Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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OK Festival: What is Open Development?

On the third day of the Open Development and Open Knowledge Festival, I spent the entire day in the Open Development track (on Twitter #OpenDev). The first session was an open discussion and debate about what ‘openness’ can add to traditional development approaches, trying to explore different visions.

The six invited contributors (Tariq Kokhar, Data Evangelist, World Bank Institute, USA; Philip Thigo, The Social Development Network, Kenya; Linda Raftree, Senior Advisor ICT4D, Plan USA; Blane Harvey, Institute of Development Studies, UK; Karina Banfi, Secretaria Ejecutiva at Alianza Regional por la Libertad de Expresión e Información; Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland) started the discussion with short five-minute talks about their understanding of and visions for open development. During the rest of the session, different members of the audience were invited up to the stage to join the conversation, ask questions and answer questions from the floor.

This session kicked off the Open Development Wednesday--a series of workshops and talks on open initiatives, including open data, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, open access research, within international development.

The discussion was very interesting and some of the issues that came out are summarized here:

  • There is no guide on how to work more openly. Open development is still a concept that is being formulated and there is no real “formula” for how to do it.
  • The entire concept of development has to be re-worked if we want to really implement an open approach.  The north/south approach to development is at the center of this change in vision.
  • Participatory processes needs to be in place. Openness is not just about making things public; it is about incorporating all the different actors into the process.
  • Citizens are claiming their role in deciding and managing development processes. What we call “development” is for other people the “future.”
  • The use of new technologies for development is something that is enabling new approaches to development but also posing new questions and new challenges.

The second session of the Open Development track was another incredibly interesting session and took a slightly different approach to the subject by dividing the audience into different workshops. I participated in the one called “Becoming an open organization--addressing culture change as well as technology.” This workshop was lead by the OpenForChange team.

The workshop was intended to help organizations that are embracing a process of becoming more open and more innovative in understanding how to manage this process.

As starting point the participants of the workshop started listing the main challenges they are facing in their own organizations when it comes to this process:

  1. Fear: most people highlighted that organizations are afraid of technology and changes and for this reason they resist new approaches
  2. Structure: another obstacle is the organization structure that comes in sometime as an excuse, sometimes as a real problem, in stalling the introduction of new methodologies and new processes
  3. Tools Driven Approach: this problem was highlighted by several participants. The issue here is the fact that especially large organizations tend to identify innovation with technology, mainly because adding a piece of technology to their projects is much easier than engaging in a mentality and methodology change
  4. Framework: where new technologies come into organizations, there is a very strong resistance to the use of those tools because of the inability of organizations to accept failures and experimentation as part of their own workflow. An entire shift in the framework that organizations use for their work needs to happen to include "white spaces" that allows for innovative ideas and experimentation to happen.

The fourth session of this track was an open debate on some of the realities and challenges that development practitioners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) face in accessing and using open data. The main discussion revolved around the assumptions that ‘open’ equals accessible, and the panelists tried to explain different ways they use to make open data more accessible to those who face barriers such as language, gender discrimination, lack of income and lack of connectivity.

A bery interesting intervention by Hive Colab Manager Barbara Birungi focused on the ways in which open data can be made more accessible and the conditions necessary to ensure inclusivity in open development as explored by Uganda’s growing technologist community. Barbara highlighted that an important way to access low literate people and make data interesting and accessible is by involving local radio stations.

All speakers highlighted that there must be a use of both high-tech and low-tech tools to account for varying levels of education, skill, literacy and technology access. Another interesting point made in this panel discussion was the fact that open data must be made interesting data and relevant data to be actually open. 

Lastly I wish to share one very interesting comment that was made on the Twitter discussion during this panel: “Talking about access issues makes me think that maybe we should bend Open Data to the people, not the people to open data”. 

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