I am wondering if there might be a third option (orientation) to the two you’ve described (i.e. openness focused on the creator and one focused on the user)? For me, I tend to think first of the community when assessing (i.e. defining) openness. That is, how do the value/principles of the leadership of the project (aka the creator) enable community (participation/collaboration/contribution), and how are the artifacts (objects used by the users) accessed, shared, distributed, customized, etc?

I wonder if it might be helpful to index the attributes associated with these three perspectives, i.e. the values of openness from the creators’ point of view, the values from the user’s point of view, and values from the community’s point of view. From this aggregation, a definition–that is, the requisite attributes of openness–might be distilled. Indeed it may be openness, as a quality, is broader than simply any one point of view or reference. However, I would argue open is like pregnant, you either are, or are not.

Considering the above, I can imagine all three types (creator, user, community) would value openness in contribution. That is the creator wants new ideas/fixes to improve the project, the user wants his/her enhancements to be included, and the community enjoys increased pace of development of a more stable and versatile project. However, would all three groups want open governance, i.e. the ability to participate in the direction of the project? It might be that the creator, whose vision led to the project, wants to retain the role of setting direction. Is a project “open” if those involved cannot contribute to governance, decision-making, direction? Attributes like self-organization might be only of interest to the community while customization might be specific to the users (please, I have not thought these through, I am just modeling here). I have arrogated a list of benefits to open source (co-authored with Michael Feldstein) that it might be interesting to map the three perspectives.

I have seen many open source software projects “released as open source” in order to leverage the crowd (get free labor). Unfortunately most of these efforts are short-lived as the original development team cannot develop a model for shared decision-making. In addition, there seems to be a bit of developers pride and, if I can be so bold, arrogance with those who “lead” projects. Being the visionary of a project is very alluring and much better than a participant. There are over 50 open source LMS’s out there, I wonder why edX is compelled to lead the effort in creating a new one rather than contribute to an existing one?

I commend you on your effort to qualify the term as open-washing is now so prevalent leading many people/organizations to find themselves out of alignment with “open” organizations where their expectations for participation (collaboration, contribution, direction) are not aligned with the organizational or operational practices/principles of the “benevolent dictator,” board or directors or community of members.

At the end of the day, I would hope open/openness could be defined and even “certified” in order to remove the ambiguity (and at worst, fraud) occurring across all open initiatives: open access, open content, OER, open source, etc.

Can’t wait to see your final work and thanks,