The Openness Index

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NOTE: Original content developed through the JASIG 2-3-98 Project's Openness Index (Apereo Foundation).



The term Open Source -- or as frequently shortened, Open -- has become popularly used to describe a variety of activities, communities and objects: open source software, open source textbooks, open source hardware , open source culture, to name a few. As interest in open sourcing projects increases, ambiguity and possibly authenticity in the tenets -- and thus potentially value -- has grown. For example open education may refer to, 1. learners within a cohort that participate in readily available teaching and learning activities without admission requirements and only a registration fee, or 2. educational content that available to anyone without a cost (1).

In addition to the ambiguity and confusion around open source or open, there is also ambiguity around how communities of practice might organize and operate to inculturate The Open Source Way and realize the value of open sourcing their development.

The Openness Index attempts to define attributes that enable and authenticate the practices offered in The Open Source Way. The Openness Index serves a means to assess the maturity of open source practices (i.e. governance, policies, behavior, etc.) within the community of practice responsible for the design, development, and distribution of the open artifact. This will be a useful tool for both the open organizations themselves, to reflect on and develop best practices, as well as external communities, who wish to assess an organization as part of their own due-diligence before joining or contributing to an open community of practice.

Importantly, the Openness Index is not designed to assess the "openness" of an artifact itself (software, a learning object, some piece of hardware, etc.)–there are plenty of licenses (OSI Approved Licenses, Creative Commons Licenses, etc.) which can be used to assess the openness of an object. Rather, the model assess the openness of the organization/community that creates and manages such artifacts.


The Capability Maturity Model (CMM)

The term "maturity" relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes, from ad hoc practices, to formally defined steps, to managed result metrics, to active optimization of the processes (Capability Maturity Model, Wikipedia).

Fundamentally, such models identify five levels of maturity along a continuum:

  • Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) - the starting point for use of a new or undocumented repeat process.
  • Repeatable - the process is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps may be attempted.
  • Defined - the process is defined/confirmed as a standard business process, and decomposed to levels 0, 1 and 2 (the latter being Work Instructions).
  • Managed - the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics.
  • Optimizing - process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement.

The Open Maturity Model (OMM)

Using the above as a framework, the following can be applied to access the maturity of an open project and or community:

  • Initial/Aware (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) - the starting point for use of a new or undocumented open project.
  • Repeatable - openness is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps toward openness may be attempted.
  • Defined - openness is defined/confirmed as a standard business process, and decomposed to levels 0, 1 and 2 (the latter being Work Instructions).
  • Managed - openness is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics (those of the OMM)
  • Optimizing - openness management includes deliberate principle/process/practice optimization/improvement.

The OMM Framework / Causality

...and my be expressed as:

Values <=> Principles <=> Objectives => Practices

<=> Necessary & Sufficient
<=  Necessary
=>  Sufficient
++  Contributory


Courage => Participation <= Honesty <=> Reflection => Humility <=> Values

Courage is sufficient to motivate one to participate in open communities of practices, however participants may be motivated by other causes, such as: a condition of employment; direction from a supervisor; peer pressure; or, a hidden agenda—perhaps to influence (or sabotage) direction.

Participation in open communities of practice is necessary in order to contribute. While there is no guarantee the contributions will be honest, participation is necessary in order to offer an honest contribution.

Reflection' in open communities of practice requires honesty and can only exist if it is present. Assessment of one's ideas or self can only be genuine if one is honest.

Reflection is sufficient to evoke humility. Knowing one's limits or failures is fundamental to acknowledging them, however recognizing one's limitations does not mean one would admit to them.



Implementations (Reference Implementations)

The following have expressed interest in applying the Open Index to their organizations. As a working project, the Openness Index can be informed through actual use, iterating through development as information is learned in its application. These initial tests will provide the Openness Index with reference models for refinement and enhancement. The results of these initial assessments are not intended to provide an actual index of the organizations reviewed, rather provide direction for further development efforts. We are extremely grateful for this early participation from interested organizations, without whom the project could not advance.

  • Apereo Foundation (website)
    The Apereo Foundation assists and facilitates educational organizations which collaborate to foster, develop, and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research.
  • Open Education Resource Foundation (website)
    The Open Education Resource Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides leadership, international networking and support for educators and educational institutions to achieve their objectives through Open Education.
  • Project Kaleidoscope (website)
    Project Kaleidoscope is implementing a set of fully open general education courses across eight colleges serving predominantly at-risk students. The project will dramatically reduce textbook costs and allow collaborative improvement of course design to improve student success.


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