We are opening: free textbooks for South Africa

April 15, 2008 Comments Off on We are opening: free textbooks for South Africa

Mark Horner launched his Siyavula blog this week! Yay! It’ll be a great way for people to track this ambitious and important open education project. For those of you who don’t know:

The objective is to make Open and Collaborative Resources (OCRs) a firm
and sustainable reality in the South African education system and, in
the process, make a massive contribution to improving the current crisis (just one short article but many exist).
We will make contributions which cover the entire curriculum, from
grades 1 through 12, for all learning areas in grades 1 through 9 and
the majority of subjects in grades 10 through 12.

What Mark fails to mention in his first post is his own experience running the Free High School Science Texts project. FHSST has successfully produced open, royalty free math and science texts for grade 10 – 12 using a collaborative, volunteer-driven approach. Given Mark’s chops, I’m convinced Siyavula will succeed.

Side note: in the Shuttleworth tradition of embedding vision and values in project names (Ubuntu), Siyavula is an  Nguni word meaning we are opening.

Open licensing, and how we work

March 31, 2008 Comments Off on Open licensing, and how we work

As I blogged previously, I’m doing a series of short pieces that look under the hood at the day to day work of the Shuttleworth Foundation. As the opening blurb to my first article says:

How We Work is a series of occasional articles that take a critical look at one aspect of our open philanthropy practice. Our aim is to reflect and improve upon our efforts while also sharing what we’ve learned with others.

The first target (or ‘victim’?) of this process was the Foundation’s open licensing policy. The whole team met back in January to reflect on our policy, talk about what is working and what isn’t and to dream up ideas for how to do it all better. I’ve just finished a draft write up from this conversation, with the main points summarized in the introduction:

The Shuttleworth Foundation believes in open innovation. It is core to the society we want to build. Early on, we made a decision that what we do and fund should be under an open license. Our goal was to make it easy for people to use, adapt and improve whatever our staff and partners created. We wanted maximum viral impact, and we saw open licensing as the first step in this direction.

As it turns out, making open licensing work isn’t easy, and going viral is even tougher. In the three years since embracing open licensing, we’ve bumped up against confusion over IP ownership, partners who are not willing to share, and lawyers who don’t ‘get’ open. Also, in many cases, we’ve simply lost track of materials our partners have created. They may be open, but no one can find them. Not even us.

The good news is we’re pushing past all of this, putting in place more systematic open licensing and archiving policies. As we do this, we thought we should write down how things have gone so far and explain where we are headed in the future. Hopefully, this will help others move into open licensing more quickly and successfully in the future.

Bottom line lessons and advice for other foundations are included briefly at the end of the article:

If you do decide to ‘go open’, it’s important to take the time to be thoughtful about how it happens. Our experience suggests that there are three issues to pay particular attention to: license choice (choose a license like CC BY SA that has maximum viral impact); ownership (think about who has a stake in making ideas travel and keeping them open; and accessibility (make a clear plan for access and archiving). These are three areas we tripped up on, and that we’re now working to improve.

There is a full version of the draft on Google Docs. I’d love to get comments and feedback on this as I will be doing at least one more version before we ‘publish’ it.

Processwise, I still like the idea of the How We Work series. The face-to-face team discussion was especially good, putting us all on the same page (or close to it) in terms of open licensing. It also surfaced some internal controversy on when our partners should own IP and when we should steward it ourselves. As a result, we were able to tweak our new open licensing policy so that it meets a broader set of needs and circumstances.

I’m less than sure on the write up format. It’s good to have a formal, reflective article. The process of writing something like this deepens the thinking and even had an impact back on the follow up policy discussions. However, all the back and forth (and my own delays) made the whole process feel really felt slowwwwwwww. For the next topic (internal learning?), I may blog out loud early in the process and then come out with a more formal article a little later. I’d love comments on whether or not this mixed formal / informal writing strategy sounds useful.

Planting seeds with open content

March 3, 2008 § 2 Comments

John Moravec of Education Futures posted today on the Cape Town Declaration, worrying that open course materials will do little to change education. He asks:

Is there something else that we should focus on where we can use new technological and social models to develop innovative tools for education?

The answer is: of course! There are dozens of things that pop to mind immediately: Tools that capture, share and evolve the tacit knowledge involved in teaching practices (LAMS). Peer-to-peer learning platforms where students support each other and teachers become more like facilitators (Kusasa). Sites that connect ‘amateur’ teachers with interested learners (The School of Everything). For-credit classes that embed students in the real time, hands on learning environment of an open source software community (Seneca College). Or simply DIY learning by doing, which is the point of the web and open source in the first place (Wikipedia). While most of these are nascent examples yet to scale or even prove themselves, they hint at where things are going.

