The Tenth Sedona

The Open Source Summit

Scottsdale, Arizona

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 technological one.

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 as well.

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 niches.”

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 work.

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 destinies.

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 participate.

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 exclude.”

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 beyond.

* 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 earlier science.

* 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 ahead.

* 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


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