Sarah and I read a ton of books related to open business models in 2015. We’ve referenced a few of them in our writings. The picture above shows most of the books I read in 2015. They are all interesting in their own way (and I encourage you to read them all) but I thought I’d create a 2015 top 10 recommended book reading list from the collection along with a few notes on why each book is of interest. If you have recommendations for books we should read in 2016 leave a note with your suggestion.
1. The Art of Asking
by Amanda Palmer
The best open business model related book I read in 2015. Amanda Palmer’s personal account of her evolution as an artist and the methods she uses toconnect with and get financial support from her fans and followers shows what is truly possible. This is a must read book for anyone trying to transition to an open business model that relies on community engagement.
2. Business Model Generation Handbookhttp://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/book
by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
This book establishes a common framework for understanding what makes up a business model. It provides a business model canvas with nine core building blocks and corresponding set of questions as a tool for designing and prototyping business models. In 2015 our Creative Commons open business model initiative remixed and modified this canvas into an open business model canvas and associated questions. We used this for everything from analyzing how open companies are, to designing open business models for startups, and as a hands on activity in workshops helping people create their own open business model. Try it out for yourself!
3. Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity, and the Commons
by Max Haiven
Suggests capitalism encloses time, communities, resources, the environment and even our imagination creating a kind of futility and cynicism. Calls for a radical re-imagining of value and taking back collective creative cooperative action separate from the market and government. Promotes the creation of a new commons of social reproduction outside the command and control of capital, including new and rekindled forms of community care, horizontal and grassroots democratic decision-making and local production. Also calls for reclaiming public institutions (schools, hospitals, public works) from the market in the name of the public and increasingly democratizing and rendering these institutions common, so as to “avoid the enclosure of public bodies by bureaucracy and crypto-capitalist models of ‘efficiency.’”
4. Free Knowledge — Confronting the Commodification of Knowledge
Edited by Patricia W. Elliott and Daryl H. Hepting
This book is a wonderful collection of essays exploring how knowledge is generated and shared, and to what purpose. It pays particular attention to the rapid appropriation of public knowledge for private benefit around the globe and across multiple sectors and disciplines. Specific examples in education, the pharmaceutical industry, biomedical research, and even seeds are explored. Alternatives to this commodification of knowledge are described including indigenous and traditional knowledge and open access research publishing. Some pretty profound emerging ideas reframing the future are put forward including the economics of information in a post-carbon economy and the study of abundance. An a-ha book for me as referenced in earlier Medium writings.
5. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons, and The Eclipse of Capitalism
by Jeremy Rifkin
This book describes how the capitalist era is passing and being replaced with a new economic paradigm it calls the “collaborative commons”. It documents how the collaborative commons is changing a wide range of fields from renewable energy, to marketing, logistics, transport, education, manufacturing and health care. It explores how the two economic systems currently work in tandem and sometimes compete. However it argues that technologies impact on the economy has already created a marginal cost of zero model that wreaks havoc with the capitalist model and new forms of sharing and collaboration are further leading to its decline. A fascinating depiction of an emerging new economy.
6. Governing Knowledge Commons
Edited by: Brett Frischmann, Michael Madison, and Katherine Strandberg
This book contributes to evidence-based policy making about innovation and creative production in the knowledge commons. It draws on Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning work around natural resource based commons and adapts that work to the knowledge and information commons. It’s an important book for the way it adds a third approach to traditional views of methods for promoting innovation and creativity. The two traditional approaches are, 1. innovation systems organized around markets, supported by intellectual property rights directed to exclusivity and ownership, and 2. innovation systems organized around governments, which intervene in markets in various ways to sponsor and subsidize innovation. The third approach explored in this book is commons-based sharing of knowledge and information to produce innovation and creativity.
7. Society 3.0
by Ronald van den Hoff
Written by one of our Kickstarter backers this book describes society in transition. It documents how the web, social capital, and value networks, are creating an interdependent economy and new ways of not only doing business but functioning as a society. It shows how this transition is playing out in the environment, work, money, democracy, education, health and even the organization of businesses. Written with a particular critical eye on the state of affairs in Europe this book describes and advocates for new ways of governing and functioning as a society. It provides some good insights on social, co-creation, and transactional business concepts with specific suggestions and examples of how to set up and operate a new kind of business.
8. Think Like a Commoner
by David Bollier
This book traces the history of the commons and dispels the myth of the “tragedy of the commons”. It presents the commons as an ageless paradigm of cooperation and fairness and suggests that it is re-emerging as a practical new form of self-governance and production controlled by people themselves. A key aspect of this book is helping us all think differently and seeing the commons as a framework for social action and value production. Does a good job of exploring the logic of the market and the commons.
9. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
by Lewis Hyde
Not a new book but an important one for the way it explores the artist’s dilemma. At its core this book investigates the way that “every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange.” Examines the anthropology of gifts as a kind of property and gift exchange as a kind of commerce. Important for the way it delineates the differences between a gift and a commodity and for describing the human aspects of gift giving and sharing.
10. Information Doesn’t Want to be Free — Laws for the Internet Age
by Cory Doctorow
Quoting the promotional blurb “Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? This is a book about the pitfalls and the opportunities that creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today — about how the old models have failed or found new footing, and about what might soon replace them.” As others have done it emphasizes the importance of building an audience through open sharing. It also examines past business strategies of creative industries and shows how they have been adapted to the Internet. Most provocative of all it looks at how ever increasing copyright laws mess up artists and endanger privacy, freedom and our digital lives.
A short summary of what I have learned from this collection of books goes like this:
- The commons has been increasingly enclosed and commoditized by government and market forces for decades.
- Technology and the Internet have generated a distributed and participatory means of production and can store and distribute goods at near zero cost.
- Zero marginal cost creates abundance (or the potential for abundance) which traditional market economics has no model for.
- The commons has new relevance, particularly the digital commons, and is re-emerging as an important alternate means of achieving social and economic aims.
- The commons is not just a place with content and resources but a social process, enabled by technology, that involves people participating, co-operating, sharing, and collaborating.
- The social process of commons practice is affecting all sectors of society including education, manufacturing, health, energy, work, and even money itself.
- The re-emerging commons does not mean the elimination of business or work but does mean business and work are done differently.
- Commons-based ways of working and doing business are being invented right now and must co-exist and sometimes compete with existing models.
Filed under: Creative Commons, open business models, Uncategorized | Tags: Abundance, business models, Noun Project, Opendesk, Scarcity, Wikimedia
Originally published on Medium 15-Dec-2015. This is the second in a series of six Medium articles connected to the research underway by Creative Commons for its Kickstarter-funded book about open business models to be published summer 2016. This work has three parts. Part 1 explores how open businesses models are based more on abundance than scarcity. Part 2 continues that exploration with an eye to how abundance affects design and development of open business model strategies. And finally, in Part 3 we get down into specifics around how open business model organizations generate revenue to sustain and thrive.
Part 1: A dialogue between abundance and scarcity.
Imagining a post-scarcity world has long been the domain of science fiction writers and futurists. Replicators producing goods in great abundance. Societies where basic human needs are fulfilled cheaply or even freely. People freed from the need to work or earn money. The activities and lives of humans living in abundance. These are the realm of Star Trek or books like Culture and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
These ideas have no relation to the here and now.
Or do they?
No, no, no, the here and now is governed by scarcity based economics. We all know about the shortage of water, food, energy, clothing, education, medicine, and other goods. Too much demand and not enough supply. Scarcity, that’s the here and now. That’s what drives the market. Supply and demand determining prices. And price determining who has access and who gets what goods.
But wait — aren’t digital goods different?
In the digital world the incremental cost of storing, copying, and distributing digital goods is next to zero. And Creative Commons licenses on digital goods make explicit permission to replicate, share, and reuse. This creates the possibility for abundance. And we certainly are seeing a growing abundance of works in the Commons. Over 1 billion according to the latest Creative Commons State of the Commons report.
No, no, no, to prevent abundance we’ll create artificial scarcity through “digital rights management”. We’ll put locks, passwords, and controls on digital goods to prevent them from being accessed, changed, or replicated. That way we can control digital goods the same way as physical resources and existing economic models and revenue streams are maintained.
Do we really need to hobble technology for economic gain? Do we really need to rely on artificial scarcity to prop up society and its scarcity-based economic model? What are the implications for the economy and society if we go with an abundance model?
Can we even imagine it?
Part 2: Abundance Based Design of Open Business Models
Jeremy Rifkin in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society says, “The notion of organizing economic life around abundance and use and share value is so alien to the way we conceive of economic theory and practice that we are unable to envision it.” (bold added by me)
Rifkin introduced me to abundance, but Free Knowledge was the a-ha moment book where the limitations of scarcity-based economics were made evident. Ever since then I’ve been having thought experiment dialogues in my head like the one at the start of this post. Mental conversations between scarcity and abundance.
Trying to imagine abundance.
I’ve been noticing the vision and mission statements of the open businesses and organizations Sarah and I are speaking to are about abundance.