It surprises me how many people jump to the conclusion that the Cape Town Declaration ignores all this. The people who wrote the Declaration — and I suspect most people who signed it — totally get how education can and is changing. That’s why the Declaration says things like:

We have a chance to nurture a new generation of learners who engage with open educational materials, are empowered by their learning and share their new knowledge and insights with others.

… and encourages people not only to think about content but also to:

… pursue additional strategies in open educational technology, open sharing of teaching practices and other approaches that promote the broader cause of open education.

We have a huge opportunity to transform what we mean by ‘education’ in the next 25 years. This will (hopefully) include a shift to more participatory, p2p, informal, learner driven approaches education.This shift may in turn totally transform how we deal with accreditation (can I prove what I taught myself) and even the whole way we organize publicly funded education (can me and my friends set up our own school with tax dollars?). While no one agrees on exactly how this will (or should) play out, one thing is clear: it won’t happen all at once.

This is one reason the Cape Town Declaration focuses on educational content. We need a place to start. Opening up the content we use for learning, making it not only accessible but also remixable, is a super important first step. Once we’ve got the political, legal and technical seeds of a remix culture spread throughout the world of education, who knows what else we can create? I guess the idea is that we get to invent it along the way.

Open, philanthropy and a theory of change

February 28, 2008 § 4 Comments

A number of people have been asking me lately: what happened with the open philanthropy work that you posted about last September?

In addition to lots of fruitful little experiments (more on these later), my main work on the open philanthropy front has been on the Shuttleworth Foundation theory of change. In our own words, the purpose of this exercise is to ‘explain what we do, simply’. While we may not have hit that mark yet, we have definitely forced ourselves to start digging into what we mean by open philanthropy. The current draft looks like this:

One of the first questions we stumbled across as we worked on this picture was ‘what does an open philanthropy way of working look like?’ We brainstormed a ton on this. Some of the ideas we came up with simply described our values as a team (e.g. integrity and irreverence). However, we also unearthed a few things that feel like the essence of the open philanthropy practice we’re currently inventing. While the list is still likely to evolve, these include:

  1. Open source everything. Everything that the Foundation creates, funds or helps with should be open sourced. This means: under an open license; available in an open format; and accessible from a public web site, always.
  2. Share. Leverage. Share again. Open source is not just about giving (share), it’s also about receiving (leverage). You don’t need to look far in the software world to see this. Something like Ubuntu rests on the shoulders (and code) of giants who have shared tremendously. However, it only succeeds by leveraging these existing assets to create even more value, and then giving it back again. It’s this leverage and share again process to moves things ahead. The Foundation can use this same share|leverage|share cycle to drive collaborative social innovation and radical improvement in areas like education.
  3. Community as part of everything. Despite the rhetoric, most philanthropy and social investment happens in silos. The result is zero leverage, poor use of resources and slow progress. The Foundation needs to get down and dirty with communities working on education, innovation and access each step of the way. This means constantly looking at who’s doing similar work, inviting them to our parties, and going to theirs. It also means befriending the enemies of those working against us. The open source world has lots to teach us about this. So does Gramsci.
  4. Radical transparency. A core piece of ‘open‘ — open source, open events, open societies, open systems
    — is being able to see what’s under the hood. When you can see inside
    something, you can understand it, interface with it, hack it or rip it
    off altogether. If something is closed, you can’t. Radical transparency
    means opening up not only your yearly books (we need to do this
    anyways), but also openly sharing your planning, learning and
    relationships as you go along. This doesn’t have to be hard: just take
    the password off the wiki and podcast your events. By the doing things
    like this, the Foundation is likely to have partners who come with
    better ideas (interface), offer improvements (hack) and even run with
    things on their own (rip it off). That’s what we want.
  5. Listen, learn, evolve: constantly. The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us that markets are conversations. It’s strange to me that so few activists have learned that the same is true of social change. Open philanthropy must include constant engagement and conversation with partners, activists, policymakers and (god forbid) customers. Knowing what these people think in real time with 80% accuracy (using cluetrain-style market research) is way better than finding out with 99% accuracy five years too late (using the rigorous and expensive evaluation processes that foundations love). This is especially true if people think what you are doing sucks, as you’ve still got time to fix it. The Foundation needs to get involved in this kind of listening in a very systematic way, and then to use what it is hearing and learning to steer the ship.

