Digital technologies and networked platforms that leverage open source software and open data are empowering people to participate in social and political processes, collaborate in science and education, and connect to services. Ottawa-based Matthew Smith and Ruhiya Seward, senior program officers with IDRC's Networked Economies program, gave a public presentation to Egyptian researchers in which they shared recent real-life experiences, and talked about important shifts in thinking about open development.
They highlighted the shift from identifying open things to seeing open practices—such as "sharing and allowing others to retain, reuse, remix, repurpose and republish content—as a means of supporting development outcomes." Smith drew inspiration from Khan Academy Lite, which provides access to K-12 educational materials on a single, low-cost, open-source raspberry Pi computer to classrooms around the world. He argued that this wouldn’t be possible with proprietary software and expensive laptops.
Another example showed how independent musicians in Brazil use free downloads of tecno brega music to generate publicity and ticket sales for upcoming concerts. Participants at the presentation, citing IDRC-funded projects in the region, identified similar open development efforts (see below).
Understanding has also shifted regarding the critical role of engagement in the provision of open resources. For example, making datasets publicly available, say from government statistical agencies, is insufficient. What is needed, say Smith and Seward, are strategies for ensuring that citizens know about and can utilize this data. Hackathons, training, and visualizations encourage sharing and support people to use and build upon open content. These are critically important to making open practices work. But who will take responsibility to ensure that open practice works and how can policy environments encourage such engagement? These and other questions are the focus of ongoing IDRC-supported research in the region.
Read Matt's and Ruhiya's blog, “Making Openness Work”
“Open Development: Networked Innovations in International Development” published by MIT Press
IDRC Projects supporting open development:
Harnessing the Economic Power of Data encouraging open data approaches in Egypt, West Bank, and Morocco
Bashaier: linking Egyptian farmers to markets by providing price information through mobile phones
Economic Research Forum's Open Access to Micro Data for MENA countries including labour market and household surveys