Tag Archives: iCommons

The state of the nation 2008 – belatedly

Looking back, I see that the last time I posted a blog was in November 2007. It is now April 2008. This should not be read as a sign that things here have ground to a halt. On the contrary, a hectic round of overwork has overtaken our lives, a treadmill of projects, meetings, workshops, and conferences. I hope that this means that South Africa is moving forward in opening scholarly communications. However, South Africa is never straightforward, so in reviewing what has been happening while I have had my head down all these months, I do not expect to report unremitting sunshine – there have been some showers, although overall the signs are good.

This overview of the projects that are in progress right now is the first instalment of a review of the way the year is looking – with quite a few items that I will need to pick up in more detail in upcoming blogs.

Collaborative Projects

In November 2006, in Bangalore, some of us – funders and consultants – got together to propose some collaboration in trying to map across one another to create greater coherence achieving our mutual goals of more open and effective research communications in Africa. This was discussed again in a meeting at iCommons in Dubrovnik in June 2006 and we are now beginning to see the results. One major benefit that has emerged is that the projects that are now being implemented, because they are built on open access principles, can share each others’ research findings and resources, reducing duplication and increasing impact. The projects also recognise that achieving policy change is a multi-pronged process, working at all levels of the university system, from individual lecturers (often young and lively innovators at the junior end of the hierarchy) to senior administrators and government policy-makers. Leveraging the impact of several projects to achieve this makes a lot of sense.

The projects I am now involved in, that are part of this collaboration, include:

  • Opening Scholarship, a UCT-based project, funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, is using a case study approach to explore the potential of ICT use and social networking to transform scholarly communication between scholars, lecturers and students, and the university and the community.
  • PALM Africa (Publishing and Alternative Licensing in Africa), funded by the IDRC, is exploring what the the application of flexible licensing regimes – including the newly-introduced CC+ and ACAP – can do to facilitate increased access to
    knowledge in South Africa and Uganda through the use of new business models combining open access and sustainable commercial models.
  • A2K Southern Africa, another IDRC project, is investigating research publication and open access in universities in the Southern African Regional Universities Association.
  • The Shuttleworth Foundation and the OSI are supporting the Publishing Matrix project which is using an innovative, wiki-based approach to map the South African publishing industry along the whole value chain in such a way as to identify where open access publishing models could have most impact.

Some interesting results are already emerging. The sharing of resources is speeding up the process of getting projects off the ground. Researchers are given instant access to background reports, bibliographies and readings and can review each others’ tagged readings in del-icio-us. The advantages become obvious as I head off this evening for a planning workshop for the researchers carrying out the A2KSA investigations with a range of briefing materials and readings instantly to hand.

Even more interestingly, having Frances Pinter of the PALM project explain to South African publishers and NGOs that flexible licensing models had the potential to defuse the stand-off between open access advocates and commercial publishers, and members of the Opening Scholarship team at the same meeting explaining how the use of new learning environments was changing the way teaching and learning was happening, led to some unexpected enthusiasm for the potential of new business models. Then Juta, the largest of the South African academic textbook publishers, asked for a day-long workshop at UCT with the Opening Scholarship and PALM teams to study these issues. I have little doubt that listening to some of the innovative approaches that are being taken by young lecturers at UCT opened the publishers’ minds to the need to push further their forward thinking about the ways in which their businesses might change in the near future. A similar discussion is to be held with OUP South Africa in the next week.

Open Source and Open Access connect

We have found useful spaces in Vula – the UCT version of the Sakai learning management environment – to maintain project
communications and track progress in our projects, using its social networking tools (something we perhaps learned from students who identified this potential for student societies).  Funders and guests from other projects can eavesdrop, creating greater coherence within and across project teams and giving donors a real sense of participation in the projects

they are funding. Vula, by the way has been hugely successful at UCT and there has been a steady and very substantial growth in the number of courses online – reaching over 800 already this year (from under 200 in 2006) – and enthusiastic endorsement by students of the usefulness of the learning environment. I have little doubt that the flexibility of an open source system leads in turn to the potential for more openness in the use of teaching materials – but more of that in a separate blog.

Open Education celebration

Right now, to celebrate UCT’s commitment to Open Education, we are heading down the hill to the Senate Room, where there is to be an official signing of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, making UCT, I think, one of the first major universities to sign as an institution. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall will sign for the university and around 50 guests, from senior academics and administrators to students will, we hope, sign individually, before raising a glass of good South African wine to the potential for opening the gates of learning.

iCommons grows up – what measures for success?

