HOSC2006: session on ‘social inclusion’

Friday June 17 I chaired a session which I had organized about the theme of ‘social inclusion’ during the second Holland Open Software Conference. Speakers I had invited were Yuwei Lin (researcher Manchester Univ.), Soenke Zehle (teacher at Saarland Univ.), Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (UNU-Merit – Maastricht Univ.), and Arjan de Jager (IICD). Below an impression from the session:

Rishab thinks the term social inclusion does not cover the point, i.e. F/OSS main opportunity lies in the fact that it is software that can be used to learn from. Rishab stated it is not only access that matters but also skills and participation. Europe and the USA lead in F/OSS world, but there is hardly a country in the world without any F/OSS development. The main obstacle for tapping into this emerging talent and energy is that there is little interaction between developers worldwide (e.g Chinese and European) except through some middlemen. And then there is a net-flow of talented developers to the USA, since most chances are found there (hey, even Linus Torvalds works there now..)

Arjan agrees with Rishab in renouncing the term “social inclusion”. He gives an overview of some of the obstacles to F/OSS use in developing countries: lack of awareness, lack of bandwidth, need for certificates and certified personnel, little attention given to open standards, decision support models especially for developing countries are lacking. Arjan raises the question whether certifications should be leveled according to GDP, since the standard price is a huge barrier for people in poorer countries?

Yuwei confronts the audience with the male bias in F/OSS developers culture. She hardly meets women in the F/OSS world. And if so, they are confined to ‘less technical’ work of documentation. Perhaps F?OSS culture is too much of a “we against the others”, which is an attitude of exclusiveness. Yuwei passionately pleas for more women key note speakers at F/OSS conferences!

Soenke gives an overview of the institutional origins of information technology policies – or “info-development” – which is a combination of political rights issues and social/material rights issues. The latter led to “access for all” ideas. Soenke also raises the issue of corporate accountability and human rights issues in open source companies. These organizations shouldn’t forget the ideological origins of the free software movement.

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