I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to think about what “openness” means. It is certainly the buzz word of a web 2.0 and social media age; but what message are we trying to convey when we throw that term out? Unfortunately I think we get it confused with and mistakenly think it is a synonym for crowdsourced. I think both concepts are very important, but they refer to different ideas. Openness means sharing information with a community and letting them see and hopefully understand how decisions are made.
I’m involved in a couple of really fun projects in the City of London, one of which is PodCamp London. PodCamps are free unconferences; the attendees decide what sessions take place. There is no booked keynote speaker, and everyone is encouraged to move about during the day. Conversations and topic discussions spontaneously pop up in the hallways and information is shared in a casual and transparent manner.
Yet the planning of the event is still somewhat traditional. The community isn’t asked to provide input on every detail of the day. There are decisions to be made, and that requires an organizing committee. A group of people, who remain accountable to the attendees, and yet make decisions that will effect them.
That doesn’t mean that PodCamp London isn’t open. The attendees have a huge say in how the day unfolds. However without a group of people making final decisions the event could never place. I think this illustrates two other important components of openness; transparency and accountability.
As I work on numerous projects, I push for openness. I also understand that I won’t nor should I be involved in every decision. There will always be things that have to remain behind closed doors and sometimes it is necessary to work within existing frameworks that don’t look like they promote any form of openness.
When we push for open concepts, whether it be government, data, or the organizing of conferences, lets make sure that we understand what we want to achieve. Openness is great, it just needs context to be effective.