Wikimedia imagines “ a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
The Noun Project is “creating, sharing, and celebrating the world’s visual language.”
Thingiverse “is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can use or alter any design.”
I began thinking about open business models as being abundance-based. I began wondering …
What if, to generate your own open business model, you flip the traditional economic scarcity-based model on its head and focus on abundance? What if, as an open business, you focus on what is it you have that you can strategically make freely and openly available to everyone?
I began seeing maximizing abundance as a key open business model strategy.
I quickly saw how open businesses leverage the permissions Creative Commons licenses provide to put assets out in the world in a way that encourages use, participation, contribution, and enhancement. The Noun Project, Wikimedia, and Thingiverse all do that. They make digital assets abundant and invite everyone around the world to use, contribute to, and enhance that abundance.
I also began seeing how abundance isn’t just about maximizing availability of open digital assets but also about maximizing abundance of participation. Open business vision and mission statements couple an aim for abundance of resources with a recognition that getting there is a collective group activity. Abundance isn’t solely created by a single open business or organization. It is collectively created by a global network of people who affiliate themselves with the open business and collectively worked toward a shared goal.
Edward Boatman, co-founder of the Noun Project, may have created the original set of icons and symbols that got the Noun Project’s visual dictionary going but he didn’t conceive of a business where he’d author the entire world’s visual dictionary himself or bring on Noun Project employees to do so. Instead maximizing icon and symbol abundance is collectively being done by over 7,000 designers from all over the world contributing their work to the Noun Project.
In creating your own open business model think about how you will engage the world in adding to, improving, and expanding use of what you’re making freely and openly available to everyone. “Build a community around your content” as my colleague Sarah Pearson says.
Opendesk’s Open Making Manifesto includes a principle that says:
“Open Making can democratize not only the design and manufacturing of artefacts, but also the design of processes and organizations, which should also be documented, visualized and shared. Designing, sharing and manufacturing in a collaborative way can enable us to learn how to build global and local networks that are more sustainable thanks to the fact that anybody could improve them. Building a new economy is not an easy task, but it’s easier if we test it in a distributed way and share the results. Designing and making together can enable us to learn the social, political and economic dimensions of Design and Manufacturing.”
Sustainability is based on the ability for anybody to improve and share. And you can also see I’m not the only one who thinks this work is helping us learn new processes, new kinds of organizations, and yes even a new form of economics.
These ideas about abundance are all a bit raw for me still. I’m still thinking it through, but seeing open business models as being about maximizing abundance of digital assets and abundance of human participation has been really useful. It’s helped me frame how I think about open business models, generated a couple of strategies for creating your own open business model, and provided a lens through which to look at and analyze existing open businesses.
These aren’t the only ways open business models maximize abundance. I bet you have many ideas about this too. Welcome your comments. Here’s one more I’ve been thinking about in my latest thought experiments …
Abundance of value.
Scarcity based economics seeks only to maximize monetary value, abundance-based economics and open business models seek to maximize a more diverse set of values. The degree to which an open business can engage participation in what it does is dependent on the extent to which others buy in to the value the business seeks to achieve.
I think the reason Wikimedia has 26,884,090 registered editors (seehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation, as of 3-Dec-2015) is because that many people around the world agree with and want to participate in making possible the value Wikimedia seeks to create “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
Open businesses generate value for others, not just themselves, and that value can take many forms — knowledge, culture, relationship, livelihood, well-being … Open businesses aren’t blind to money, but what drives them, what motivates them, the values they operate by and the value they seek to create is more diverse than just monetary value for themselves.
As an open business how will you maximize the abundance of value you create?
Part 3: Generating Open Business Model Revenue to Sustain and Thrive
All this abundance-based economics talk is well and good but you’re probably saying to yourself, today, right now, most of the world is operating on the basis of scarcity-based economics. How do abundance-based open businesses survive in such a world? Just how does the money part work in an open business model anyway? How can open businesses not only survive but thrive?
Lets set aside thought experiments and get down to the money.
It’s true, during this transition time while inventing a new abundance-based economic model open businesses must include monetary value in the mix of value they create.
Lets look at the money part of how the open businesses work. Lets look at a real examples from open organizations and businesses already mentioned in this post. Lets start with the simplest one first.
Wikimedia is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. More than 4 million donors around the world donated $75 million USD to Wikimedia last year. Here’s a link to their 2014–15 Fundraising Report. This is yet another way Wikimedia makes it possible to participate. Donating money for their operation is an expression of support for the value they are creating.
It’s worth pointing out that the actual content Wikimedia has on its sites like Wikipedia are created by volunteers. Editors do not get paid (in general). Wikimedia aspires to be an unbiased, accurate and trusted resource which can be undermined when entries are created through paid advocacy — seehere for example.
The Noun Project has a very unique business model. It’s also one of the few examples where Creative Commons licenses are at the very core of the model. Co-founder Edward Boatman spoke wonderfully eloquently about it during our interview. Here’s my simplified version of how it works.
Icons and symbols on the Noun Project are Creative Commons CC BY licensed. Free membership entitles you to download and freely use those icons at no cost — as long as you give attribution and credit to the creator as specified by the terms of the Creative Commons license. To provide proper credit, you can use the embedded credit already in the icon you download, or you can copy the credit line they provide and add it to your citations, about page, or place in which you credit work you did not create.
In the Free Membership model, if you don’t want to give credit and attribution to the creator you can purchase the symbol or icon for $1.99. The Noun Project splits this revenue roughly 70% to creator and 30% to Noun Project.
When you purchase an icon you see a thumbnail image of the creator, their name, and a message saying: “You can use this icon for unlimited use on any project, forever. Your purchase directly supports the creator.”
If you don’t want to purchase a la carte through the Free Membership plan you can go with the premium NounPro unlimited plan where $9.99/month gets unlimited downloads and no requirement to attribute/credit the creator. Revenue from this is shared roughly 40% to creator and 60% to the Noun Project. Operating the premium NounPro plan requires the Noun Project to offer a lot of services, outside of the icon itself. This additional effort results in a higher revenue percentage going to the Noun Project.
The Noun Project also has an API option that lets you get a direct feed of Noun Project icons and symbols into a your application or service. They have a Playground and API Pro version. Royalty payments to creators are now calculated by adding revenue from the API project to revenue from premium NounPro subscriptions and dividing that total revenue by number of downloads. Numerator and denominator fluctuate on a monthly basis, which means royalty payments fluctuate too.
I really like the way the Noun Project values its creator community and shares revenue with them. However, when we spoke with Edward Boatman he told us that based on feedback from their creators the #1 reason they participate in the Noun Project is its mission. They really like the idea of putting their work out there and helping others. Money is the #3 reason. #2 is promoting their own personal brand. This is a good example of value abundance.
The model of free use as long as credit and attribution are given and requiring payment if users don’t want to give credit is a novel idea. All Creative Commons licenses require attribution be given to the creator so this model really draws on the way Creative Commons works. I’ll be very interested in seeing whether any other open businesses replicate this model for themselves.
Lets look at one last one — Opendesk.
Here’s how Opendesk describes what they do:
“Opendesk is a global platform for local making. You can use it to download, make and buy work space furniture.
Opendesk has a global network of makers and a collection of furniture by a range of international designers. Because that furniture is designed for digital fabrication, it can be downloaded as a digital file and made locally — on demand, anywhere in the world.
We call this “Open Making”:
- Designers get a global distribution channel
- Makers get profitable jobs and new customers
- You get designer products without the designer price tag, a more social, eco-friendly alternative to mass-production and an affordable way to buy custom made products”
I really like the way the Opendesk global platform is making furniture designs abundant. I’m especially intrigued by the way Opendesk converts a global digital abundance into a local produced physical good. I like the idea of being able to tell a story about workspace furniture where the design came from around the world but was made just around the corner.
Of all the open business model organizations I’ve spoken to so far Joni Steiner and Nick Ierodiaconou, co-founders of Opendesk have been the most open about commercial intent and our conversation around their business model ranged wide and deep about how to design one that works.
When they first started designing the Opendesk system, they had two goals, “We wanted anyone, anywhere in the world, to be able to download designs for local making and we wanted to reward designers financially when their designs were used commercially.”
In designing a business model to achieve those goals they gave a lot of thought to three angles – 1) social sharing potential, (2) support for license choice, (3) impact of license choice on business model.
In support of social sharing Opendesk actively advocates for open licensing. However, designers have choice. They can be proprietary or choose from the full suite of Creative Commons licenses deciding for themselves how open or closed they want to be.
For the most part designers love the idea of sharing content. They understand that you get positive feedback of attribution and what Nick and Joni called “reputational glow”. And Opendesk does an awesome job profiling the designers on the platform. I especially like seeing furniture designers, not often recognized for their work, be so highly profiled.
While designers are largely OK with personal sharing they do have a concern that someone will take the design and manufacture the furniture in bulk without the designer getting any benefits. This has led most Opendesk designers to choose Creative Commons Non-commercial licenses.