In the Shuttleworth team, we already embrace some of these things in our daily practice, even if we do so far from perfectly. Everything we do and fund is under an open license. Initiatives like Siyavula and the Cape Town Open Education Declaration have community at their heart. And, we do listen, learn and evolve faster than any other foundation I have worked with. Open is deep in the DNA of the Shuttleworth Foundation, the team and most of our partners.

The thing is, embracing with these ideas isn’t the same as succeeding with them. We’re still a long way from having a break away hit with open sourced education. In fact, we’re just starting (after four years of trying) to become more systematic about open licensing and archiving the things produced by the Foundation and its partners. And, we’re still a ways off from a systematic approach to learning and transparency. The Foundation — and this infant idea of open philanthropy — are works in progress. We know that. It’s part of the fun.

The theory of change discussion also forced us to look at our assumptions about how ideas move and how innovation happens. These ideas are even more in flux that the ones above, and will be subject to further discussion. In any case, some things that seem true so far include:

  • Only some ideas will get traction. Our core, day to day work is investing in people and ideas that drive innovation in education, telecom and intellectual property. Our hope is that this work bubbles up some good ideas, and that the people behind these ideas will run with them. However, we know that only some of these ideas will get traction. That’s okay. These are the ones we want to back, and that the open philanthropy approach can accelerate and improve.
  • Good ideas need to become real products, services and policies. Transitioning from a good idea to something people use everyday is hard work. The Foundation and the open philanthropy process need to be focused on putting this hard work into ideas that are viable. This includes making sure ideas are well packaged and productized (even policy ideas need to be ‘easy to use’), building communities and (social) markets around them and thinking deeply about their long term viability and sustainability out in the wild. It’s only with hard work in these areas — and then some degree of good fortune — that the ideas we back ideas will start to have the kind education, innovation and access to knowledge impact that we are seeking. 
  • If we’re lucky, some ideas will go viral. The ideas that really scale — at least in the short term — will do so because they go viral. This is the real potential of open philanthropy. With open sourced ideas and strong communities, the conditions are right for going viral. But, scaling an idea this way also involves a tremendous amount of luck and serendipity. It also involves listening and being willing to jump when the opportunity arises. This is something we’ll need to train ourselves to do.

This is still early theorizing. However, it feels like the core principles here have some merit: filter for ideas with traction; be rigorous about packaging and promoting ideas with promise; and jump on opportunities to spread and go viral. By doing these things, we’re hoping that we can catalyze enduring changes to policy, practice and culture eventually nurture an open knowledge society (I guess we’d better define that one soon, but not in this post). It’ll be interesting to see what works, and even more interesting to evolve our thinking along the way.

Anyways, that’s a quick answer to those who asked what’s up on the open philanthropy front. Fun stuff. More soon.

PS. The PDF version of the digram above is here.

Shuttleworth Foundation ‘how we work’ club

January 24, 2008 Comments Off on Shuttleworth Foundation ‘how we work’ club

On this trip, I’ve started doing my open philanthropy work at the Shuttleworth Foundation. The biggest piece of this is developing the Foundation’s theory of change and an accompanying open philanthropy manifesto (will post on this soon). The other bit is developing a series of ‘how we work’ papers.

The idea with the ‘how we work’ series is to show what open philanthropy means in practice and to encourage other people to rip off / emulate our ideas. Hopefully, the writing process will also help with internal reflection and learning. Maybe we’re on to something with all this ‘open’ stuff, or maybe it’s boohucky. The only way to find out is to look closely at how we are actually working.

In the spirit of transparency and openness (open philanthropy rule #6), I am posting my notes on the ‘how we work’ series below. Please comment, criticize and suggest additional topics.

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Open philanthropy ‘under the hood’
article series

Series of papers that explain how we
work and why. The series both gives us a chance to reflect on our
practices (lunch time chats) and share open philanthropy practices
we’re proud of with others (the papers).


While this is an opt-in activity,
everyone in the Foundation is invited to get involved. Some people
will write these short articles. Others will simply participate in
bookclubesque chats where we reflect on the topic to be covered in an
upcoming article.


Series of 10 – 12 papers on how we do
things. Each paper is written by a staff member or a fellow based on
a team wide lunch time discussion on the topic at hand.

