by SF Team, 15 January 2014

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Openness is at the core of the Foundation’s experiment in the world. Our founder and funder, Mark Shuttleworth, achieved great commercial success by building his first enterprise on existing free and open source software (FOSS) that was by its nature available for anyone to use and remix.

The open source software movement has not only created widely used software but million dollar businesses. Although the model is well established for software development, distribution and use, it is not the case for education, philanthropy, hardware or social development, to name but a few important endeavours. The default imposed on knowledge resources by copyright law is automatic lock down. This default makes little sense if your agenda is social change.

We wanted to understand what would happen if the values, processes and licences of the FOSS world were applied to areas outside of software. Could that provide key building blocks for further innovation? What are the conditions that optimise innovation for positive social change? How can openness add value to that process? This is at the heart of the Foundation’s contribution to the world.

Philosophically and practically, we default to open instead of lock down. We subscribe to the Open Definition where data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse and redistribute it, thereby ensuring interoperability between different pools of material. But for us, openness goes beyond the licence. It includes being open to collaboration and contributions from outside your immediate reference group, inviting many eyeballs to review your process and make it better. Combining openly licensed intellectual property with open practices enables and encourages others to experiment in their own environments, localise, contextualise, translate, adapt and spread the tools and methodologies we are developing much easier than from a central control hub.

By no means do we believe that every piece of content in the world should be openly licensed or every process collaborative. In the digital age, the lines have become more and more blurred between the traditional categories of creators and users of intellectual property. We are taking the stance closest to extreme openness as a counter balance to the prevailing idea of completely closed, in order to establish new norms along the continuum.

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