So users can download the design and make it themselves for non-commercial use — and there have been many many downloads. (There are always lots of questions about just what constitutes non-commercial. See Opendesk’s response here.)
Or, users can buy the product from Opendesk or a registered maker in Opendesk’s network. You might think of this as on-demand personal fabrication. The Opendesk maker network is currently focused on makers who do digital fabrication via a computer controlled CNC machining device that cuts shapes out of wooden sheets according to design file specifications on the computer.
Makers benefit from being part of OpenDesk’s network by getting paid work making furniture for local customers. Opendesk generates business for makers. Nick and Joni said “Finding a whole network and community of makers was pretty easy because we built a site where people could write in about their capabilities. Building the community by learning from the maker community is how we have moved forward.” Opendesk now has relationships with hundreds of makers in countries all around the world.
Makers are a critical part of the Opendesk business model. The model hangs off the maker quote. Here’s how its expressed on Opendesks own business model page:
“When customers buy an OpenDesk product directly from a registered maker they pay:
- the manufacturing cost as set by the maker
- a design fee for the designer
- a percentage fee to the OpenDesk platform”
They go on to openly share their model by detailing how Maker Quotes are created:
When a customer wants to buy an OpenDesk through our Marketplace model (or by just getting in touch directly with a maker), the maker is responsible for managing customer communication and providing a quote for the product.
The price quoted by the maker must include the design fee and the Opendesk platform percentage fee. Specifically, quotes should be constructed as follows:
- manufacturing cost: fabrication, finishing and any other costs as set by the maker (excluding any services like delivery or assembly)
- design fee: as 8% percent of the manufacturing cost
- platform fee: as 12% percent of the manufacturing cost
- sales tax: as applicable (depending on product and location)”
Like the Noun Project Opendesk shares revenue with their community of designers. According to Nick and Joni a typical designer fee is around 2.5% so Opendesk is being more generous, with 8%, and providing a higher value to the designer.
Moving forward Opendesk is looking to recast the whole idea of openness. To them the sharing economy has shown how you can disruptively scale an idea. Instead of building a business model around IP or design exclusivity Opendesk is starting with openness, sharing, and abundance. Their model focuses on value-added services and experiences for which a fee can be charged — similar to models used in the open source software world.
Even more fascinating is the way Opendesk is working openly to engage everyone in helping define how this model should work. OpenMaking is a public domain resource developing open standards in keeping with new and social forms of design and manufacturing, working with a community of thought leaders and practitioners to define this new movement and discuss how we will produce and consume in the 21st Century.
I’m only skimming the surface of the broad and deep conversation we had but this gives you the gist of Opendesk’s business model.
It’s clear that openness and revenue generation aren’t mutually excludable. There are many ways to earn revenue based on abundance — these three examples show what’s possible with some creative thinking.
Open business models start with abundance, a spirit of generosity, an act of sharing.
Success and sustainability of open business models depends on the extent to which assets, participation, and value is made abundant.
Open business models generate value in many forms — one of which is financial.
This isn’t science fiction. Abundance is a generating a new kind of economy right now. Special thanks to the organizations profiled in this post for showing how this is possible. And to the many millions of people who share using Creative Commons, thank you for creating abundance.
End Notes and Participation Invitations:
As I engage in this work. I’ve decided to do more than just write about it. I’ve decided to directly experience it, to experiment with it. To not just observe and analyze but to actively participate in it. Try it out myself. Even invest in it. Here’s a few of the ways I’m doing that with invitations for you to join me.
This is the time of year when the Wikimedia Foundation runs its fund raising campaign. I donated. I received an e-mail in response which says in part: ‘Everyone is a potential Wikipedian. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on Wikipedia, you can start creating it yourself. The articles, words, pictures and data are created by a diverse community of people who volunteer to share their knowledge with the world.’ One thing I’m noticing in these open business models that make them different from the more closed traditional models is that they invite me to participate in making abundance. Want to join me? Make a donation too? Edit a Wikipedia entry on a topic of mutual interest? Leave me a note. (highlight any text in this article and click on the dialog bubble that appears in the black pop-up bar.)
Images in this post are all from the Noun Project. I’ve given attribution for each and technically, as per the Noun Project’s business model, am allowed to use them for free. However, I chose to pay for them too. Thought I’d experiment with the business model and give extra thanks to the creators. I encourage you to use Noun Project images yourself. I’m also interested in using Noun Project images in the book we are writing. What Noun Project images do you recommend we consider using? Leave me a note with your suggestions.
I’m interested in getting an Opendesk Edie table and I was excited to see Opendesk has a fabrication partner called Makerlabs in Vancouver. However, ordering notifies me the Edie table is fabricated in quantities of 2 — and I only want 1 (costs about $330 CAD for one). I asked Joni and Nick at Opendesk “Is there some way to team up with someone else in Vancouver to make such a purchase with each of us getting 1 table?” They replied, “We aren’t at the scale yet to have frequent enough orders all around the world to combine them — but when we do we will look to bring in a ‘group-making’ feature where we can team up smaller orders — I think this will be really powerful in serving smaller orders and items, but it’s not something we have up and running quite yet.” They also super helpfully linked me up to Kirsty at Makerlabs in Vancouver to help take me through the quoting / ordering / getting made locally in Vancouver process. Thought I’d see if there is anyone else locally in Vancouver interested in an Edie table who wants to join forces with me and place an order? Leave me a note.
Filed under: Creative Commons, open business models | Tags: BCcampus retrospective, Kickstarter, open business models, State of the Commons 2015
The open business models work I wrote about in my previous Edtech Frontier post generated high interest. Turns out there are lots of people and businesses trying to figure out how to use Creative Commons to openly share while at the same time operating and sustaining a business.
Early work responding to that interest revolved around using the open business model canvas and questions as a tool for depicting and designing open business models. This helps establish a common framework for what a business model is and how to think about it. It also creates a means of dissecting and analyzing an existing business.
I found it really interesting to autonomously fill out an open business model canvas from what a business says about itself on its web site. I liked to then broaden out and find stories others have written about them as a means of finding interview material, filling in gaps, and getting an outside view. Through these activities you can use the open business model canvas to research and analyze existing businesses.
An initial focus on four business model building blocks – 1. customers, 2. value propositions, 3. social good, and 4. revenue streams, generate the best results. But it’s also really helpful to fill out and think through every building block element in the canvas. We did this for platforms and with startups, non-profits, and existing businesses.
Colleagues at Creative Commons and I did this for various online platforms that use Creative Commons licenses or have integrated them right into their platform as a service for end users. Doing this independently is a means of better understanding just what a business or platform does and how important Creative Commons licenses are (or could be) to them.
It’s always fascinating to compare canvases multiple people create independently for the same business. Having each person share with others what they come up with inevitably reveals facets of the business others didn’t see. Sharing canvases with each other stimulates conversation and dialogue around how an open business works and leads to a common understanding of the organization. It’s useful to create a single new canvas combining the findings and insights from all into one shared depiction.
We also did open business model workshops with groups of people. Some workshops were done for participants who were all from the same organization, others for consortia of partners working together on a shared initiative, and still others for mixed groups of people from different businesses. Workshops explored themes and concepts associated sharing, open innovation, open source software, and open business models. Real world examples were used to show how others are doing it. Hands-on activities put things into practice.
As we dug deeper into these activities there was a growing realization that this work is really important and part of something bigger than initially conceived.
This realization led my colleague Sarah Pearson and I, with the support of all our Creative Commons colleagues, to do a Kickstarter campaign in the summer seeking to raise additional funds and write a book profiling businesses who use Creative Commons licenses as an integral part of their business model. We were thrilled to meet and exceed out campaign goals. Thank you backers!
As part of our Kickstarter campaign we made a commitment to regularly write about what we were learning and key insights we were gaining. I’ve been doing that writing over on Medium here.
I really feel fortunate to be doing this open business models work – it’s fascinating. I’ve come to see it as being part of what I’m now calling the “abundance economy”. Doing this work I get the wonder and excitement that comes with new discoveries.
I was thankful to receive this fall an invitation from David Porter and Mary Burgess to provide some video material for their keynote address “Supporting Open Textbook Adoption in British Columbia” at the recent Open Education Conference in Vancouver. They asked me to provide a short video detailing my start in Open Educational Resources (OER) in BC, how I see the current situation, and what I think BCcampus should do next.
I’m super proud of the work BCcampus did and continues to do today.
Really enjoyed David and Mary’s retrospective.
Here’s the full length video I sent of my thoughts:
My interest in understanding and fostering the Commons continues. And I have been reading widely and deeply about it.
Today Creative Commons released the 2015 State of the Commons report:
- 1 billion CC licensed works in the Commons in 2015
- CC licensed works have nearly tripled in the last 5 years
- More people are choosing to share with “Free Culture” licenses
- The CC marked public domain has nearly doubled in size over the last 12 months
- In 2015, CC licensed works were viewed online 136 billion times
Wow, those are some big numbers.
Seems there is a growing interest in the Commons, not just by me, but many other millions.