The papers should be lightweight,
practical and easy to read. The target length is 2 – 3 pages. At this
stage, we’re assuming each article will cover five questions:

  • what we do (describe the practice)
  • why do it (connects to open
    philanthropy idea)
  • what’s working
  • what’s hard / broken / ineffective
  • steal this idea (step by step / tips
    / example materials)

Possible topics for the series include:

  • Grant contracts, CC licensing and
    keeping stuff ‘free’ ”(Mark w/Karen)”
  • How our fellowship program works, and
    why ”(Jason and Karien)”
  • Theory of Change, what is and how we
    built it ”(Mark S)”
  • Book club: being serious can be fun
  • Cape Town Declaration as network
    building ”(Mark S)”
  • Freedom Toaster as spin off example,
    warts and all ”(??)”
  • Wikifying your foundation ”(??)”
  • Blogging your foundation inside out
  • Using and promoting open document

Mark Surman will start with
the ‘CC licensing topic’ in February. More topics will probably make
themselves evident as we go along.


One of the open philanthropy principles in our Theory of Change is: listen, learn and evolve, constantly. That’s why we are doing this. Specific goals include:

  • reflect on how we work (lunch chats)
  • use reflection to become more nimble,
    open and effective (better practices)
  • document how we work so others will
    emulate (papers + podiums)
  • spark a conversation on ‘open’ with
    other foundations (parties)
  • get feedback and ideas from other
    foundations to help
    us improve
    (better practices)

There is also a piece in here about ‘share, leverage and share again’ which is another of the principles in our theory of change.


The papers would be released monthly,
probably with some sort of fanfare. We could also do a brief seminar
on each paper. This could in turn be podcast.

PS. Full disclosure: anything thing that prompted the ‘put this stuff up totally openly on my blog’ approach is that I can’t access either of the Foundation wikis right now. However, ‘as public as possible’ is probably the right attitude here, so I think I’ll keep posting stuff like this here.

Old leftists are so boring

January 24, 2008 Comments Off on Old leftists are so boring

David Wiley came back with a Cape Town Declaration Spoof Both Funny and Depressing retort last night. Making the Linux / open content comparison, he writes:

If you’re having trouble imagining what Linux would look like without
the involvement and support of these companies, let me help you out –
just think about where open education is today.

He is right, of course. The underlying ‘keep free content (or
software or whatever) pure and non-commercial’  arguments behind the spoof are boohucky. We live if a hybridized-overlapping-all-the-models-and-boundaries-you-grew-up-with-are-gone kinda world. That’s a good and creative thing.

Personally, I try to steer clear of arguments on this topic. They’re old and they’re tired. Laughing is easier and nicer.

Of course, I am happy to engage in what I see as the bigger underlying question here: how to we rebuild our political imagination now that 19th century notions of left vs. right / commercial vs. social / owner vs. worker are totally broken? We desperately need new political lenses. Digging into ‘open’ and imagining what these new lenses might look like is a very interesting topic indeed.

Swansea Declaration on Open Edutainment

January 23, 2008 Comments Off on Swansea Declaration on Open Edutainment

While imitation is truly the form of flattery, mockery is also right up there. So, it was with a huge smile that I read the Swansea Declaration on Open Edutainment on the iCommons list. This spoof of the Cape Town Declaration press release includes humdingers like:

Open edutainment makes the link between teaching, learning and the capitalist culture of the Internet. It includes creating and sharing materials used in teaching  as well as new private-sector approaches to learning where people create and shape “knowledge” together. These new practices promise to provide students with edutainment materials that are individually tailored to their learning style encouraging the growth of an individualist and consumerist notion of education. There  are already over 100,000 such open edutainment resources available on the Internet. Of course, the rich people will still continue to get first class “traditional” education at expensive private schools and Ivy-League universities, these open edutainent resources are meant for the plebs who, let’s face it can’t concentrate for more than five seconds and so find it easier to have their teaching delivered via shoot-em-up video-game, or in super-small bite-sized chunks that don’t challenge them. This also handily makes them into the ideal 21st Century consumers of web-content, downloadable iPod-games and shiny and sparkly facebook applications.


“Open sourcing edutainment doesn’t just make learning more accessible, it makes more money and people do it for free so we don’t need to pay employees or pesky teachers,” said really rich Linux Entrepreneur Mack  Shuttletree,  “Linux is succeeding and generating huge profits exactly because of this sort of adaptability. The same kind of success is possible for open edutainment.”

Looks like this was written by David Berry at Swansea University. Thanks, David. While I don’t agree with your take on the commons (papers and spoofs alike), I love that you made me laugh.

