The first Open Source Summit, hosted by The Sedona Conversations and the r-smart Group, provided a useful backdrop for pondering
not only Open Source developments but how we construct what John Seely Brown
called a new “techno-economic paradigm.”
For me, it was Brad Wheeler who opened the conference in the absence of
Steven Weber, who was taken out by the flu, and who set the defining framework
for the OS Summit. Brad Wheeler’s earlier Educause presentations and
his cover page article in Educause (July/August, 2004) helped many of
us understand the significance of the OS movement.
His opening address demonstrated his ability to translate Open Source as a
representative of an expert community to a primer for many of us in the room.
Similar to Steven Weber’s and John Seely Brown’s observations, Open Source
for higher education is as much an organizational-social innovation as it is a
Wheeler concentrated on three elements in his address: code, coordination and
community. Wheeler adds that the challenging aspects of OS are probably the
coordinating mechanisms we have to sustain to keep the information and
value-added improvements moving through its sharing community. How do we both
loop back creative improvements and distribute to wider communities as well?
At the same time, the consortia of partners become owners, collaborators,
distributors, and creators and builders all in some kind of governance and
arrangement. How the chemistry of such arrangements play out rest with the
integrity and ethical constructs laid down in the consortium.
Wheeler discusses community in a more profound sense. The new tenants of
community building do not follow strictly Adam Smith precepts. While competition
and property have driven a supply push model, John Seely Brown says that the
engine of deeper more socially purposive market systems is demand-pull.
Can we construct such a workable arrangement and mechanism? Organizations
like SAKAI, led by prestigious and deep-capacity research one universities have
the intellectual and human capital to possibly pull off an OS movement. However,
as Wheeler so powerfully asserts, it is community building, finding the
chemistry where niches of the community, even micro-pockets of innovation feed a
larger entity of production that transform technology software.
Such an arrangement posits a push-back back of the vending monoliths to a
degree, but is also presupposes new arrangements with its proprietary providers
The conference participants heard both sides of the case for the inclusion of
proprietary software and the case for a newer production-based OS model. How
will all the affected sectors intersect, combine, recombine, and self-organize.
That’s not really knowable at this point, but the Tenth Sedona helped to point
out some ways we must think about a technological future.
In Weber’s seminal book The Success of Open Source, he points out
that there is a social story, a technical story, a political story and an
economic story involved in constructing OS. What made Brad Wheeler’s commentary
so valuable is that with his simple taxonomy of code, coordination and
community, we could sense how Open Source is a social, political and ethical
arrangement, as well as a technological one.
I took the opportunity in my closing remarks to quote William Reckmeyer, a
systems theorists’ view of how modern science envisions more complex systems:
“If you look at the way the Universe has evolved, you see that from the
sub-atomic level to the natural level it has come about not from some grand
design where everything was put in it’s place, but rather by lots of
entrepreneurial activities and lots of different species developing different
I could make the case that Open Source is an analogy for how we search for
the working chemistry of the organizations over which we preside or in which we
Fundamentally, our first impulse is to be proprietary ourselves. Our
smokestack organizational arrangements often fail to consider lateral
cooperation, much less project collaboration. We are instinctively competitive;
therefore, too often non-sharing.
As I consult about the US and outside of it, I find deep pathologies in
organizational structures. Some colleges are frozen to act, almost paralyzed to
adapt, change, flex and respond to need with agility.
Creative processes are often suppressed or blocked out, morale kept low and
initiative poorly aligned.
The niches Reckmeyer describes are the driving force of regeneration,
creation and contribution to the larger living organisms (think organization) of
which we are a part.
I once heard Peter Senge say at a Sloan School workshop at MIT that “in
America we shoot collaborators.” Senge’s comments are a reflection of how we
prefer solo flights rather than partnering.
John Seely Brown’s anchor presentation could be counted on to ratchet up the
stakes of Open Source. His presentation included a discussion of the forging of
a workable techno-economic paradigm for the 21 st-century. He posed a question
about what development was the most significant factor in modern progress in the
last 130 years. Brown was quick to add that it was not the PC or such seemingly
evident developments as the microchip or miniaturization. To Brown, it is the
invention of the “limited liability corporation.”
How we do phenomenal things with other peoples’ assets accelerates the speeds
of innovative risk-taking, melding our own realities from visions is what makes
the world advance, prosper, and affect the way we organize and drive commerce,
how we live, work and envision futures.
