could constitute consecutive phases in the open publication of knowledge. In this way the aim of presenting the promotion of open knowledge not as a series of discrete projects but as a global strategic gamble of the institution was achieved. In addition to the most visible educational benefits, this policy has had the virtue of favouring the assumption by the University of its role as an online provider of quality (scientific and teaching) content.

Originality/value : RUA is the storage place of all the teaching materials published by the University of Alicante’s teaching staff, which are retrieved from OCW-UA, while OCW-UA serves as an organisational model of teaching content self-archived by the teaching staff in RUA. The connection between the projects has allowed the presentation of the promotion of open knowledge as a global strategic gamble of the University, which has contributed to a greater acceptance by the teaching staff. This work is original in that it shows a successful experience of involvement by one university and its members in the promotion of open knowledge. »