Next steps: digging into open source thinking

November 16, 2007 § 1 Comment

As hinted in previous posts, I’m planning to spend the next few years digging deeper into how we can use networks and open source thinking for social change. Part of this is continued work with the community. Another part is open philanthropy and open education work with the Shuttleworth Foundation. A third bit is now coming into focus: reflecting more on ‘the meaning of open’ and feeding it into experiments with the Centre for Social Innovation and others here in Canada.

Luckily, I’ve stumbled across some good collaborators for this. The obvious one is my wife and CSI ED Tonya (we talk about this crazy network stuff almost every morning at 6am). Also, I’ve been bouncing ideas around with Jason Mogus, Michael Lewkowitz and Michael Manolson. These conversations have helped me shape up some questions I want to ask in this ‘reflecting and experimenting’ bit of my work. What I have sketched out so far is this:

As open source thinking spreads like wildfire, one has to ask: is there any ‘there’ there? And, if there is,  can the ideas and values bundled up in the word ‘open’ help change the way we change the world? Now is the time to dive into these questions and see what open source thinking can do.

Open source and web 2.0 have driven one of the biggest social innovations of our time: the use of massive and distributed collaboration to create knowledge, manage organizations and mobilize movements. These innovations are leading to significant changes in the media, education and the economy at large. They are  giving us new tools to do our work, and are also ushering in a new way of thinking. Open source thinking.

However, these technologies are only half the story. We are seeing the idea of ‘open’ pop up everywhere. Ideas about ‘open systems’. ‘open space’ and the ‘open society’ have been with us for years. But a scan of Wikipedia and the blogosphere turns up almost a dozen new ‘open’ or ‘open source’ domains including content, research, media, education, philanthropy, cities and even religion. The open meme – and open source thinking – are spreading.

The spread of the  open meme into worlds as diverse as systems theory, organizational design and software raises a number of important questions for those of us concerned with social innovation and social change:

  • Is ‘open’ really something to pay attention to? If so, what does it mean? What do things like open systems, open space meetings and open source software have in common?
  • Can open source thinking help us change the way we do social change? How can we leverage the values and tactics of ‘open’ to  accelerate social innovation?
  • How can social tech activists – people already using open source thinking for social change – help others weave weave open thinking into the way they work, play and innovate?

‘Open’ may simply be a fad. Or, it may be part of a new way of thinking and working that can help us break free of the ‘stuckness’ we feel in the worlds of social service, education, social change and philanthropy. Looking around, diving in and experimenting is the only way to sort out fad from massive opportunity.

I am posting this here because I’d love to get feedback on these questions at an early stage. Does this line of inquiry resonate? What other questions would you ask? What other kinds of ‘open’ would you look at? Are there other people doing similar work I should know about? Do you know of people in universities doing formal research that I could link into? Thoughts on any of these fronts would help.

I have to say, I feel like I am at a watershed moment: all of the networking / open thinking bits and pieces I am working on are coming together. At the same time, there seems to be support from many quarters to spend a bit of time reflecting and framing in a way that links everything together (or not). Fun. Fun. Fun.

§ One Response to Next steps: digging into open source thinking

  • Marnie Webb says:

    This line of questioning does resonate but I do feel that a lot of people have been working on the answers — that is, the questions come up time and time again. Have you read Steven Weber’s The Secrets of Open Source Success? That does a good job of looking at the success and methodologies of various open projects and thinking about this can be applied to other kinds of work (not necessarily social change work but still useful stuff).

    I think the real punch is in adding the DIY ethic of the open source movement with the accessibility and manipulation possibilities of data in the web 2.0 movement and looking at the ways those two things come together to create new possibilities around the idea of open.

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