What Does “Open” Mean?

April 10, 2009 at 9:39 am Leave a comment

After talking with my “open” mentors Steve Lay and Tom King, and then discussions with our customers I have started to think about how we might define “open” in the context of assessment and technology. In this post I have collated the intellectual effort of others, that I have learned from over the years, and more recently from Tom and Steve.  I’m posting to see how on or off target I am/we are so please feel free to comment.

Open Agenda

An Open Agenda is the opposite of a hidden agenda!  An Open Agenda allows people to know where you are going and why you are going there. 

Open Process

With an open process people understand where you have been, where you are how you determine direction.

Open To New Ideas

A closed dogmatic approach to problems solving tends not to yield solutions that are maintainable, or long lasting, and as such inhibits the creative process. 

Low Barriers …to Witness

This requires that the information, such as the agenda, mission, process, and deliverables, are easy to discover, see, and use for your own benefit.

In the world of technology this normally means a quick, simple and free registration process, requiring no more than an email address, and making overview and technical documentation available as well as source code.

Low Barriers …to Participate

If you wish to participate there might be small fees or qualification requirements (such as being a citizen of a country to vote), but in the context of your participation the barriers are low. In the world of open participation you might share your ideas and be involved in discussions and priority setting.

Low Barriers …to Contribute

It may be that you contribute to the process but without transparency regarding how your contributions are evaluated, prioritized and/or acted upon. In the world of technology this normally means allowing source code to be available for others to contribute to on a known licensing model. Typically this means that the author contributes their work to the community at large.


People have an insight into each step of the process, which provides information on how decisions are reached, deliverables created and buy-in and/or consensus was achieved. Having a transparent process typically accelerates the use of open standards and best practices as different communities can share ideas throughout the process.

Some processes do not benefit from being transparent and others do. For instance, I can hardly imagine that negotiating the end of a war would benefit from having the discussions televised on CNN live!  But in contrast I enjoy watching and knowing that my City Government is open and televised; it’s the best sleep aid I know!

The “Tools” of Openness

Here are some tools that can help organizations be open:

  • Wiki – a tool that allows us to document a body of work in an cooperative and collaborative way
  • Forums – normally threaded discussions that can be accessed by web browsers and email clients, allowing us to build consensus by discussing issues
  • Issue tracker – a tool that allows us to examine and participate in the process of prioritizing and resolving issues.
  • Source code repository – a place where source code is deposited and shared that allows us to examine the output of the development process along with a detailed audit trail of who contributed to it and when.
  • Blogs and micro-blogs – where ideas can be easily shared and responses gathered


Being “Open” is multi-facetted which I have tried to capture above.  But I’m open to being wrong and learning more.


Entry filed under: Professional Life, Soapbox. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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