Monthly Archives: March 2013

Revisiting openness: The Finnish Institute in London launches The Open Book at FutureEverything 2013

Institute’s Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen writes about the newly-released The Open Book.

It increasingly seems that everyone wishes to be ‘open’. What we really mean by ‘open’, however, is yet intriguingly unclear. Richard Stallman, one of the creative forces behind the free software movement, once aptly questioned the concept: in a hot room filled with enthusiastic advocates of ‘open’ the only thing he’d like to see opened was the nearby window. In other instances he’d prefer the word ‘free’.

We don’t know all the exact reasons for Mr Stallman to prefer word ‘free’ over ‘open’, of course, and that is not the key issue here. His anecdote about the window, however, illustrates the importance of words, and the meanings we attach to them. ‘Open’ can indeed mean a great variety of things and confusions may emerge if it is used carelessly.

In terms of digital openness, our friends at Open Knowledge Foundation have done a great job in creating and updating open data definitions. In societal terms, however, the question remains: why should we indeed be ‘open’? Isn’t it enough if we acted in the interests of social progression, fairness and equality? If we are to use ‘open’ as an adjective for desirable societal outcomes, much more effort is needed in order to conceptualise it properly.

Arguably, the narrative of openness has in places changed from emphasising citizens’ democratic rights of accessing public information to promoting transparency as means to enhancing economic efficiency of a given administration. Indeed, the word ‘open’ is argued to have significant economic connotations in relation to previously more often used word ‘public’. Moreover, there are arguments which state that many of the so called open government projects in fact support merely a better service delivery, not necessarily good governance or democracy.

The Finnish Institute tackles the problem of ‘open’ in The Open Book, a newly-released book created jointly between the Institute and Open Knowledge Foundation. The book was published officially last week at FutureEverything Summit of Ideas and Digital Invention in Manchester.

Photo by Paula Karlsson
The Open Book launch in Manchester attracted an enthusiastic

The Open Book does not attempt to present any single argument on what openness is or should be. Instead, it serves as a platform for discussion and a launching pad for new ideas about the future of a global open knowledge movement in a time of rapid technological progress.

In that sense the book aims at epitomising Institute’s mission of supporting the development of a knowledge society which is based on professional values of collaboration and intellectual autonomy. ‘Open’ in any of its forms is not a panacea, but we do believe that transparency can be a key to good governance and that inclusivity in public participation will lead to a stronger and a more cohesive civic society. Moreover, equality in social, physical and intellectual access to information is crucial in terms of diminishing the knowledge gap, which in many places may haunt the social progress.

The Open Book consists of two parts. Part One features a crowdsourced graphic-based concertina outlining the history of open knowledge in the form of a timeline. Part One takes a look at the evolution of open knowledge throughout its lifespan as a movement, highlighting key events that have contributed to its evolution in becoming a global movement for increased civil transparency.

Part Two offers an in-depth portrait of open knowledge as a concept, exploring its many facets through a series of articles written by the movement’s pioneers from around the globe. We have Joris Pekel arguing how the role of archivists is evolving from a mere preserver to a publisher and Joonas Pekkanen contemplating the future of citizen initiatives, a new political tool for the masses. Tarmo Toikkanen questions how do public interests, commercial interests, openly available knowledge and new, open methods of operation change the face of education. In total, it features 25 in-depth thought pieces written by pioneers of open knowledge movement from around the globe.

The Open Book is published as a part of Institute’s “Reaktio” book series. It is available in both printed and pdf formats. The Open Book can be freely copied, reused and redistributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Its contributors retain individual copyright over their respective contributions, and have kindly agreed to release them under the terms of this license. The timeline of open knowledge is also published online.

Download a free copy of The Open Book here.

What do we mean when talking about “Open Education”?

Laura Sillanpää from the Finnish Institute in London blogs about Open Education Week held 11–15 March 2013. 

The second annual Open Education Week took place last week 11–15 March. Several free webinars and local events were held worldwide varying from introductions and toolkit working groups on online communities and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to presentations and webinars on Open Educational Resources (OER) and open policies. The purpose of the week was to raise awareness of the global Open Education movement and opportunities it creates in teaching and learning worldwide. The movement strives for accessible high quality education through opening and sharing educational resources.

Before we can successfully promote open education (OE), according to Markus Deimann, researcher at the FernUniversität in Hagen, we need to know exactly what we mean when talking about “open”. In his webinar on the philosophical foundations of open education, Deimann reminded that the definition and meaning behind open education has changed much over time. In the 1970s, which marked the rise of the open education movement, open education was about emphasising student participation and individuality as well as flexible practices in the implementation of everyday education.