Open education revolution picks up steam

January 23, 2008 § 1 Comment

The conversation about open education picked up some steam yesterday with the official launch of the Cape Town Declaration yesterday. There was lots of good coverage including a nice piece on ZDNet UK and an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jimmy and Rich. I just posted the following to Slashdot:

"ZDNet is running a story on the Cape Town Open Education Declaration which is "… designed to echo the disruptive effect that open source had on the proprietary software world by opening up the development and distribution of educational materials." The declaration calls for more educational materials to be open sourced and freely shared (like MIT did), and says that "all taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open". Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu), Larry Lessig (CC), musician Peter Gabriel and hundreds of teachers have already signed the Declaration."

… to try to build buzz further. If you want to help out, you can click here to vote for this article and get it on the Slashdot editors’ radar.

There was some criticism of the Declaration before it launched. Philipp Schmidt did a great job of summarizing and countering the key criticisms in a post yesterday.My guess is that there will be more debate as the buzz builds. Of course, that’s partly the point of the Declaration in the first place: to amp up the conversation about open education.

If you want to keep track of the Cape Town Declaration buzz, watch David Wiley’s blog and track the ‘capetowndeclaration‘ tag on del.icio.us.

As my friend Maureen says: wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. This is fun.

Creative (and open?) philanthropy

January 14, 2008 Comments Off on Creative (and open?) philanthropy

Over the holidays, Tonya, the boys and I felt a huge debt of gratitude to Helen Carmichael and John Dash who let us use their house while they rode the rails in Wales. This gratitude was in part for the warm and beautiful nest from which we could explore Hackney (loved it soooo much) and enjoy a London Christmas (truly as romantic as it sounds). But we also felt grateful for the ideas and inspiration that inspiration that Helen and John shared through their wonderful collection of books.


Especially notable was Creative Philanthropy (PDF summary) by Helmut Anheier and Diana Leat, which Helen had very kindly left on the bedside table (on purpose, I’m guessing). Released in 2006, this book hit directly on many of the things I’ve been scratching at as I talk about open philanthropy:

  • Most foundations (and even government grant making programs) are stuck in limiting, old fashioned ideas about charity and engineering solutions to social problems.
  • Foundations should be focused more on big picture social change, using their independence to take risks, try new things and shift thinking.
  • Big picture social change requires a focus on innovation, a commitment the spreading good ideas widely and a comfort with complexity.

At some level, much of this is obvious. Yet, there are very few foundations that focus on the kinds of innovation needed for big picture social change … and waaaaaaaay fewer who have transformed their day to day business practices to focus on openness and creativity (or whatever other words you want to use). It’s this focus on this transformation of practice that makes Creative Philanthropy so valuable, and that is at the core of the work I’m doing at the Shuttleworth Foundation.

It’s is always a great gift to find kindred spirits. I feel like I’ve stumbled across a number with Helen, John and the authors of this book. I will definitely look them up when I am through London next. Hopefully, there is a vibrant conversation about creative philanthropy going on that I have yet to discover. My intuition says there is.

Cape Town Declaration. Read it! Sign it!

December 7, 2007 Comments Off on Cape Town Declaration. Read it! Sign it!

Over the past couple of months, I have been working with an amazing group of people committed to the idea of open education. The group ranged from university lecturers from South Africa to a woman managing a free textbook project in Uganda to America open education pioneers to a free culture activist from Poland to the founder of Wikipedia. Coming from a dozen countries, it was one of the most diverse, productive and creative groups I have worked with in a long time.


Working together, this group has produced the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. Intended to inspire and accelerate the growth of open education, the Declaration begins:

"We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go."

While these may sound like high-minded, idealistic words, they reflect something that is actually going on. There is an open education movement afoot around the world. And, the aims of this movement are as ambitious as those of projects like Wikipedia, not only providing access to all knowledge but injecting collaboration in to the core of how we create and share knowledge.

Of course, the Declaration is not just about big visions. It also includes a number of practical strategies and recommendations. All taxpayer-funded educational content should be open educational content. Open educational content should be licensed so that it is not just free as in beer, but also free for remixing, translating and redistribution. Teachers should be supported and rewarded if they want to engage in open education. These ideas can guide our daily open education practice and also act as policy levers, especially if we can get 1000s of people to sign on to the Declaration.

It’s worth noting that we’ve already taken some flack for the Declaration. Concerns have been around things like the need to better include informal learning and the strong focus on open educational resources. There have been some very good (and more eloquent than I could have written) responses as well, especially from David Wiley.

Please take a look at the Cape Town Declaration, let us know what you think … and sign on if you agree.

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