Thrilled to have been part of making that happen with an amazing team of CC’ers at HQ and around the world.
Open business models and the growth of the Commons.
Two converging forces.
Filed under: Creative Commons, Digital Economy | Tags: creative commons, open business model call for participation, open business model canvas, open business model designs, open business model licenses, open business model tools, open business models, TeamOpen
In our capitalistic world competition for limited resources and profits are the driving forces of business. Social value, environmental value, and other non-monetary forms of ROI are rarely factored in to the bottom line.
But some businesses are incorporating social goals into their operations and adopting triple bottom line frameworks. Some are becoming B Corporations. TedX talks like this one from Jay Coen Gilbert are influencing the thinking of entrepreneurs. And still others businesses are eager to create a business that is not only socially responsible but also modern in its use of digital, and open licensing strategies where the aim is to maximize access, use, and distribution. For many entrepreneurs use of Creative Commons is a key enabler of both social goals and financial success. Startups and existing businesses are exploring new alternative business models using Creative Commons licenses as either an enabler or core component of their business – see the many examples at TeamOpen.
For every one of those examples there are many others who want to move in that direction but don’t know how. It’s not easy to figure out how to run a business that is both financially sound and socially responsible. It’s not easy to transition business models from strategies that are focused on locking customers in and producing products and services that are not easily copied, to one where you give customers choice and encourage them to copy, modify, and freely distribute your products and services. It’s a big change.
One of the most frequent questions I get in my Creative Commons work is “How do I earn a living, pay the bills, and keep the lights on if I openly license my work and give it away for free?” Underlying this question are deep seated needs to a) be financially compensated for the work we do, b) manage costs and revenue responsibly, and c) not have others unfairly earn income off your work. These needs are matters of survival and social norms we operate under in a society based on capitalism.
This question and others like it come not just from people in the private sector but the public sector too. Here are a few variants of the question.
One public sector variant pertains to sustaining open initiatives that receive special grants or startup funding. When the one-time special funding runs out how does the open initiative sustain itself? What are the models for sustainability?
In the private sector, startups are designing businesses around openly sharing as much of their product and service as possible for free, while at the same time generating enough revenue to operate a business. What are the business models for that?
This year, through gracious funding from the Hewlett Foundation, my Creative Commons colleague Sarah Pearson and I, are leading an open business models initiative that aims itself squarely at answering questions like these. We aim to make visible how open business models work and provide tools and strategies for designing and developing your own.
We want to do this work in a community-based way with all of you. We published a Creative Commons Open Business Models Call For Participation blog post today.
We’re inviting participation in these open business model activities:
- Join us in designing, developing, and iterating a set of interactive Creative Commons open business model tools that anyone can use to design an open business model.
- Use these open business model tools yourself to generate your own open business model(s).
- Share the results of your participation including the open business models you generate.
- Provide feedback and recommendations for improving the Creative Commons open business model tools and process.
- Partner directly with Creative Commons on developing an open business model for your specific initiative.
- Participate in a Creative Commons workshop on generating open business models.
- Contribute to a Creative Commons open business models report.
See our Creative Commons Open Business Models Participation Activities document for further details on each of these activities, including specifics for participation, and links to the tools.
As you’ll see in the Open Business Models Participation Activities document we’ve also created a Creative Commons Open Business Models Google+ community as a forum for sharing, participation, and interaction.
We’re just getting started but I’m totally excited about doing this work.
I think its potentially a really big thing and hope you’ll all consider participating in this work to grow the commons through open business models.
Filed under: Creative Commons, Digital Economy, Innovation | Tags: creative commons, David Bollier, Elinor Ostrom, Governing Knowledge Commons, Heather Menzies, Jonathan Rowe, Our Common Wealth, Reclaiming the Commons, State of the Commons, The Commons, Think Like A Commoner
After years of working with, and for, Creative Commons this spring I had an epiphany. Creative Commons is not just about making things “open” its about building a “commons”.
What, you say? Thats so obvious. I mean really, commons is part of the name.
Maybe so, but my experience is that everyone focuses on how Creative Commons makes things open. We all talk about Open Educational Resources, Open Access, and Open Data. No one talks about the commons. The very idea that there is a commons has, for the most part, been lost.
All that changed for me this spring. The commons now looms large in my thinking.
So just what is a commons?
One type of commons I’ve been exploring and reading about is the natural resource based commons. The air and water are good examples accessible and shared by all. Other examples of natural resource based commons are Swiss alpine pastures, huerta gardens in Spain and Portugal, and salmon fishing in British Columbia, Canada where I live.
Heather Menzies book, Reclaiming the Commons For The Common Good explores how “commoning”, cultivating community and livelihood together on the common land of the earth, was a way of life for centuries. In her words:
“It was a way of understanding and pursuing economics as embedded in life and the labor, human and non-human, that is necessary to sustain it. It was a way of ordering this life through local self-governance and direct, participatory democracy. And it was a way of knowing, through doing and the sharing of experience through common knowledge and common sense.”
Reclaiming the Commons is both a memoir and a manifesto recounting Menzies’ exploration of how her ancestors in the Highlands of Scotland managed their commons, the real tragedy of the loss of the commons, and the reemergence of the commons as a vital means of re-enfranchising people as responsible participants in common good governance locally and globally.
Natural resource based commons are not limitless. They are rivalrous and depleteable. The physical form of natural resources mean that if I have a fish and give it to you I no longer have the fish. Natural resources exist in limited supply with removal and use depleting that supply. The physical form and depletability result in competing rivalrous use interests. Natural resource commons require community management to ensure sustainability and equity of use. Water may be a natural resource based commons but many regions live in drought conditions making water for things like irrigation a commons based resource that requires community management.
So just what is a commons?
A commons is a pool of resources, a community that manages them, and the set of rules or agreements by which they are managed.
I used to think of community management of natural resource based commons as being implemented by either 1. government which takes on management of commons on behalf of it’s people, or 2. market based systems where natural resource commons are managed based on supply and demand economics.
But, I’ve been reading the work of Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel prize in Economics for her work studying different commons all around the world. Ostrom’s work shows that natural resource commons can be successfully managed by local communities without any regulation by central authorities or privatization. Government and privatization are not the only two choices. There is a third way – management of the commons by the people directly involved and impacted. The physicality of natural resource commons give them a regional locality. The community in that region has the most familiarity, history, and direct relationship with that natural resource commons and is best situated to manage it.
As the book Governing Knowledge Commons points out, “Ostrom’s approach to governance of natural resources broke with convention by recognizing the importance of institutions intermediate between private property and the state in solving problems of collective action. These intermediate institutions, are collective, locally organized, means for governing and making productive and sustainable use of shareable, but depletable resources such as fish, water, and trees.”
Ostrom’s work on the commmons is substantial and required reading for anyone trying to understand the commons and how it works. She constructed empirically informed frameworks, theories, and models based on study of real world commons. Here are a few samples of her work that I find useful when thinking about the commons.
Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework reveals the design principles of a commons and provides a structure for analysing the social and ecological interactions of a commons. This framework can be used to model an existing commons and to diagnose problems or explore alternatives.
Ostrom primarily studied natural resource commons. The resources in these commons have specific biophysical characteristics that affect their use. In each case there is a community of users who have an interest in or are impacted by the use of commons resources. Inevitably a set of rules evolve that regulate use within the community usually blending together formal legal rules with social norms. Rules define who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, what they must or must not do in their position, whether a decision is made by a single actor or multiple actors, channels of communication among actors as well as the kinds of information that can be transmitted, and rewards or sanctions for particular actions or outcomes.
Positional rules, determining who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, include:
- Access: Right to enter defined area and enjoy its benefits without removing any resources.
- Withdrawal: Right to obtain specified products from a resource system and remove that product from the area for prescribed uses
- Management: Right to participate in decisions regulating resources or making improvements to infrastructure.
- Exclusion: Right to participate in the determination of who has, and who does not have, access to and use of resources.
- Alienation: Right to sell, lease, bequeath, or otherwise transfer any or all of the preceding component rights.
The Action Arena is where the social interactions and decisions about the commons occur. It’s where exchanges take place, rules are made, entitlements are allocated, and disputes resolved. Actors choose from among the available action alternatives based on their own interests and desired outcomes. Individual costs and benefits are weighed against the social costs and benefits of the whole community. In many cases regularized patterns of interaction emerge creating social norms of behaviour and establishing a kind of balance or equilibrium. In a natural resource based commons these social interactions result in outcomes that frequently affect not just the actors and community but the resource system and resource units themselves. Evaluative criteria can be such things as economic efficiency, distributional equity, and sustainability.
The key take-away for me from all this is the principle that the commons can be self governed. The typical binary options of government regulation or market economics are not the only options. If sustainability is the goal then community-based self-governance using common-property regimes might yield better results.
Part of my epiphany this year has been seeing the commons in this new light. Talk of the commons and public good has largely been subjugated by dominant discourse around politics and the economy. But I increasingly see that the commons offers us an alternative way forward, a kind of middle ground balancing the role of government and markets. With the world increasingly divided into haves and have nots, rich and poor, a commons approach that addresses the needs and interests of the public seems like a long overdue and necessary antidote.
