The State of Openness, Part 2: Micro-Openness
So, a few updates on some things.
First, not only will I be attending All Things Open, but I will also be participating in a small capacity. I will provide information on that in an upcoming Medium post as information on the nature of my involvement has not gone up on the ATO website and I don’t want to preempt the planners. With that said, I can tell you that I’m super excited to be involved. It’s going to be a great experience, and the event will be something that others will want to attend.
Second, after receiving positive feedback on my first post, I’ve decided to begin a series on the “State of Openness.” You can consider my first Medium post part one of this series. I plan to proceed with future posts as follows.
9–21: Part 2, Micro-Openness
9–30: CityCampNC Review
10–5: Part 3, Macro-Openness
10–14: Part 4, Openness as an Institution
10–21: Part 5, Meso-Openness
10–25: ATO Preview
10–30: ATO Review
The order of some of these might seem odd at first. However, it will all make sense over time as I publish each part of the series. All of this is leading up to All Things Open. Keep that in mind as you read. Also understand that because most of my experience in openness is in Open Data; I’ll be using that for the majority of examples in these Medium posts.
Finally, if you do take the time to read these Medium posts, please take a moment and provide some feedback. I enjoy hearing what others think, whether it’s a critique or a compliment.
Now, onto The State of Openness, Part 2, Micro-Openness.
What the heck do I mean by micro-openness? Most of you have probably heard the terms micro and macro used in reference to economics. These two prefixes are derived from Greek, micro being small, and macro being large. In most cases, they are being used to describe the level or scale of an object or event. For my purposes, they are being used to describe at what level of society openness is being implemented, managed, or advocated for. So micro-openness can refer to the any number of individual actors who are contributing to the implementation of openness at the local level.
Micro-openness has been the most significant factor for open development. Grassroots organizations have been relied upon to be the heavy lifters in the open community for a long time. Code for America brigades are a shining example of this. While being staunch advocates for open technology, brigades have, more importantly, helped bridge the gap between the public and private sectors use of information and technology. Other efforts to make open the new normal can be traced to simple pushes made by individuals or small groups of citizens. North Carolina alone owes a few of its open data portals to the efforts by citizens who pitched open data to their respective town councils. The open community would be remiss to forget that big changes more often than not originate in small beginnings.
Entrepreneurship has been another source of pride in the open community. You would have to be removed from the technology community not to know of the representation of open companies that are among its members. Red Hat, the world leader in open-source software, is the crown jewel, but if you look deeper, you’ll find plenty of other businesses that are blazing a path for open development. Companies like OpenDataSoft and Socrata are providing revolutionary platforms for both private and public entities to both host and visualize their data to meets the needs of themselves and their consumers. Analytic companies like Civis Analytics and Enigma.io are finding ways to provide important information about large data sets to organizations and communities that are looking to learn more about themselves. Finally, businesses like Tableau are redefining what it means to visualize data so that we can share information in beautiful and unique ways.
Those are only a few of the organizations are creating value with openness baked into the cake. I won’t be covering any of the policy organizations that are doing amazing work in making sure that open beliefs and ideas are represented both locally and nationally. They will be discussed later in the macro Medium posts, as their impact on the open community has implication that are both long-term and widespread.
I’ve painted a relatively rosy picture of where openness is on a micro level. That is completely intentional and earned. I continue to be amazed by how much work is done on such a small scale to build the infrastructure necessary to continually bring open information and technology to communities in every state. However, this does not mean that there are not some issues present.
While the open community is passionate, it is also rather homogenous. It is heavily made up of individuals working in the tech sector, with a decent sized helping of government and civic stakeholders mixed in. This is not to say that outreach isn’t targeted to other individuals. It just means that the outreach needs to improve. More representation from the education, health, journalism, design/art, and nonprofit sectors would benefit all involved in a number of ways. I’d also like to see more women and under-represented minorities brought to the table. These two groups are often marginalized in the technology sector, and open data could become a leader in bridging that historical gap.
This issue of a lack of diversity is not one that the open community courts, but is unfortunately one that is present both in the population and in how open information and technology are marketed, implemented, and communicated to the rest of the world. While progress is constantly being made, the appeal and benefits of becoming open still haven’t been shared in a way that connects with the average citizen. Messaging is the missing piece of the formula right now. While I am more inclined to rank messaging as a macro issue over a micro issue, nobody is exempt from the responsibility of how they share the open movement with others (how messaging should be handled is something that I’ll cover at a later date).
Micro-openness is heading in the right direction. The open community is constantly growing and is passionate about what they do. I, myself, will be participating in a civic event tomorrow and Friday, CityCamp, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts upon its completion. I just wonder what kind of people I’ll meet there. I’m sure they will be kind, welcoming, and excited to talk about the bright future that open has. I’m just worried that they might also not be representative of the world I see around me everyday. Passion is great, but if it is only channeled by a small demographic of people, then it lacks the sharpness and creativity necessary to bring about true innovation. Let’s be open not just about code and data, but also about those that we share it with in our everyday lives.
Sam is an open data enthusiast from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is in currently in the process of starting his own open data services and consulting firm, Samuel H. McClenney Associates, and will soon be able to be found at www.smcclenney.com
For now, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org