April 20, 2010
Standardizing standardisation practices
Interesting set of reflections by Mattias Ganslandt on IBM's policy, set out in 2008, on working with standards organisations. IBM's policy initiative was aimed at more openness in processes and IPR policies by standards organisations, spurred on no doubt by the OOXML debacle.
At the JISC-CETIS future of interoperability standards event delegates also ranked lack of transparency and IPR issues as being two of the things we most wanted to fix in the eLearning standardisation domain, so its clearly still important.
Ganslandt makes the point that widespread adoption of such policies might lead towards homogenisation of standards setting organisations - not necessarily a good thing, as organisations differ along a wide range of criteria, and are often adapted to a particular set of conditions; for example, he cites the Danish review of openness in standards organisations, which concluded that openness is a trade-off proposition rather than an absolute criteria. For example, consortia may provide openness at the "front end" through open membership but have tighter editorial control from its Board of Directors at the "back end", or more restrictive membership criteria but greater openness and equality among members in the actual work of the consortium.
However as we see with the OWF, even at the most informal end of the standards spectrum there is a desire for more standardisation when it comes to IPR in particular. So perhaps it is practical to push for common IPR practices, irrespective of other characteristics of openness, as this would seem to be a more "absolute" criteria than process openness, which may indeed follow the pattern of tradeoffs that the Danish study concluded. And even then, I think it would be silly to conclude that all consortia are equally but differently open; there are clearly those that haven't even reached a tradeoff position yet with lack of openness at both ends.
Overall I have quite a lot of sympathy for the IBM stance, as poor IP policy and lack of transparency cause a lot of unnecessary friction and barriers in developing standards. However, pragmatically, some consortia are going to be strategic enough that you just end up gritting your teeth and trying to work past it rather than take a principled position. It would be interesting to see how IBM have put their policy into practice - and where.