I blogged a few articles on the iCommons blog in Dubrovnik over the last few days. Here is a link to a reflection on how one judges the success of free culture projects in a rapidly-maturing community.

What to expect from the opening plenary of a conference that is essentially about copyright? Only a few years ago it would have been a stuffy hall at the London Book Fair, in the dingy surrounds of Olympia on a rainy Saturday in April. The experts in their suits would drone on, assuming the reassuring earnestness of a doctor’s bedside manner to tell us how successful they had been in prosecuting the pirates in India and how China was beginning to be copyright observant. The most dramatic we could hope for was an alarmist display of web pages showing the speed and effectiveness of the burgeoning informal online pirate economy.

Not so here at the second iCommons Summit. First of all, iCommons goes for stunning settings – last year on Copacabana Beach in Rio, this weekend in the Revelin Fort on the edge of Dubrovnik old town. This means that we come into the conference hall with the smell of pine resin in our nostrils, slightly dazzled by the brilliance of the white boats in the harbour and early morning sun reflecting off the blond stone of the old city. What we were treated to when we got inside was a bravura display from a movement that in one brief year is displaying a new confidence in the success of its alternative creative vision.

The beautiful settings hide something else that emerged very strongly in the opening plenary session and that is that iCommons is a truly global, polyglot community. It is no accident that the conferences happen in places that are off the major beat of the USA and Europe – or even the Asian industrialised powerhouses. it means that iCommons can specialize in the off-beat. It would be a mistake, though, to think that this offbeat quality means that it is lightweight. it is all a matter of how one measures success.

iCommons spins off tools for Open Access scholarship – the Rio Framework for Open Science

The iCommons Summit in Rio (June 2006) continues to spin off results. It is great to see that the promises made by various groups at the Summit – in this case the Science Commons – are delivering on schedule. An invaluable set of resources for Open Access scholarship was launched this week, the Rio Framework for Open Science. The resources are set up on a wiki, moderated by John Willbanks (who will be visiting South Africa in February) and our own Heather Ford, who heads up Creative Commons South Africa and is also Executive Director of iCommons.

The Rio Declaration says this about its purpose:

The goal of this Framework is to provide a seedbed of resources for those interested in Open Science, from the background information to examples of institutional policy, from arguments and evidence to the tools needed to implement various elements of Open Science.

The website collates information and resources that could, as the website puts it, ‘unleash the scientific research cycle’. I must confess I brought proceedings to a grinding halt at the iCommons when I asked “Whadd’ya mean by ‘Science’?” The answer appears to be that the main drive for the Science Commons comes from people with an S&T background (it is housed at MIT), yet the tools it is developing could be of value to scholars in all disciplines.

The main headings under which resources are collected are:

  • Policy – listings and links to the various OA policy declarations and initiatives and articles and case studies on OA, how it works and its impact factors. There are signs that South Africa is beginning to grapple with the question of access to research from public funding and the recent ASSAf Report on scholarly publishing in South Africa is recommending Open Access repositories and journals. So OA policy is on our agenda right now.
  • Law – not only Creative Commons copyright contracts, but invaluable stuff from the Scholar’s Copyright Project, such as the ‘Author’s Addenda’ that can be added to publication contracts to ensure that academics can retain at least enough rights to be able to archive their articles on the Internet.
  • Technology – useful links to OS software tools for research management – for archiving, creating documents, annotating on the web…

There is a lot here – go and take a look and add to the Wiki with our own resources.

iCommons, Networked Communities and Pre-colonial African Societies

At the iCommons Summit in Rio, Brazilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil gave a lyrical account of his world view, as well as an unusually for a Minister – singing us a few choruses. One of the things he said was, “I am still cultivating this strange and provocative taste of bringing together ideas that seemed to be bound to be eternally separate. just like parabolic and camara. I like to see the world echoing just like the head of a berimbau. I like to connect the differences.” (In the interests of global confusion – the English text of this speech can be found on the Australian Creative Commons site.)

So, in the interests of making the world echo, and of putting a different spin on the challenge posed at iCommons for developing countries, to leapfrog from the 19th to the 21st century, I would like to make a link between pre-colonial history in my part of the world and the iCommons discussion of the 21st century networked society. Perhaps the 21st century networked world has something to learn from 18th century Southern Africa.

Judy Breck, in her Golden Swamp virtual learning blog, describes the networked society in relation to the lateral, nodal structure envisaged for the iCommons. This has been greeted with perplexity by some.