Brown hopes, actually opts for “a grand transition.” OS and how we develop
and design its workings has huge implications for the larger world and all of
its sectors. Much rides on how higher education acts out its possible OS
Brown says that we now know how to cobble 100,000 servers to aggregate
computational power. We now know how to pull profound dialogue with sharing
members of a scholarship community. This can bring in astrophysicists,
geneticists, ethicists and scholars from every citadel in the world to weigh in
on international projects. Through web-based communities we can create a global
commons of scholars and specialists – but more important than any other factor,
we can democratize the processes so that the widest and deepest communities can
Elsner pointed out in his comments that when the Rio Summit on the World
Environment was convened and organized by untiring Canadian impresario, Maurice
Strong, the process showed that it was not primarily nation-states that forged,
collated and assigned responsibility to facets of our environmental challenges.
Rather, it was many ad hoc and formalized niche groups who laid groundwork for
the later Kyoto Accords, as well as a comprehensive structure of the summit’s
topical and research issues, many of which live on today.
Again, it was smaller often committed disenfranchised groups that broke
through the numbing reticence and ever-reluctant regimes to place before the
world forum the most sensitive environmental issues.
The elder President Bush only decided at the last minute to appear in Rio de
Janeiro, faced with the embarrassment to his own administration of the
implications of not showing up.
Elsner put up a slide quoting again from Steven Weber’s book: “Open Source
radically inverts the Core theory of Property. Property in Open Source is
configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to
In preparing for a future studies course I am to teach next semester, one of
my colleagues, Tom Lombardo, shared his syllabus from The Odyssey of
Science, Technology and the Cosmos, in which he describes future science
and technology in these terms:
* The technological revolution in contemporary times is multi-dimensional,
global and integrative, with different technologies mutually accelerating each
other. The accelerative growth of technology promises to continue into the
future. Technological projects and devices will become both bigger and smaller
simultaneously – nature will be technologically infused at all levels of
reality. This process will transform transportation, habitation, resources and
energy, and production, as well as the entirety of life, earth, ecology and
* Technology will become increasingly intelligent, self-maintaining,
self-evolving, and in partnership and synthesis with the biological,
psychological, and social dimensions of human reality. But it is also possible
that at some point our technological creations will transcend us.
* There is an essential and reciprocal connection between humanity and
science and technology. For better or worse, our values, nature, and ways of
life are inextricably tied to science and technology. Humanity and technology
will co-evolve in the future.
* The new ideas of 20th-century science go beyond and, in many ways,
challenge the original views of the Scientific Revolution. The new ideas
constitute a Second Scientific Revolution. At the most basic level, the
Newtonian model of the universe, a dualistic and static vision of nature, is
being progressively replaced by an evolutionary and reciprocal theory of the
cosmos. Whole and parts, order and chaos, and matter and energy are now seen as
intimately and reciprocally connected in a dynamic transforming universe. Also a
reciprocal theory of knowledge has replaced the dualist theory of knowledge in
* Over the last couple of centuries Newtonian science and industrial
technology strongly influenced social and psychological ideas and values in the
modern world. The new ideas of science will change the conceptual framework of
the human mind, culture, and the organization of human society in the centuries
* Future science will integrate heart, value, and meaning with the cognitive,
quantitative, abstract and factual features of the traditional science. The
scientific and spiritual quests for cosmic understanding and wisdom will
integrate (Lombardo, 2004).
In the next discussions of Open Source, to take place in the Netherlands,
March 30-April 1, we will attempt to link the paradigm shifts in modern science
to the OS movements. We think such discussions will amplify the first Open
Source Summit issues that were raised. We also understand that there is an
international interest in OS. While it was cited at the Scottsdale conference,
that getting out from under pervasive US dominance was one of the motivations
for exploring OS models of software development, there appears to be sufficient
interest to draw a solid European presence of OS pioneers and early followers.
I have only brushed over the many issues put forward at the Tenth Sedona Conversations. There were numerous presenters besides the few that
I discuss here. Several have indicated a desire to present in the Netherlands,
and we are hoping many more will join us in the Netherlands and perhaps later in
the year in Australia.
Paul A. Elsner
President and Founder,
The Sedona Conversations