Open knowledge benefits everyone

Stuttgart | 11.12.2015 | The cultural change to greater openness was the focus of discussion at the first OPEN! conference
Gunter Dueck on stage Gunter Dueck speaking about managers, nerds and engineers in his keynote (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

Are security issues standing in the way of the next big thing in Germany? Is the need for law and order impeding progress in Europe? These were two of the typically thought-provoking questions posed by internet visionary Gunter Dueck in his keynote address on openness, Open to Think Big! In his address, Gunter Dueck made the case that big ideas and innovation were not only about saving mankind but equally about having fun – and prophesied that in the Internet of Things, engineers would be the next important players after managers and nerds driving forward social change.

Cultural change was a common thread throughout the first OPEN! conference for digital innovation, which was held at the Hospitalhof in Stuttgart on 2 December 2015. The conference was jointly organised by the MFG Innovation Agency, the Open Source Business Alliance and the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts. Jürgen Walter, Secretary of State in the Ministry, opened the conference together with MFG CEO Prof. Carl Bergengruen and Peter Ganten, Chairman of the Board of the OSB Alliance.

Peter Ganten on stage Peter Ganten speaking about innovation and disruption (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

#OpenDigi goes viral on Twitter

“Open knowledge and open data are there to be used,” stressed Peter Ganten, a sentiment shared by many in the audience, as was clear from what was streaming on Twitter. Under the hashtag #OpenDigi, participants made extensive use of Twitter to comment live on the talks, reaching a wide audience; by midday the OPEN! conference was trending at number 1 on Twitter in Germany.

The first OPEN! conference  attracted entrepreneurs, thinkers, researchers and management experts from across Germany to Baden-Württemberg. The conference was divided into four panels: Open Source, Open Data, Open Educational Resources (OER) and Business Models. The almost 300 participants debated current issues and discussed the future of open movements with 40 speakers and motivators in the panels. In each panel, keynote sessions alternated with good practice and panel discussions.

The Hospitalhof in Stuttgart A fitting setting for the OPEN! conference: the Hospitalhof in Stuttgart (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

Data protection is the environmental protection of the 21st century

Open standards, together with the appropriate platforms and devices for their implementation across the internet, featured prominently in the discussions in the Open Source panel. The keynote address was given by author Malte Spitz, who sees data protection as the environmental protection of the 21st century. “For openness to be sustainable, trust must first be established,” declared the specialist author. “People only trust technology they themselves can control. Openness is a prerequisite for data protection, as it alone allows continuous control.”

The panel discussion concluded that there was a need to raise awareness for a change of culture and mentality towards greater openness, thereby paving the way for a paradigm shift in the internet. It was also generally agreed that anything funded by public money should be open access.

Participants in front of a pin board Four panels were open to the conference participants. (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

Digital volunteers are the lifeblood of open data

The Open Data panel recommended seeing open data not as a consumable resource but as infrastructure. This sustainable approach has the added benefit of bringing out of the shadows unknown (data) treasures such as cultural data scattered across small archives. The cultural data hackathon, Coding Da Vinci gives some idea of what can be achieved with such data; projects ranged from a birdsong alarm clock that only starts to sing when you guess correctly to a city brick that carries audiovisual stories. 

“Innovation needs free data,” commented André Golliez, President of the Swiss initiative, Opendata.ch. However, funding such data and ensuring its long-term availability are a serious problem, as the open data currently found on the internet is primarily the work of digital volunteers. There is a need here too for a complete rethink and a more robust embedding of data skills in public administration and economy infrastructure. The panel encouraged conference participants to be actively committed to open data in society. An appeal went out to all participants to “become open lobbyists”.

Meeting room full of people The OER panel was well attended. (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

Educational resources: free vs. open

“OER are a potential innovation driver in education,” stated Dominic Orr, external advisor to the OECD, in his opening address to the Open Educational Resources panel. To avoid possible misunderstandings, initial discussion focused on terminology. Open learning resources have free licences – this is more than simply being “available online and free of charge”; it also includes clearly defined rules on their further distribution and processing. “Sharing is a characteristic feature of OER. This is nothing new. The spoken word was already shared in antiquity,” commented Hedwig Seipel, e-learning consultant. “In further education, turnover is often achieved with content, which is why many still equate content with money.”

The panel discussion then also turned to the concerns of users. Many educational institutions are still wary of sharing material, especially in further education, where they are often privately funded. The point made in the panel to those with doubts was that trainers are more than just the training materials they use. The materials in themselves are not a sustainable business model in the long term. Use of OER is not yet firmly established in tertiary education either; MOOCs – massive open online courses – remain a contentious issue, for example. Dr Martin Ebner presented the Graz University of Technology as an example of best practice. He concluded that “giving open access to the excellent teaching materials we can offer and provide in tertiary education can only be to the good.”

The MFG team at the registration The MFG team at the registration of the OPEN! conference. (photo: MFG / Matthiessen)

A concrete outcome: the Stuttgart declaration

The focus in the fourth and largest panel discussing the challenges facing those seeking to make money from open ideas was on business models. Key questions included: What can other openness movements learn from Open Source? How can a balance be struck between community and profit? Jan Wildeboer’s (Red Hat) hypothesis that software has no intrinsic value served as the starting point for discussion. The question therefore is what to do with the software – and how to tackle this problem. “How do we create trust in a world that cannot be trusted?”, was Jan Wildeboer’s succinct summary of the problem. The panelists also pointedly questioned the need to make a profit from anything that was open access.

At the end of the conference, the panel moderators summarised the most important findings and results regarding digital innovation for inclusion in the Stuttgart declaration. The first hypotheses were already published online in November and can be supplemented and commented on. The final version of the declaration will be published at the start of 2016.

Author: Ines Goldberg
Further information:

Photo collection of the OPEN! 2015
OPEN! conference for digital innovation