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AFRIK-IT  October 2005

AFRIK-IT October 2005

Subject:

FOSS and Development Summary Points

From:

Dr Richard Heeks <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Sun, 16 Oct 2005 16:03:30 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (70 lines)

I just want to do a fairly brief summary/response to some of the 
points that have arisen discussing FOSS on various lists 
(setting aside the generally off-key messages that sought to 
discuss Heeks!).

1. There have been a lot of good points made in emails.  For 
example about the strong role envisaged for FOSS in 
development strategies of some developing countries (Brazil, 
India), and the centrality of FOSS to some e.g. village-level 
initiatives in those countries.   What I think it would be fair to 
say is that we have not seen any pointers to other survey data 
or post hoc case analysis that either supports or contradicts the 
reported research.

Ultimately, of course, "FOSS or not" is not the fundamental issue 
- the issue is how best to achieve developmental benefits via 
ICTs.  If FOSS can in reality be shown to be the best path then 
let's have the evidence, and go with it.  It it's not delivering on 
development, let's put our energies elsewhere.  And if it has a 
niche role, let's recognise that and applaud it but not make it a 
be-all-and-end-all.  I've presented some evidence: where's the 
rest?  Is this like so many e-devel areas - a domain in which 
action squeezes out research, reflection and learning?

2. The full papers cited in our briefing are not yet on the 
conference web site.  I did wait in the hope they would be but 
it's not my site.  The abstracts and presentations are both on the 
site:
http://www.devstud.org.uk/Conference05/abstracts/ITD.htm

3. The purpose of the briefing at the most basic level is just to 
disseminate knowledge; to make those involved with decision-
making about FOSS and development aware of new data.  The 
intended purpose of the briefing's broader content is to 
encourage decision-makers (from individual programmers to 
development organisations to donors etc.) not to get simply 
carried along on the FOSS wave, but to question their decision 
and see, in reality, whether FOSS will really achieve what they 
want.  There are, though, at least two interpretations to the 
briefing  either forget FOSS, or work harder to address 
current strategic shortcomings.

4. Not an attempt at point-scoring, but I am intrigued by the 
reaction from those working on FOSS.  One can't impute 
motivations just from messages but I wonder if there is either 
a) a siege mentality brought on by having to fight Microsoft et 
al; or b) a somewhat messianic zeal, both of which create a 
mindset that will not accept criticism.  There's an interesting 
anthropology PhD waiting to be written on the FOSS 
community and its worldview.  But would it be fair to conclude 
that FOSSers have been paying too much attention either to 
themselves or to the devils from Redmond, and not enough 
attention to their potential customers?  That's certainly what I 
take from both the briefing research and user community list 
messages.

5. Finally, for those wishing to take up Richard Stallman's 
directive: "I suggest people search for ties between the authors 
of this report and Microsoft.", can I just say that our rubbish is 
collected every Thursday, so Wednesday evening would be a 
good day for rooting through my dustbin!

Let's hope there can be as much stimulating discussion from 
our next briefing: "The Earth is actually flat: implications for e-
development".

Richard Heeks
Development Informatics Group
University of Manchester, UK

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