Open by default

I’ve heard this phrase a few times, often in relation to open data eg. the open data charter. I think it’s a useful starting position for those in higher ed, across all aspects of practice. That is, assume you should be operating openly, and only if there are valid reasons not to, shift away from that, instead of the reverse situation as it is now. It is important to emphasise that there are perfectly valid reasons why you may not be open in a particular aspect, eg an online learning forum for new learners may be better conducted in what they feel is a safe space. So open by default merely suggests that you should consider what you lose by not being open.

Open practice brings a number of benefits, depending on the particular task at hand. These include:

  • Altruism – it’s a good thing to do generally to share, and is at the heart of much of what academia is about.
  • Efficiency – if the feel-good factor of altruism doesn’t cut it for you, then there is a more pragmatic stance, that sharing content, ideas, data, source code is simply a more efficient way to work.
  • Increased profile – this can be important for research projects who want different stakeholders to know about their existence and to engage with them, individuals establishing an academic identity, and resources (eg open access articles) that you want to be widely accessed.
  • Dissemination – probably a combination of the previous two (efficiency and profile), but much of higher education is concerned with dissemination, and conducting this in an open manner is really the best route.
  • Wider participation – whether it is contribution to a project, forming ideas or getting learners to engage with a broader audience, then open practice offers an effective route.
  • Unexpected outcomes – we all have stories of how open practice can lead to (pleasant) unpredicted outcomes, such as the use of content in different contexts, new connections, the formulation of project ideas, etc.
  • Innovation – the open space is often one that allows room for experimentation and innovation outside of formal conventions.
  • Easy collaboration – it is actually really difficult to collaborate – it requires memorandums of understanding, project plans, commitment. I am (still) often reminded of Scott’s post about the difficulty of sharing, whereas being open just means it happens.

Those are quite considerable benefits. So the open by default stance says, before you surrender all of these, make sure what you are gaining by not being open is worthwhile. In essence: Is closed worth the cost? There will be many times when the answer to this question is yes, but one should at least make the case (even if it’s just to yourself) for this. Currently the reverse is true, which is actually quite odd when you consider it.

6 Comments

  1. Carl Morris says:

    * It can make it much easier to find your OWN stuff later on, sometimes just a few months later.

  2. admin says:

    Ha, that’s true, I often find myself going back over my own stuff when writing a book. But I suppose this isn’t necessarily a function of openness – you could keep a private journal for instance.

  3. I’ve been thinking about whether another benefit of ‘open by default’ can lead to a higher quality of output- partly because knowing it’s going to be open leads to more care and thought and/or other people commenting or reviewing can help raise the quality – which sort of links to the benefits for collaboration.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Sukaina – yes that’s true in two senses. One is the efficiency argument, ie you build on the work of others, but I hadn’t considered the individual quality filter that you suggest, that creating for an open audience improves the output

  5. […] Weller wrote a nice post this week on the benefits of an open by default approach. One of the comments highlighted another […]

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