I’m open and I know it (now)

Until I began this module, I would have described myself as a HR professional that uses social media a lot. Now I realise that I am an open practitioner. Who knew?

Not me.

I first started using social media professionally in 2011 when I joined Twitter and found an active and engaging HR community. I had found my tribe. My blog www.hrgem.com soon followed. It’s now at 338 posts and has had over 146,000 views. These aren’t the only ways that I’m open in my professional practice. I’m a regular at HR conferences, supporting the social media backchannel through live blogging and tweeting. I openly share what I have learned through my work; you can find an example here. I’ve shared videos of workshops I’ve delivered, taken part in Twitter chats and shared presentations on Slideshare. I’m a member of an online HR Community of Practice. I regularly share the work of others that help me to learn, and my online social network is a key part of my continuing professional development.

This module has made me reflect on my own practice; why do I take an open approach within my work? Above all, it’s about being useful. As well as writing an HR blog, I write a fitness and wellbeing one too. The motivation is the same. I want to help other people; I want to share what I know. I’ve always believed in being open, in working out loud, in contributing to your professional community. And just like with openness in academia, it’s the technology that makes this possible.

Martin Weller (2014) talks about the long history of openness in HE, driven partly by the belief that education is a public good. The open approach can be seen in research, teaching and learning and in scholarship. This leads me to a question: as a non-academic, is open for Professional Services too?

As Weller says, open amounts to a shift in practice. From pedagogy to scholarship to publishing, a change to the old ways of doing things. There’s no one, single, simple definition of openness — it’s an evolving term. Whether we are talking about open access, open pedagogies or open scholarship or publishing, there are various lenses through which to view openness. Even though I don’t squarely fit in any of these definitions by virtue of the work that I do, I can nevertheless see echoes of my own practice and beliefs within.

Weller (2011) suggests a definition for the digital scholar — an academic operating at the intersection of three elements; they are digital, networked and open. He says that a digital scholar need not be a recognised academic… someone who employs digital, networked and open approaches to demonstrate specialisms in a field is probably sufficient to progress. He goes on to say that ‘openness refers not only to the technology but also the practice of sharing content as default’.

Weller (2014) looks to the motivations behind open. There is more than one potential motivator that applies outside of HE, some of which I can see in myself. Increased audience, increased reputation, peer recognition, increased revenue, increased access. My blog, for example, has led to paid work, recognition within my profession and amongst my peers, and (so I have been told) been of practical use to others.

Anderson (2009) provides other characteristics of open scholars; they create, they self-archive, build networks, comment on the works of others, filter and share with others. Weller (2014) provides even more; digital scholars have a distributed online identity, have one central place (such as a blog) for that identity, deliberately cultivate an online network, have a developed personal learning network and mix personal and professional outputs.

These are the aspects of openness with which I most identify. Sharing as default. Using technology to do so. Producing content that can easily be consumed and shared with few barriers to access. Sharing the content created by others. Networking. Learning in the open.

My content is freely available on the public internet, available for others to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to, craw for indexing, all without barriers inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. This is the Budapest Open Access Initiative definition of open access. Now I’m even more convinced I am open practitioner. This isn’t just my approach, it’s the approach taken by many people that I know from a wide range of professional disciplines. Marketing, law, communications, policy, health, public services, learning and development. Professionals who produce their own content and share that of others, work out loud, collaborate and engage in online communities and digital spaces. There is however, a critical difference in addition to the fact that those people are rarely academics. Within HE, open has a movement. There are recognised pathways, research into impact, structures and policies. There are strong, vocal advocates.

Outside of HE, a movement simply doesn’t exist. Instead, there are individuals who discover these ways of working for themselves and often then find an online community along the way. But they remain, often, outliers. They are personally explaining and advocating for an open style approach — even though they might not define it as such or in the way that we understand it in HE.

Sometimes, the audience for that advocacy is sceptical, would prefer not to give up the old ways of working, doesn’t have the skills to engage or can’t see where they would find the time. Some people might feel uncomfortable with the idea of an online identity or concerned with potential downsides of operating in the open. The first sentence in this list is drawn from my own experiences as an open style HR professional. The latter, from Martin Weller. There is little difference here between the challenges inherent within open — whatever your profession.

So, is open also for professional services? For me, the answer is yes. Absolutely. Although in professional services open isn’t about research or teaching, there are clear parallels between motivations, benefits and challenges. Open approaches can benefit everyone: academics, professional services, students, the general public. As Tennant et al (2019) observe, open supports lifelong learning — something every professional needs in an ever changing environment and context.

In relation to openness in HE, Weller (2014) says that we are only at the beginning of exploring these new models and ways of working. This is true in professional services functions too. But whereas Weller believes that open has moved from the periphery to the mainstream, in professional services, the open approach is still in the minority. So far, at least……