According to Creative Commons the underlying idea of open education, as we understand it today, is that by opening and sharing educational resources and spending public resources wisely can high quality and affordable education become accessible by everyone. The basis of open education lies nowadays much in the technological and digital development. However, open education should not be paralleled merely with open educational resources (OER). According to the definition given by Higher Education Academy, “open educational resources are digital materials that can be used, re-used and repurposed for teaching, learning, research and more, made freely available online through open licenses such as Creative Commons”.

Open education refers above all to the wide set of practices that promote high quality and accessible education. According to Deimann we have recently witnessed a shift from focusing on OER to emphasising open educational practices (OEP), which is linked to the perceived need to focus more on the entire learning process. Open educational practices can be defined as a range of practices that support the production, use and reuse of open educational resources focusing on everyone involved in the process, that is policy makers and administrators as well as teachers and learners alike.

An example of OEPs are open policies. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning in Creative Commons, held a webinar on Open Education Week during which he talked about open policies as an important factor in increasing the amount and quality of education.  Open policy refers to the use of publicly financed resources in an increasingly efficient and effective manner. Open policies, in other words, promote open licensing of resources funded publicly in the field of e.g. education, research, libraries, museums, data and software in order to maximise the impact of investments through the use and reuse of these resources.

According to Green open policies are currently implemented in a very de-centralised and fragmented manner. This is due to insufficient support for those open policy advocates, policymakers and organisations who wish to realise open policy practices as well as ignorance of the benefits that open licensing of resources brings about. Green states that governments can’t cope by themselves in creating, adopting and implementing open policies. Open Policy Network was created under Creative Commons to answer to this need of support. It strives for publicly funded resources becoming “open” by default as “closed” resources would be the exception.

Open education, on the whole, can be seen to increase more opportunities for people to learn. However, this does not happen automatically, Deimann reminds. Open education is a special form of learning and requires new competencies not everyone may possess. Therefore, we need more carefully designed training and education to provide people the tools and competencies with which to immerse in open education as well as policies helping to implement these practices.

Participatory budgeting and local open data: the Finnish Institute looks into ways of enhancing local democracy

Laura Sillanpää from the Finnish Institute in London blogs about the Institute’s newest project on participatory budgeting as a way to enhance local democracy.

Local authorities have traditionally played an essential role in local democracy. However, societal and structural changes and degenerating dependency ratio are creating new and challenging circumstances for local government in Finland and the UK alike. Therefore, new ideas and innovations are needed in order to safeguard the production of local public services and to enhance democratic citizen participation.

Recent British local democracy initiatives that have utilised digital city services, communal open data and participatory budgeting have been recognised by the Finnish Institute as useful examples when discussing the future of Finnish society and societal discourse.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is not particularly new initiative: it was established as a method of communal decision making in Brazil already in the late 1980s. It was first implemented in Porto Alegre from where it has since spread all over the world. The rapidly diminishing friction in creating and sharing information further increases its potential. Nowadays there are several models and ways to utilise PB at the local government level.

Participatory budgeting is generally seen as a way to enhance civic participation by including local people in the decision making of a defined public budget. It is especially topical today as governments face serious problems with rising expenditures and declining public funding as well as ever decreasing voting activity of citizens which is symptomatic of a broader development of citizens alienating from societal decision-making and participation. In other words, new and innovative measures are needed to ensure the democratic participation of all members of society.

The Finnish Institute will conduct a research on participatory budgeting in spring 2013. The purpose of the report is to evaluate the experiences of PB as a way to enhance local democracy and the service delivery in the United Kingdom. The ultimate goal is to evaluate how this information could be further exploited in the context of Finnish society and local government.

The research involves an investigation on PB projects carried out in the UK focusing especially on the required resources, experiences of participants, possible challenges and both positive and negative outcomes of the projects. The purpose is to explore critically the actual outcomes of PB projects by evaluating the input-output relationships. In other words, to examine and compare the resources invested and the experiences and gains that local governments and citizens were ultimately left with.

An important element of the enquiry is to find out what information citizens need in order to make informed decisions about local budgets. Open data in particular is believed to increase the transparency of government and decision-making as well as hoped to be one answer for the requirements of increased efficiency of service production.

With this report the Institute wishes to contribute to the increasingly important discussion on local democracy, public participation and service delivery. However, our primary goal is to be a catalyst for further, more concise discussion within the Finnish society. In the end of the day it is up to the Finnish society with its decision makers, civil servants, researchers, journalists, third sector actors and citizens themselves to carry it on.

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