At the SCVO Gathering in February we had a stall where we collected information about Third Sector engagement with free open online materials, we used an interactive poster as a survey tool, with a good response rate, and we ran a workshop on day 2, which 21 people came to. A fuller report on the outcomes of this is forthcoming, but we thought it was worth sharing an impressionistic account of the workshop.
In the workshop OEPS and Parkinson’s UK shared our experience of the opportunities and challenges of working with each other to create OER (for example Understanding Parkinson’s) and we also explored Scottish Union Learn’s work supporting users of OER. We kept it brief, because we wanted to allow space for others to explore this area. We asked two sets of questions, one set were a “what if”, and the second to think about what openness might enable.
In the first set we asked people to imagine a future where education is free and open, and then reflect on what it would enable for them as an organisation that uses, or may produce, resources to support their clients. On the broader scale while people did think it might be empowering and allow some to overcome barriers, they were concerned who would be empowered, and whether it might accentuate inequalities. They saw it would give them reach as organisations and might reduce costs of delivery and development, but were worried about the ability of their organisations to cope. While they recognised the opportunities for organisations and clients, this concern around capacity was also expressed in relation to delivery. There was a lot of concern expressed about business models of openness and how this might be supported in the long term
In the second set we asked them to dig a little deeper and reflect on what open would enable, getting them to think about what would need to happen to make it happen, what needed to change within their organisation and what it would enable them to do for their clients. There was a focus on strategic leadership within the organisation and the need for resources (both finance and people) to be allocated to the area. There were also responses around lowering the bar, with organisations feeling that developments costs and technical difficulties were still prohibitive. People felt funders would need to recognise the costs of being open and there would need to be clear and transparent ways of establishing the value for their clients. The emphasised that costs should not just be for development work or one off pilots, but also for maintaining and developing their staff and supporting clients on a long-term basis. In some ways this is a broader issue for the Third Sector, with the tendency for funding to be short term being a long-term problem. Thus the concern was not openness, which was seen as positive, but openness without long-term support.
The tag cloud is based on the comments on the big bits of paper on the tables. It may appear that worries dominated hopes, however, going around the tables and in plenary people were more positive about the possibilities for them and for clients. They recognised that they needed to operate in this space in order to meet the needs of their clients in an increasingly digitised world. They were not approaching it from wide-eyed techno-utopianism, but recognised the challenges for them and their clients. Those challenges relate to open and online in a broader context, of how to support people into the digital world, and questions within the Third Sector more broadly around strategic change, and how to sustain activities. I think this is probably a question we need to ask ourselves in the OER/OEP community. It is all very well having resource to make something open, but what about the resources to ensure it is used and that it remains useful, so asking how to enable things to be open, what openness enables, and how to ensure it is sustained.