Harnessing the Benefits of Openness

The Washington-based Committee for Economic Development (CED), “an independent, nonpartisan organization of business and education leaders dedicated to policy research on the major economic and social issues of our time and the implementation of its recommendations by the public and private sectors”, has published a report called Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness. Also see the CED announcement and the summary., as well as this CIO Update.

The report is another must-read. The conclusion is worth quoting at length:

The benefits of openness are becoming more apparent and are likely to grow as we learn to utilize the new capabilities enabled by information and communications technologies. These benefits are challenging our conventional wisdom about innovation and the incentives needed to stimulate it. And, they are suggesting new ways of acting based on the special characteristics of the digital world, which are far different than those that developed based on what we knew of the physical world.

Years ago, the theory of the tragedy of the commons was developed in economic literature. It argued that users of a commons (such as a grazing field shared by an entire community), who had no particular or individual stake in the success of the commons, might act in such a way as to maximize their own short-term interests at the long-term expense of the commons and the community that used it. Thus, the actions of a few could harm the interests of many, and of society as a whole.

The digital world provides an opportunity to think of the commons differently. The use of the digital commons by everyone does not necessarily exclude its use by anyone. To the extent that new information and communications technologies allow more and more people to contribute their own genius, the digital world offers new opportunities from the commons and for the commons.

Openness is not an overriding moral value that must prevail in every circumstance. But, its extraordinary capability to harness the collective intelligence of our world requires us to consider its implications carefully, nurture it where possible, and avoid efforts to foreclose it without compelling reason. We should not miss the opportunity to harvest the benefits openness might bring.

If you have read our Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems and want more, the CED report is a good next step. I don’t know CED, but do recommend reading their report. It is great to have a solid and well-written argument for openization from a business perspective.

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