Around the world governments are increasingly converting natural resource based commons, historically managed on behalf of the public by the government, into property which is leased or sold to businesses who manage the resources. These governments believe that markets are a better way of managing commons than government regulation.
There is a long ongoing history of taking public commons, separating it off, enclosing it, and privatizing it. This process is called enclosure of the commons. David Bollier’s book Think Like a Commoner talks about enclosure of the commons this way. Enclosure is:
“dispossession of commoners as market forces seize control of common resources, often with the active collusion of government. The familiar debate of “privatization versus government ownership” does not really do justice to this process because government ownership, the supposed antidote to privatization, is not really a solution. In many instances, the state is only too eager to conspire with industries to seize control of common resources for “private” (i.e., corporate) exploitation. Regulation is too often a charade that does more to legalize than eradicate market abuses.”
I’d never really thought about it before but Robin Hood, the popular children’s story, is really a story about the commons. Essentially the king takes pastures, forests, wild game, and water used by commoners and declares them his own private property. Commoners are evicted from the land, fences and hedges erected and the sheriff and his men given authority to ensure no commoner poaches game from the kings land.
Contemporary examples of commons enclosure are numerous. Government agreements allow mining companies to extract minerals from public lands, timber companies to clear cut public forests, oil companies to drill in pristine wilderness areas, and commercial trawlers to decimate coastal fisheries. Management of commons based on market systems tends to result in over exploitation as pursuit of profits and power override public interests.
Natural resource based commons have no human producer. Humans are users only. But there are lots of other forms of commons that humans produce. Highways, roads, sidewalks, and public squares for example. Jonathan Rowe’s book Our Common Wealth – The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work does a good job of exploring how such public spaces are a form of commons that we share. Rowe expands the commons to include languages, cultures, and technologies. The Internet is a kind of commons. He shows how there is a symbiotic relationship between the commons, the economy, and even our personal and planetary well-being.
And then there is the knowledge and culture commons, the creative commons in which I work. There are several aspects of the knowledge and culture commons that make it different from natural resource based commons. One difference is the inherent nature of knowledge and culture. Knowledge and culture are non-rivalrous and non-depletable. If I share an idea or some knowledge with you we both end up with the idea and knowledge. If I sing a song you too can sing it with me. Giving it to you does not mean I no longer have it.
The non-rivalrous and non-depleteable nature of the knowledge and culture commons mean that the rules and norms for community management of knowledge and culture commons can, and ought to, be different from how natural resource based commons are managed. However interestingly the global default is to apply property law and copyright to knowledge and culture commons resources creating an artificial scarcity that makes them more like natural resource based commons. This artificial scarcity is time-limited though as all knowledge and culture resources eventually pass into the public domain the name we’ve given to the knowledge and culture commons.
It’s intriguing to revisit Elinor Ostrom’s models and frameworks and explore how they might be modified to fit with this alternative form of commons. Its a challenge to transition from a model based on scarcity to a model based on abundance. The biophysical form of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital. Digital based resources can be copied, shared, distributed and used at costs which approach zero dollars and at a scale that makes them increasingly accessible to the entire world. The knowledge and culture commons is as much a global commons as a local one.
I’m increasingly seeing the knowledge and culture commons as having two forms; 1. a large global commons comprised of all open and shared creative works, and 2. a local commons made up of curated collection of resources drawn from the global commons that have local relevance and have been customized to fit local needs.
I was delighted to have my early exploration of the commons in 2014, bolstered by the arrival of Ryan Merkley as Creative Commons new CEO. Ryan places a strong emphasis on the importance of building the commons movement and establishing a vast pool of free and open content online: data, academic research, educational curriculum, videos, music, pictures, and more. Under Ryan’s leadership Creative Commons published The State of The Commons. This report succinctly documents the growth of the commons.
It also shows what parts of the world are contributing to the commons.
Ryan also encouraged us to re-examine the goals and work Creative Commons is engaged in and encouraged a re-imagining. The resulting sharing of ideas among my peers was inspiring.
Here are some of the ideas I put forward that reflect my thinking about the Commons.
Creative Commons is currently doing a great job at enabling sharing of creative works.
But we don’t know why people are sharing.
We don’t know what their intent is.
In the context of Elinor Ostrom’s framework Creative Commons has established some great rules-in-use, but we have not put in place a complementary technical component to support the community based social interactions involved in producing and managing the commons.
I imagine a technical component, added to the Creative Commons license, that allows creators to express intent and solicit the support of the open community in achieving it.
Once the why of sharing is known so much more can happen. Each expression of intent is a Creative Commons value proposition statement.
In addition to stating why they are sharing I think it is equally important for Creative Commons to enable the sharer to have a means for saying how others can help them achieve their aim.
Adding technical functionality that allows sharers to seek the help of others in achieving the aim associated with sharing adds a social component to Creative Commons license. We connect creators to each other – for all kinds of reasons.
I imagine it enabling creators to form communities of common interest around openly licensed content collections – for curation, remix, enhancement, additional development, …
I imagine it as enabling the development of creative works that require multiple talents – someone for the video, another person for the audio, musicians, writers, .. Collective content creation through collaboration.
And many other use cases.
I see this as having the potential to migrate Creative Commons from simply being a license that is put on content to an enabler of connections between people. Creative Commons will have not just a content value proposition but a social one.
Given this focus I suggested the following as a area of focus for maximizing impact.
Creative Commons can have the most impact by focusing in on purposeful sharing. A great deal of Creative Commons use is secondary – sharing as an add-on to some other primary function or purpose, sharing as an act of generosity, sharing as an expression of values based on moral principles, sharing in response to mandate.
Much of this sharing lacks an expressed explicit goal, intent, or purpose – sharing with unexpressed, but hoped for consequences. Creative Commons can amplify impact by enabling expression of purposeful sharing and rallying the help of others in achieving sharing goals.
A great deal of sharing and CC use is by autonomous individual users or organizations acting on their own. CC can generate greater impact by creating a mechanism for the formation of social networks and collaborations around CC licensed works. The opportunities Creative Commons is missing are not some sector we’ve ignored but the social dimension of sharing. The formation of social networks of Creative Commons users collectively working together on achieving some shared goal is a missing piece Creative Commons is positioned to enable. Moving Creative Commons use from a form of individual expression of rules and permissions to Creative Commons use as a form of collective action will magnify impact.
Ryan asked us to identify the metric we would track and I said:
My one metric is – User expressed value (or user expressed ROI).
Ask users how their use of CC generates value.
This can be achieved by adding to CC tools a mechanism for expression of purpose, a means of inviting others to join in achieving that purpose, and a method for showing progress and outcome.
CC use generates diverse forms of value.
It can be financial – money saved or revenue earned.
It can reputational.
It can be a gift or altruistic.
It can generate personal value, or generate value for others, or both.
CC value takes a myriad of forms.
CC value is generated through personal and group action.
An individual, a corporation, a government can all generate value through CC use.
The people, stories, and values associated with CC use are inspirational.
User expression of CC value is a mini-human interest story revealing new ways of doing things, new outcomes.
Users know why they use CC and the value it generates.
We should invite them to express the value they are generating.
My one metric is – user expressed value.
From this one metric a diverse range of value will emerge for which additional metrics can be defined.
And finally Ryan asked us, What does winning look like?
Here is how I see it:
I see winning as looking like:
A move away from GDP as a measure of health of a country to “”quality of life”” indicators that evaluate the well-being of a society based more on environmental stewardship, democratic participation in society, equitable distribution of wealth, good health, and contributions to and use of the commons. Winning means Creative Commons and metrics associated with Creative Commons are used as one of the quality of life indicators measuring the economic and social well-being of a nation and the world. Winning means quality of life measures and global well-being inform and affect the decisions and actions of individuals, communities, organizations, businesses, and government. Winning means CC use is a key means of enabling quality of life.
Winning means a change of state from accumulation of personal wealth, personal property, independence and autonomy to shared wealth, shared property, and creative collaboration with others. Intermediate mile posts include a recognition that profit-making pursuits have limited scale and sustainability. Mile posts include replacing or supplementing the use of profit-making practices with commons-making practices for innovation, scale, and sustainability. Winning is not necessarily completely replacing profit-making with common-making but rather a balancing of the two and a symbiotic relationship.
Winning is based on abundance not scarcity. Winning is a move away form the market consumerism economy based on scarcity to a sharing economy based on abundance with Creative Commons being a key enabler. Accompanying this is a surge of participation, creativity and innovation. Individual acts of sharing are as important as government and market forces.
Winning means Creative Commons use solves big global social and economic problems and in doing so leads to growing understanding of the importance of balancing private sector pursuit of profit with the common pursuits building common wealth. Winning means distributed, networked collaborative production builds out common wealth and at the same time reduces the reliance on personal ownership replacing it with shared access and permission to use (within limits). Winning is a form of global activism that benefits all humanity without regard to national boundaries.