In a 2002 article in the Journal of Social History,1 Clifton Crais (whose book2 on pre-colonial Eastern Cape history I co-published at Wits University Press in 1992) describes how social reality of the people living there was remade by the colonists of the 19th century. The idea that these societies were territorially-defined, top-down chieftainships was an invention of the colonial officials trying to make sense of the social and political order in the only language they knew – that of the nation state. What Crais describes could have a number of intriguing parallels with those battling to understand a networked iCommmons:

Political power tended to be localized, boundaries fluid and vague, and the authority of chiefs highly variable. The political landscape was both homogeneous and kaleidoscopic, with widely dispersed material and symbolic resources and constantly changing political domains. Even at moments of relative stasis domains of authority very frequently overlapped. Political identities were multiple, with the fluidity of identities generally increasing with geographical distance from any given center of power.

The absence of any unequal distribution of economic goods, trade, or population mitigated against the centralization of power. Second, military technology and strategy were widely democratic. Third, there were multiple nodes and overlapping domains of authority.

I also enjoy the parallels when it comes to the nature of leadership:

Europeans and especially early colonial officials very often found African polities to be exasperating and scarcely intelligible. One thing seemed reasonably comprehensible, that is most easily translatable into their own political epistemologies: that there were some men of elevated status who wore and laid claim to the skins of leopards and lions. These men often practiced polygyny, lived in larger communities, usually possessed more livestock than others, and were referred to and used the title “inkosi” but beyond that seemingly little differentiated chiefs from most everyone else…

Leopard and lion skins might be an appealing garb for the plenary panel at next year’s summit, although I am not so sure of the polygyny aspect. But seriously, where is the historian or anthropologist who could take this analogy further for us…

1Custom and the Politics of Sovereignty in South Africa, Journal of Social History,39 (3) 2002

2White Supremacy and Black Resistance in Pre-industrial South Africa: The Making of the Colonial Order in the Eastern Cape, 1770-1865. Cambridge University Press, 1992

Ideology or Network – the iCommons Summit stirs up the debate

The iCommons summit in Rio a few weeks ago was a very successful and lively event and is still generating waves – like a stone thrown into water – creating web discussions and blogs in ever-widening concentric rings. The major trigger for the debate that has followed the conference – at least overtly – was the acceptance of sponsorship from Microsoft for the iCommons Summit and Larry Lessig’s welcoming of Microsoft’s initiative to provide a plugin for attaching Creative Commons licences to Office documents. In the ensuing discussion, particularly in Tom Chance’s Newsforge article, I was surprised to see the Open Society, which provides my Fellowship and which was the driving force behind the Budapest Open Access Initiative, one of the major Open Access declarations, lumped with Microsoft and Google as commercial organisations with the potential ultimately of corrupting or undermining the more altruistic goals of the Commons. Where does this come from?

Behind this all, however, is the much older argument between the pragmatic approaches of Creative Commons licences and the more ideologically-driven approach of the GNU licence, or the Free/Libre movement, which considers only share-alike licences as being truly free. At the iCommons, Lawrence Lessig and Jamie Boyle both said that at the heart of the Commons movement was the idea of choice – rather than ‘the one true answer’. Creative Commons is not a movement with a single ideology, Lessig said and Boyle made a plea for the recognition that there is not a ‘single deified freedom’ and that ‘it is a mistake to make my freedom your freedom.’ There is good reason, in many cases, Lessig argued for the choice of Some Rights Reserved, or Non-Derivative licences – for example the moral commitment, in one case, to children who had been the participants in a project.

In the end of the conference, the Summit had to address the distinction between Creative Commons and the iCommons. This is the second iCommons Summit and the time seemed to have come to articulate how the two organisations should relate to one another. Up until now, it seemed that iCommons had been in an undefined way some kind of umbrella body pulling together a Creative Commons that had spread horizontally into a number of countries (including South Africa) and vertically into a variety of projects. Now it has been decided that Creative Commons will be a body concerned with licences, while the iCommons is a network advancing an (as yet undefined) vision of the Commons as a community.

So, if you want a lively discussion about pragmatism and idealism, networked communities, oligarchies and democracies, socialism or liberal democracy, professionalism and amateurism, all related to the Internet community and its values, then go to the various online debates and blogs, of which the best is probably the Open Democracy debate: Remix World: Towards the Global Digital Commons. Here Tony Curzon Price puts the pragmatic view, while Becky Hogge provides a more radical challenge. Then follow the links.