Quality of Openness: Evaluating the Contributions of IDRC’s Information and Networks Program to Open Development


This report presents a summative and formative evaluation of the quality of openness outcomes of projects in IRDC’s Information and Networks (I&N) programme. “Quality of openness” can be interpreted in two ways: as the qualities of openness within openness initiatives, and as the quality of the outcomes from those initiatives. The analysis shows that I&N-supported projects have produced ample evidence on best practices in openness initiatives, including careful consideration of what counts as ‘open,’ and the conditions under which openness can be attained. Open resources are defined as those which are accessible, digital, affordable, locatable, timely, sharable, and appropriately licensed. In addition, they should be in a format that allows for their reuse and modification. This finding in turn indicates the type of policy, institutional and technical environments necessary to support the realization of openness initiatives.

The overall summative evaluative finding is that I&N has substantially met its outcome criteria for networked innovation, research recognition and policy and practice. In particular, I&N is a major contributor in Open Development, which is in turn advancing access to knowledge (A2K) in underprivileged contexts, and producing cutting-edge research within the field of knowledge for development (K4D). Its work is driving forward a maturing research agenda on open development, and aims to ensure that later projects leverage and build on the findings of earlier ones. These ideas are being disseminated within an active research community and taken up by practitioners and policy-makers. IDRC plays a unique role, providing research support services rather than technical or policy-related funding.

The formative evaluation considers whether and how I&N research can demonstrate the relationship between openness and social change in developing contexts. Specifically, a common understanding was sought of what is meant by “quality of openness” or “quality openness” by both the I&N team and its research partners, and to identify project outcomes consistent with ‘improved quality of openness.’ This work responds to a preoccupation of the I&N unit, seeking to produce evidence about the impacts of openness that stands apart from the pressures of implementing and/or promoting a particular program. This is essential in demonstrating the benefits of openness to policymakers, instructing them on how best to structure legal frameworks, policies and supporting environments in ways that facilitate the positive effects, and curtail the negative impacts, of open initiatives.

Openness is intended to produce increased access, inclusion, efficiency, engagement, increased distribution, informed decision making, policy outcomes around enabling environments, and changes to political processes (empowerment). However, while I&N has gone a long way towards establishing open development initiatives and researching their characteristics, the benefits of open phenomena remain unproven.

Understanding the links between openness and wider processes of social change is important to providing policy, institutional and technical advice that speaks to the broader conditions for educational attainment, citizenship, decision-making, knowledge production, innovation or productivity in challenging contexts. I&N is exploring mechanisms that link open initiatives to human activities in ways that generate social innovations of significance to development. These include push factors such as data holders’ understanding of data usage, the preparedness or acceptance of user communities, institutional policies, and wider policies and regulations; as well as pull factors including the awareness, capacity and attitude of users. In other words, openly networked social processes rely on not just quality openness, but also on supportive environments that link open resources and the people who might leverage them to create improvements, whether in governance, education or knowledge production.


Reilly, K.M.A.; McMahon, R. Quality of Openness: Evaluating the Contributions of IDRC’s Information and Networks Program to Open Development. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada (2015) 97 pp.

Quality of Openness: Evaluating the Contributions of IDRC’s Information and Networks Program to Open Development

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