There are a lot of ways this can be quantified. Currently sharing is “”off the books”” and not tracked as a means of social or economic well-being. Current societal measures focus on growth as measured by production and consumption. However, the emergence of a “”sharing economy”” brings with it the opportunity to measure sharing in economic and social terms. People are deriving income and other non-monetary rewards from sharing. This manifests itself as a diversification and expansion of suppliers, better usage of existing resources, and a desire to make the world a better place.
Metrics associated with sharing recognize the shortcomings of unlimited growth in an increasingly resource limited world, and the growing inequitable distribution of wealth. Sharing saves money, amplifies participation, creates easy access to goods and services, and leads to more abundance.
Metrics should measure not just the number of resources being produced but the number of people producing those resources and the benefits to both the creator, downstream users, and society as a whole.
I share these ideas not to suggest that Creative Commons will implement them but as a way of showing how a shift of emphasis from “open” to “commons” generates different concepts and strategies.
Focusing on the Commons has led me to see the work we are all engaged in differently. It has been exciting to discover a commons-based alternative to government and market based forces. Going in to 2015 I look forward to balancing talk of the global economy with talk of a global commons. One where everyday citizens can participate independent of government and market pooling their knowledge and creativity as an expression of kindred spirit and for the common good of all.
Joy to the Commons and a Happy New Year all.
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: ALECSO, Middle East, National OER Framework, North Africa, Open Book Project, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, US State Department
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a volatile mix of religion, ancient civilizations, political turmoil, wealth and poverty, beauty, extremism, and violence. Can Open Educational Resources (OER) be a form of diplomacy and peace in this region? Can open education offer some small hope as an alternative form of engagement, action, and reform – instead of drones and beheadings?
For the past year or so I’ve been helping the US State Department with their Open Book project. Announced by Hilary Clinton before she stepped down as Secretary of State the Open Book project is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and leading education innovators to expand access to free, high-quality education materials in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology. Promoting and expanding access to these resources will help to create educational opportunity, further scientific learning, and foster economic growth.
See Arab League, U.S. Launch Open Book Project for more.
The objectives of the Open Book Project are to:
- Developing an increased awareness of OER in MENA and the U.S., including refining the concept and identifying connections with copyright and open licenses
- Deliver the benefits of open education to the Arab world
- Expand access to free, high-quality, open education materials in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology
- Implement open licensing in the MENA region that enables anyone to use, adapt, and share these education materials
- Build partnerships between the US and MENA region to make more learning materials open, free, and connected to Arab educators, students, and classrooms
- Lower geographic, economic, and even gender-based barriers to learning
- Create open education resources that anyone with access to the Internet can read, download, and print for free or adapt a copy that meets the local needs of their classrooms or education systems
- Put a full year of high-quality college-level science textbooks – biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus – online, for free, in Arabic
- Help Arab professors and intellectuals create their own open courses
- Explore the benefits of OER for governments, institutions, faculty, students and the public, specifically examining how OER affects teaching and learning practices including the inter-relationships and synergy of OER with open access, open data, open policy, open science
- Evaluate the impact of OER on education business models and practices in MENA and the U.S.
With the support of World Learning and a team of OER experts (of which I was one) the Open Book Project was structured as a two phase exchange program. In Phase I education professionals from all countries in the Middle East and North Africa were invited to apply to participate in a US-based OER fellowship. Fourteen people from eleven countries including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were selected and came to the US for three weeks in March 2014.
After an initial gathering in Washington, DC for introductory sessions, participants were split into small groups for more individually tailored programs, including placements or mini-internships with relevant U.S. organizations as well as other site visits and meetings. The goal of these placements was:
- to learn about the day-to-day operations and projects that the American organization is engaged with
- to share aspects of the foreign organizational practices and challenges (especially as pertains to OER) with U.S. counterparts, and
- to work with the host organization on the development of an action plan or methodology to create/develop and apply OER in the foreign fellow’s originating academic institution.
Everyone reconvened in Washington D.C. at the end of the U.S.-based program to synthesize and discuss strategies for sustaining the MENA OER network and supporting implementation back in participant home regions.
In Phase II a sub-group of the OER practitioners and experts who helped plan the Open Book Project travelled to countries in the Middle East and North Africa region to work with the foreign fellows on implementation of the plans created in Phase I; meet with key stakeholders in academia, government and the NGO community that are already serving or have the potential to serve as local champions for the open educational resources effort; and learn about existing efforts and challenges.
I was privileged to be a member of this group and just returned home from site visits to Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Tunis is home base for the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO). Comprised of 22 member states ALECSO works to coordinate cultural and educational activities in the Arab world. ALECSO is launching a new strategy, aiming to enhance the use of ICT in the areas of Education, Culture and Science through five projects approved by the ALECSO execution Council and the ALECSO General congress.
The ALECSO Arab OER project will:
- Promote the use and development of OER at a Pan-Arab level to institutions, teachers and students
- Make indexing, retrieving and accessing of Arabic OER easier for teachers and students
- Offer a wide exchange and scope of Arab OER
- Ensure community building for exchange of educational resources across Arab countries
- Enhance the quality of developed OER in Arab countries
The other four ALECSO projects are worth mentioning as OER could be strategically included in each.
ALECSO App’s project will provide:
- A Pan-Arab web-based repository for mobile applications, the ALECSO Apps Store
- A specific editor (ALECSO Apps Editor) for development of Arabic mobile applications by non-technical end-users
- An Arab competition (ALECSO Apps Awards) with awards to encourage Arab developers to innovate and create mobile applications and populate the ALECSO App’s store.
ALECSO Arab MOOCs project is planning to:
- Develop Arab capacity and infrastructure in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at a Pan-Arab level
- Promote the use and development of MOOCs in Arabic countries
- Offer a Pan-Arab MOOC delivery platform
- Develop capacities in the use and development of MOOCs in the Arab region
- Pilot the delivery of MOOCs in selected subjects
ALECSO Cloud Computing services for education project will:
- Make known the advantages and benefits of using Cloud Computing services in education in Arab countries
- Organize a conference on using Cloud Computing Services in the education field and make its advantages and benefits known to different stakeholders in educational institutions
- Prepare a specific guideline for the effective use of cloud computing in education for Arab countries, through the implementation of a cloud computing based educational platforms
- Prepare a comprehensive work plan containing all the required milestones in order to set up appropriate infrastructure allowing the use of Cloud Computing services in Arab schools and universities
- Develop capacity in the use of Cloud Computing services in education in the Arab region.
ALECSO project to promote use of ICT in education for people with disabilities will:
- Develop public recognition and awareness on promoting ICT in education for people with disabilities in Arab countries
- Build capacity for webmasters and developers on improving web sites accessibility
- Translate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to Arabic
- Translate the “Model Policy on Inclusive ICTs in Education” document to Arabic
- Organize a conference on ICT and Accessibility
In addition to these projects ALECSO is hosting an Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development, in Dubai UAE December 19-21, 2014. As part of this event they will be reporting out on and planning future activities related to Arab – International Cooperation. One of these activities deals with Arab-North American cooperation and agreements. They plan to have an Open Book Project panel that engages Arab decision-makers, policy-makers, academics and researchers in advancing this work through planning, objectives setting, components of the project, and defining mechanisms for implementation.
ALECSO explicitly asked the State Dept. to consider transitioning the Open Book Project to an OER Project and move from a short term exchange program format to a longer term cooperative action plan program. They specifically are seeking support for:
- Selection, translation and localization of US OER to Arabic
- Raising awareness of OER and associated benefits across MENA region
- Building capacity of Arab teachers/institutions to produce their own OER and building community across countries for exchange of good educational practices, skills, expertise, know-how, etc.
- Developing and maintaining a Pan-Arabian OER infrastructure
- Building capacity by helping coalesce scattered initiatives across the MENA region, developing OER communities of practice, and putting in place a coordinated approach that supports dissemination and spread of OER and OER development capability across region
- Formulating open policies and regional indicators
Lots going on and heartening to see Creative Commons as a key building block for such a vision.
I was in Tunis right before Tunisia’s October 26th elections. There were signs of tension – parts of Av Habib Bourguiba were sectioned off by barbwire fencing and police were a visible force. There were some incidents on the outskirts. But overall on the streets of the city I’d say things are relatively low key with way less in your face political lobbying than we see in N.A. It is heartening to see the successful democratic election that took place being called a “beacon of hope in an uncertain region“, and Tunisia held up as one of the few countries to come out of the Arab spring with a democracy.
While in Tunis I was saddened to hear the news from back home in Canada. From Tunis I went to Riyadh Saudi Arabia where the October 25 editorial in the local Saudi Gazette said:
“It’s sad and worrying that such incidents have reached a land that is very distant from religious or ideological extremism. It is jarring and alarming that this has happened in Canada, of all places. Canada has always been seen as a successful country, minding its own business. It has always been an open, diverse society that has one of the highest levels of immigration in the world.
