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Archive for May, 2011


Opening Up Is Hard To Do (Part 1)

   Posted by: wkossen    in Uncategorized

Do not pick the flowers
Photo by quinn.anyaLast Thursday, may 12th 2011, I spoke at the Spring Conference of the Dutch Unix User Group. This conference was themed Open is Efficient. The culmination of 11 years of IT Consultancy boiled down to my presentation. For these 11 years, most of my clients were in Government or semi-government organisations, so that’s what the presentation was about. Why is it so hard for these not-for-profit public organisations to adopt Open.

The first think I did after my introduction was placing Open on the standard stack that IT Architects as myself draw up:

Information / Application

When you do that, it looks like this:

Business: Open Processes (?) = Transparency!
Information / Application: Open Data, Public Domain, Creative Commons, Some Open Standards (Semantics) etc.
Technology: Open Source, Open Standards and Specifications

The new thing here is my position that

. This is an important observation as it serves to address the problems with Open Standards, Open Data and Open Source as being seen as technology things which aren’t ‘important’ to business people. That is in fact one of the reasons these Open things aren’t on every manager’s shortlist. Transparency actually touches their stuff. That is what you can talk to them about. Once they ‘get’ transparency, the other things follow naturally as they support transparency, democracy and freedom.

So why is it hard to open up? There are a number of reasons:

One. Private property and ownership. These concepts are ages old. Organisations, and people within them, have the idea that the information they are working on is theirs. In the case of public organisations, they’re wrong. The stuff they’re working on is owned by those paying for it, the tax-payers, us. So hiding stuff from us isn’t the way to go unless there are specific reasons (like endangering people’s lives). All information that isn’t a real and direct hazard when open, should be open.

Property and ownership are very old. They became important when we moved from the hunter-gatherer life into agriculture. In agriculture, the investment you make in terms of time and effort to get food is very big. This means that it’s very important to protect your crop, your field, your granary. Compared to the earlier life, where the investment may top a week (for a large hunting trip), farmers deal with months. Also, when people live together in villages, automatic sharing is lost. Where hunter-gatherers would travel (nomads) in small family groups, now several families flock together and each cares for their own fields, trading amongst themselves. Ownership is important in that situation.

When it comes to government information, this concept isn’t practical anymore. Yet it seems to be hard-coded into our brains. This is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon and not a rational choice. Therefor, rational argumentation doesn’t help at all to fight it. That’s one of the reasons that it is so hard to get rid of this behaviour.

In next posts I will cover more reasons, so stay tuned.