Thursday, June 10, 2010

Open Everything

Today's columnist is Jason Cote from Freeform Solutions. He writes:

The underlying focus of my career is a belief in leveraging the benefits of technology to serve people, organizations, and networks working to better the world.

In the beginning, this was not a conscious intention. My participation in an international network of bulletin board systems, first as a user, then as a SysOp (system operator), opened my eyes to a larger world of possibilities. I willingly released the fruits of my programming labour, long before I truly understood what public domain, shareware, and free software meant. Certainly, the Internet has helped to usher the concept of open source into today's mainstream, even if the term is now so overloaded as to be confusing. Still, I wonder how many of us know how long this concept has been around.

Eventually I came to understand how my preference for starting, leading, or otherwise engaging with not-for-profit and charitable organizations was related to me giving away for free the software and other artifacts I produced. It is becoming increasingly clear that the parallels between open source and the not-for-profit sector are many. There is the obvious use of free (as in beer) software by organizations which are least able to pay. More importantly, there is a sense of community. In particular, there is a voluntary engagement in disseminating information, increasing awareness and accessibility, collaborating, building networks and ecosystems, and producing social innovation.

Through many interesting ventures that produced a variety of social innovations – including a network of accessible science programs for youth, high performance computer networks for international research, and online donations to any charity – my consulting practice has ebbed and flowed. Today, I am engaged with a number of kindred spirits and together we are striving to bring increased consciousness and intention to our work. Freeform Solutions is the embodiment of this work, and provides an enduring vehicle for supporting our mission: help not-for-profit organizations use technology to build their capacity and increase their effectiveness in pursuing their own mission. We are a not-for-profit organization ourselves, and we're also quite actively engaged in using and developing open source software.

We were recently contacted by a prospective volunteer, whose interest in free software and the not-for-profit sector lead her to our website. Our invitation to work with us prompted her contact. As a participant in several open source communities, the lead developer of Formulize, and being a not-for-profit organization, we certainly rely on volunteers. Our prospect said she was glad to see that granting organizations are supporting the potential of free software; she noticed that we are receiving a grant from the The Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Support from The Ontario Trillium Foundation is helping us to build our capacity to use and develop open source software and otherwise engage the not-for-profit sector in this social movement. More broadly, we are producing new knowledge, software, and solutions relevant to the needs of today's not-for-profit organizations. In other words, we are open sourcing more than just software. We are also witness to the increasing application of liberty (free) and transparency (open) to a growing number of fields of endeavour.

In September 2008, I had the privilege of attending a gathering of like-minded thinkers, and tinkerers, at an Open Everything event at Hollyhock, an educational retreat centre on scenic Cortes Island. It is difficult to be in such a magical place and not be inspired. Kris Krug took this picture of me staring toward the ocean, reverent. This event was part of a series held around the world and the application of “open” to “everything” clearly marches on. In a way, these events may no longer be necessary. The future is happening now.

We have some ideas about where we're headed, but we know we have much to learn and to do. We could use your help as we continue to develop our theory of change. This column is an opportunity for us to expose our interests and what we are currently working on, particularly as they relate to current trends and topics of interest to you, our readers. So, let us know what you think! Emboldened by one prospective volunteer who stumbled across our website, I'm sending this broader invitation to the like-minded thinkers and tinkerers who are reading this now. Let's engage.

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