Then again, why should Canada be immune? Canadians fought in Afghanistan. The country is a member of NATO and an historic ally of the United States. …Joining the American-led alliance in the fight agains IS was not an easy decision to make in Canada. There was heated debate over the Conservative government’s decision to join the military campaign, as well as to increase anti-terrorist powers at home. …Canada, blessed largely by diversity and peace, is now chillingly aware that vengeance and hate have reached its shores, up to the seat of democracy…”
For me, advocating for openness as a representative of Creative Commons in the Middle East at this time felt like an alternative call to action. Not a politicians call for arms and troops but a call for everyday citizens to pool their knowledge and creativity as an expression of kindred spirit and for the common good of all.
In Riyadh we were hosted by Abdullah Almegren who leads the National Center for e-Learning & Distance Learning at the Ministry of Higher Education. This trip had many cultural components and I feel honoured by the way our hosts shared the history and culture of their region. Abdullah and his colleagues took us to old town Riyadh where we were suitably garbed. Here I am with Abdullah.
We were given tours of universities – James and I went to King Saud University and Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. Mary Lou went to the women’s public university Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University.
Ministry of Education plans for a Saudi Arabian OER initiative were shared with us and we were asked to conduct a workshop for deans of e-learning from universities across the country. As part of this workshop I agreed to speak on Success Factors for a National OER Initiative. Based on the questions we’d been asked, their planning documents, and my own experience with OER initiatives I decided to put together a one page diagram that represents my take on what a national framework for OER should encompass.
This is the first time I’ve tried to consolidate all the various components of a large scale OER initiative into a single diagram. I’ve since added a few additional elements but let me start with a short explanation of this initial version. When it comes to OER I usually get a lot of questions related to technology. However, in this diagram I try and show that there are many components to an OER initiative that have nothing to do with technology and come well before technology decisions need to be made.
I start with Strategy. Large scale OER initiatives should be strategic and purposeful. Doing OER without a real purpose is not a recipe for success. The US Department of Labor TAACCCT program is a great example of a national OER initiative with a clear purpose – move displaced and unemployed workers into jobs in high growth industry sectors by funding community colleges to create stacked and latticed credentials in partnership with industry. All the curricula these community colleges create must be licensed with a Creative Commons CC BY license making them OER.
In addition to strategy a large OER initiative needs incentives which could be monetary or could be other things related to innovation or transformation of teaching and learning.
A national OER framework should include a research component. It is essential to test out the strategy and purpose of any OER initiative and evaluate practices and outcomes on an ongoing basis. Research informs success. I point to a current source of OER research – the OER Research Hub (and in subsequent versions of the diagram have included the OER Knowledge Cloud).
To enable large scale success OER require policy. Creative Commons has been aggregating examples of OER policy from around the world into an OER policy registry. In addition UNESCO has authored an excellent OPER policy development template that describes policy as it pertains to intellectual property, copyright, hiring practices, procurement and many other areas of education operation. (in subsequent versions of the diagram I’ve also included the recently launched Open Policy Network – at Cable Green’s suggestion).
Strategic purpose, incentives, research, and policy all impact the activities of institutions. A national OER initiative involves many institutions. Two institutional practices I’ve come to see as critical to success are:
- Forming inter-disciplinary OER teams within an institution made up of faculty, instructional designers, media producers, librarians, and educational technologists. For OER to succeed a team effort is needed and each of these roles has crucial skills and knowledge to contribute. Faculty have the subject matter expertise, instructional designers the ability to design effective teaching and learning structures and activities, media producers can produce rich multimedia, librarians are superb at finding and curating collections, and educational technologists bring essential skills about how best to develop and deliver OER with technology.
- Forming communities of practice across all the institutions involved in a national OER initiative that bring together people across institutions by domain (such as arts, science, engineering, etc.) and by role (such as faculty, instructional designers, librarians, etc.) All distinct fields of study and members of OER teams like to talk to their peers at other institutions. The challenges tend to be the same and they frequently learn about great resources their peers have found or new practices that are working well.
For actual OER content I advocate implementation pursue four distinct efforts. First review existing curricula already developed and in use that could simply be openly licensed and made in to OER. Second identify educational content that is desired and search existing OER to see if anything is available. If it is simply adopt it. Sometimes OER is found but is not a perfect fit. If that is the case why not adapt it – translate, localize, customize, update or improve the educational materials so that the fit works. Thats one of the benefits of OER – you can modify it. Finally, as a last measure, having exhausted the previous three efforts if OER is needed where none exists then go ahead and author it.
OER is transforming education by making educational materials visible and available to all. Success is contingent on high quality resources. In higher education research is quality assured through peer review. I believe the same practice is a success factor for OER too. OER should be vetted through a quality review process and peer review.
I place technology next well after all those other key success factors have been dealt with. I highlight a few of the key technology components in the diagram – authoring tools, open file formats (so others can modify the resource downstream), creating portable interoperable content that can be exported out of one Learning Management System and uploaded to another, classification schema for OER, and repositories or referatories where OER can be found, previewed, and downloaded.
Finally we come to usage. OER are multi-use. They can be used in on campus courses, mixed or blended courses, fully online courses, and MOOCs. OER don’t just have teaching and learning value they are useful as a means of marketing to students (try before you buy), they provide a rich source of supplemental resources for students to use when they are studying, they can help industry meet the professional development needs of their employees, they help working adults pursue career pathways, and they attract national and international interest in your institution.
In subsequent versions of this diagram I’ve added accessibility (ensuring OER meet the needs of those less abled) and pedagogy (factoring pedagogical approaches into the design of OER and innovating new open pedagogies based on the unique attributes OER have).
All-in-all I’m pleased with this diagram as it captures over ten years of work in the field on a single page. This diagram is generalizable to any large OER initiative.
From Riyadh I went to Doha in Qatar for meetings with Qatar National University. The Qatar National University has developed a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Strategy for the years 2014 – 2019. A key objective of the strategy is for the university to embrace, promote, practice and evaluate the “Culture of Open Education”.
The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for this objective include:
- Institutional Openness Policy and Institutional Openness Strategy
- Open Education Resources – Open Courseware and Open Content contributions
- Open textbooks
- Incentives for faculty, research workforce, and staff for engagement in Open Education
- Licensing and Intellectual Property Rights
- Assessment, and Quality Assurance
- Accreditation of Open Access Learning Opportunities
- Adoption/Integration of OER Courses and programs
- QU Strategy Document for Open Education
- Membership in the OpenCourseWare Consortium
- Open Education Portal with link to QUOpenCourseware and external OERs
- Translation Capabilities for Arabizing Open Education Resources available in other languages (in particular English), mainly for K-12 Education, and fields taught in Arabic in QU (e.g. social sciences, humanities, business)
- Offerings of opportunities for outreach, training, and awareness for QU stakeholders, and external stakeholders on issues relevant to Open Access
- Number and impact of QU open access resources to the local community
- Engagement of the industry and employees in utilizing and/or co-developing Open Access Resources with QU
The plan has been approved but implementation is on hold. Open Book Project support could provide the necessary confidence needed to move forward with implementation.
Key opportunities exist around:
- open policy
- open pedagogies for increasing motivation
- open licensing key-note talks from visiting scholars
- OER for first year program
- early adopter and innovator use of OER – pilots
- Technology Enabled Learning strategy – but implementation stalled
- open access publishing of QU research
- library – institutional repository DSpace – OA research publication and theses, visiting scholars, finding and curating collections of QU specific OER
- Qatar Foundation – Education Above All initiative
Overall I was deeply impressed by the insights and plans that have emerged in the MENA region in response to the Open Book Project. There is huge potential. The US State Department and others could continue to play a key role as these countries move to implementation. It is not clear if the Open Book Project will continue but even if it doesn’t the recent U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan makes a commitment to promote open educational resources, to help teachers and students everywhere. It outlines three key activities:
- Raise open education awareness and identify new partnerships. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will jointly host a workshop on challenges and opportunities in open education internationally with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government. The session will foster collaboration among OGP members and other interested governments and will produce best practices to inform good policies in open education.
- Pilot new models for using open educational resources to support learning. The State Department will conduct three pilots overseas by December 2015 that use open educational resources to support learning in formal and informal learning contexts. The pilots’ results, including best practices, will be made publicly available for interested educators.
- Launch an online skills academy. The Department of Labor (DOL), with cooperation from the Department of Education, will award $25 million through competitive grants to launch an online skills academy in 2015 that will offer open online courses of study, using technology to create high-quality, free, or low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. This academy will help students prepare for in-demand careers. Courses will be free for all to access on an open learning platform, although limited costs may be incurred for students seeking college credit that can be counted toward a degree. Leveraging emerging public and private models, the investments will help students earn credentials online through participating accredited institutions, and expand the open access to curriculum designed to speed the time to credit and completion. The online skills academy will also leverage the burgeoning marketplace of free and open-licensed learning resources, including content developed through DOL’s community college grant program, to ensure that workers can get the education and training they need to advance their careers, particularly in key areas of the economy.
