Tension lines in the digital commons: a report | Open Future

As a part of our exploration of the open movement, last May, we hosted a workshop with a small group of the movement’s leaders. It was co-organized by our partners at the Open Knowledge Foundation and Wikimedia Europe. The convening built up on what we found out in Shifting Tides – quality research about the state of the movement conducted a few months prior.

The participants were activists, experts, and critical thinkers representing different fields of open. Together, we wanted to make sense of the challenges facing the open ecosystems and propose solutions that could be adopted by organizations and activists supporting openness and the commons. Participants represented a broad range of views that allowed us to identify the strategic tensions within the movement relating to, a.o., its politics, socio-economic constraints, digital rights, and equity. You can read the full report as a PDF or online.

The workshop corresponded with the Open Knowledge Foundation’s ongoing process of updating the Open Definition. It also helped us expand on the key challenge we first identified in our founding essay, the Paradox of Open – that in today’s digital environment, openness serves as both a challenge to concentrations of power and its enabler.

We hope this conversation will continue at different open movement convenings in the coming months. In the meantime, we welcome all forms of feedback and hope that the report will prove useful for everyone involved in the open movement.


Shifting tides: The Open Movement at a Turning Point | Open Future

by Alek Tarkowski and Zuzanna Warso

At the turn of 2022 and 2023, we conducted a series of interviews with leading voices in the open movement. We spoke with professional activists who address openness from varied perspectives and work in different fields of open. Some have been engaged in activism for decades, while others are looking at it with a fresh set of eyes. Many of our interviewees lead organizations advancing openness, and we were particularly interested in talking with those who have been exploring new approaches and strategies.

Our research aims to understand the current state of the open movement, as seen through the eyes of people actively involved in its endeavors and leading organizations within the movement. We want to make sense of shared positions and understand whether there are any clear division lines. We are particularly interested in identifying trends that transform the movement and understanding the challenges and needs of activists and organizations as these changes occur. The report signals a shift to what can be best described as a post-copyright approach to openness. However, while our focus is on how the movement is changing, this does not mean that the whole movement is subject to that shift. There still exists a need for copyright advocacy work in the movement, and many organizations maintain the course developed at the outset.  Nonetheless, we hope that they, too, will find this report’s insights worth examining.

At Open Future, we talk about the future of open and the need to redefine and reimagine some of our goals and activist strategies. We believe that having a perspective that connects the different fields of open activism is valuable. A shared movement identity and a shared advocacy agenda can make our collective effort stronger. With this study, we aim to see whether this perspective is shared and whether it can form a basis for building a shared movement agenda for the decades to come.



Director of Research, Open Future

“We are looking for a researcher with a strong interest in digital policies and in the digital commons, who will join our small team. The Director of Research will be responsible for managing research activities conducted by our organization. The position also provides an opportunity to conduct own research.

We are looking for an experienced researcher with a background preferably in social sciences, political sciences/policy studies, economy or law – but we are open also to other research backgrounds. We are looking for someone with strong leadership skills and willingness to conduct interdisciplinary research.

You will join us as we are building out our research program, including a fellows network. We aim to become a leading voice in European policy discussions about access to knowledge and culture, limiting the power of technology companies and strengthening the role of public institutions and civic initiatives in the digital environment….”

Open Future

“Numerous organisations and initiatives have been launched with a belief in openness and free knowledge. Their proponents placed their bets on the combined power of networked information services and new governance models for the production and sharing of content and data. We – as members of this broad movement – were among those who believed it possible to leverage this combination of power and opportunity to build a more democratic society, unleashing the power of the internet to create universal access to knowledge and culture. For us, such openness meant not only freedom, but also presented a path to justice and equality….

The open revolution that we imagined did not, however, happen. At least not on the scale that we and many other proponents of free culture expected.

Nevertheless, the growing Open movement demonstrated the viability of our ideas. As proof we have Wikipedia, Open Government data initiatives, the ascent of Open Access publishing, the role of free software in powering the infrastructure of the internet and the gradual opening of the collections of many cultural heritage institutions….

Over time, we have observed the significant evolution of our movement’s normative basis – away from a justification based on the voluntary exercise of rights by individual creators and towards a justification based on the production of social goods….

Over the last decade, we have witnessed a wholesale transformation of the networked information ecosystem. The web moved away from the ideals and the open design of the early internet and turned into an environment that is dominated by a small number of platforms….

The concentration of power in the hands of a small number of information intermediaries negates one of the core assumptions of the Open movement….”