Schlagwein, Conboy, Feller, Leimeister, & Morgan, 2017

Schlagwein, D., Conboy, K., Feller, J., Leimeister, J. M., & Morgan, L. (2017). “Openness” with and without Information Technology: a framework and a brief history. Journal of Information Technology, 32(4), 297–305.


Over the past two decades, openness (e.g. ‘open’ innovation, ‘open’ education and ‘open’ strategy) has been of increasing interest for researchers and of increasing relevance to practitioners. Openness is often deeply embedded in information technology (IT) and can be both a driver for and a result of innovative IT. To clarify the concept of “openness”, we provide an overview of the scope of cross-disciplinary research on openness. Based on this overview, we develop a framework of openness, which proposes a higher-order concept of “openness” characterised by transparency, access, participation and democracy. The framework further distinguishes open resources, open processes and the effects of opening on particular domains. To provide the historical context and to appreciate the role of IT in openness, we discuss two historical examples of openness: the introduction of an open science model in academia (openness without IT) and the emergence of open source software development (openness with IT). We conclude by highlighting some concerns with and limitations of “openness”.


openness, information technology, transparency, access, participation, democracy, open resources, open processes, open science, open source software development, concept development, framework



Key Quotes

(Figure 1, p. 299)

The principles typically used to characterise this higher-order concept are: access to information and other resources; participation in an inclusive and often collaborative manner; transparency of resources and actions; and democracy or “democratization” such as the breaking up of exclusionary structures. The opposite of openness is closedness which is characterised by secrecy, exclusivity and “proprietary ownership”. This conceptualisation of “openness” is, of course, a Weberian “ideal type” (Weber, 1904), an archetypical and stylised conceptualisation of a particular idea. (p. 300)

For example, open education refers to a commitment to a long-standing ideal of removing barriers to education. Openness here implies particular social and political values oriented towards democracy, equality and liberalism (see Peters and Britez, 2008, particularly chapters 1 and 2). This meaning of openness is in line with Popper’s notion of an “open society” (Popper, 1945). (p. 300)


  • early software code in the 1950s was often shared freely among researchers and academics
  • as a result of compilers making deconstructing executable code very difficult, proprietary software development expanded between the 60's and 80's (Microsoft, etc)
  • FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) is a reaction to proprietary software
    • an ideological view that software ought to be free and that proprietary software is immoral
    • ex. Linux OS as replacement for Windows
  • led to process where source code was developed by a voluntary community, based on publicly available code
  • shares open development model with FLOSS (accessible code, participatory development)
  • OSS allows for commercial uses

Access and Participation

  • open source software development (OSSD) works only because of networked technologies that allow
    • easy and efficient access
    • tracking and version control
  • when many people have access and contributions can be tracked (transparency) and organized, "transaction costs" are substantially reduced

IT is Malleable and Generative

  • IT is highly malleable, so allows for novel applications
  • IT is also generative as its development lead to further development

Combining low transaction costs with high malleability allows openness to be enacted in OSSD.