Inclusion of the MENA region in items 1 and 2 could significantly improve the likelihood of successful OER implementation and advance cultural exchange and understanding.
Based on my experience OER affords a cross-cultural education experience and can act as a form of diplomacy, understanding, and peace-keeping. I am deeply indebted to the many people who hosted and helped me on this trip. I really enjoyed the camaraderie with my colleagues Mary Lou Forward, James Glapa-Grossklag and Vladimir Spencer. I was especially touched by the many in country people who shared perspectives and experiences of life in their country. Through OER we share and prosper together. Alhamdulillah.
Filed under: Creative Commons, Digital Economy, Innovation, Open Access, Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: BCcampus, creative commons, global food safety partnership, herbshare, OER, open access, open data, open government, Open Hardware, open licensing, open source seed initiative, open source software, open textbook summit, shared earth, Systems approach
In the 1990’s I worked for Hughes Aircraft of Canada developing large scale air traffic control systems for international customers around the world. Air traffic control systems are large, complex, mission critical systems. After extensive requirements gathering and analysis an overall architecture for the air traffic control system was defined including complete hardware and software requirements. Development of something so large required the overall architecture to be broken down into subsystem components which were then distributed to different teams for development. The lead systems engineering team had the responsibility of integrating developed subsystems into the final air traffic control system and ensuring that the overall architecture design and requirements were met.
This kind of approach is called systems engineering. The key characteristics of systems engineering are that it:
- gathers, analyses and shapes customer requirements into an overall system
- takes a holistic view that breaks the overall system down into components and integrates developed components together into a whole
- uses and coordinates an interdisciplinary set of expertise and teams
- focuses on not just the initial development of the system but its life cycle and iterative improvement over time
- combines technical and human-centred practices and work processes
The early days of open licensing and open resources were primarily shaped by innovators and early adopters using Creative Commons licenses and creating open resources as independent individuals. What I see now is open moving from an individual activity to a large scale system wide activity similar to systems engineering. As open matures a more holistic approach is being adopted involving many people working together.
Increasingly I see a systems approach to open as being the most strategic and impactful. A systems approach takes a multi-stakeholder perspective, strategically considering all the stakeholders in a value chain and how they can work together to achieve a common goal. This shifts the focus from individual adoption of open practices to system-wide adoption. A system working together can achieve greater impact than an individual.
Let me give a couple of examples.
The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit held in Vancouver 16-17-Apr-2014 brought together a wide range of organizations and people who are all collectively working on adopting, adapting, and authoring open textbooks for students. An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license (such as Creative Commons), and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. While online versions of open textbooks are available for free if students want hard copy they can print out their own or order a low-cost print version.
The open licensing of a textbook makes it possible for others to add to, adapt, translate, localize, and otherwise improve it. Everyone has 5R rights to:
Retain: Make, own, and control their own copy of the textbook
Reuse: Use the open textbook in its unaltered form
Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the book
Remix: Combine the book with other openly licensed content to create something new
Redistribute: Share copies of the original textbook, revisions, or remixes with others
The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit featured speakers representing a wide interdisciplinary group of expertise including government & institution senior administrators, faculty, students (and here), librarians, authors, publishers, and technologists. This wide representation of multiple stakeholders who all play a role in creating open textbooks is a great example of a systemic approach. Each stakeholder’s involvement in creating and using open textbooks is important but it is the cumulative effect of multiple stakeholders working together that creates the greatest impact.
One of the great things about the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit was that it brought together not only multiple stakeholders but multiple regional open textbook initiatives. Representatives of open textbook initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond were all in attendance. This enables sharing and comparing of approaches and lessons learned not just from different stakeholders but from different regional system wide initiatives. Its fascinating, and informative, to hear about the BC open textbook initiative and compare it to the one in California, or Washington, or Oregon.
Inevitably the adoption of open practices requires stakeholders to change current modes of operation, sometimes dramatically so. Change of this magnitude can be disruptive and may threaten traditional roles and responsibilities, business models, and financial structures. A natural reaction to such change is fear, risk aversion, and preference for the status quo.
To generate movement and acceptance I’ve found it important to keep the focus on the shared goal, cause, or issue that open solves. In the case of open textbooks the shared goal is making education more accessible and affordable for students. Having a shared goal as the primary focus make business models, roles, modes of operation and the like secondary to the main goal. When the impetus and value associated with achieving the main goal are big enough, change happens, the system and stakeholders adapt, new models and modes of operation emerge. Adoption of open practices is best enabled when the value proposition of doing so is high.
Open textbooks are one great example of a systems approach to open.
Another example emerged for me in the context of leading an open models working group for the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Our task was to generate a range of open models that enhance the scalability and sustainability of food safety. Our primary goal was to show how open practices can support GFSP’s efforts to help ensure safe food, increase food supply chain value, accelerate economic growth, alleviate rural poverty, and improve public health outcomes. This is the big picture goal the GFSP seeks to attain.
Can adoption of open practices help the GFSP achieve this goal? If so, how?
The Global Food Safety Partnership is a public/private partnership representing many different stakeholders including:
- regulatory agencies – public regulators, inspectors and managers
- private sector agri-food processors and manufacturers
- farmers and producers
- universities, service providers, trainers and certification bodies
- international organizations
- non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
This suggests that a systems approach to open is required. It won’t be enough for one stakeholder to adopt open practices. The goals of GFSP are too large for that to be impactful. Achieving the big goals of GFSP requires multi-stakeholder coordinated participation.
One of the significant benefits of open practices is that they open up the opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved and participate. Food storage and cooking at home, the poor, the farmer, the food market seller, the street vendor, these uses and stakeholders are not well represented at the GFSP table. Adoption of open practices opens up the opportunity for them to be involved. If GFSP has a goal of alleviating rural poverty it is essential that they be engaged as active participants.
A systems approach to open offers opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. Multi-stakeholder adoption of open practices generates cumulative benefits for all stakeholders. In a systems approach to open the more stakeholders participating the greater the impact.
Applying a systems approach to open for GFSP considers the role of each stakeholder and what open practices they could adopt that would contribute to the big picture goal GFSP is seeking to realize. Its not a one size fits all approach. Different stakeholders adopt different open practices. Government and funders might adopt open policy that require deliverables produced through the funds they provide to be openly licensed. Providers involved in generating food safety training and learning resources can publish their content as Open Educational Resources. There are many forms of open and a myriad of open practices can be brought to bear on a shared goal.
For the GFSP we defined nine different open practices stakeholders could adopt:
- open content (including Open Educational Resources and Open Courseware)
- open data
- open access (research)
- open government
- open source software
- open standards
- open policy
- open licensing
- open hardware
For each type of open practice we provided GFSP relevant examples. Here’s a sampling:
- open content – see Digital Green and Food Safety Knowledge Network
- open data – the US web site data.gov releases government open data.In 2012, a national annual competition was created as part of the Health Data Initiative to stimulate the innovative use of health data in apps and products. The “Health DataPalooza” is now a sold out event attended by over 2,000 health providers, technology developers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and community advocates and has resulted in the launch of new products and companies. OpenFDA, providing easy access to public data of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and highlighting projects using these data, will be implemented in September of 2014.
- open access (research) – There are a number of open access journals and online publications that provide free and open access to scholarly articles specific to food safety, foodborne illness, manufacturing and processing practices, etc. In 2007 the US National Institutes of Health enacted an open access policy requiring the researchers they fund to make their final, peer‐reviewed manuscripts publicly available no later than 12 months after official date of publication. The number of open access journals is rapidly increasing – the Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 9,000. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central are two popular examples relevant to food safety.
- open hardware – See Open Source Ecology and Farm Hack for examples relevant to food production and food safety. Photosynq is an open research project whose goal is to create a low cost, hand-held measurement device which researchers, educators and citizen scientists can use to build a global database of plant health. A low cost mobile prototype has been developed to replace the large, expensive and stationary equipment that was previously required to measure photosynthesis.
One of the challenges in open work is helping people understand the myriad forms of open and how they work. Defining open practices, along with associated value propositions and examples goes a long way to establishing a common lexicon and a tool box of methods that can be strategically deployed.
All that and more is captured in the GFSP Open Models Concept paper. Feel free to read the whole thing if this interests you. I also want to express deep appreciation and thanks to Theresa Bernardo and Garin Fons who co-wrote this paper with me and to Chris Geith and the World Bank for the opportunity.
Writing the GFSP Open Models paper led me to have a heightened interest in the use of open practices for food related issues. My colleague Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons shared with me another great example – the Open Source Seed Initiative. Linux for Lettuce and The Carrot Hack provide thoughtful coverage of this important development.
I also recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society (highly recommend) which contains a few other fascinating examples including Shared Earth connecting land owners with gardeners and farmers, and HerbShare which is fundraising to develop online, searchable community maps of fresh herbs available for sharing.
A systems approach to open combines a wide range of open practices across multiple stakeholders and applies them to a shared common goal. It’s exciting work that not only accomplishes short term goals but sets in place a process that can scale, iterate, and sustain over the long term.