August 2009 Transcript: Openness 2.0 - Part 2 Openness in Developing Nations: Eduardo Villanueva

Eduardo: Hi, I'm Eduardo Villanueva, from Lima, Peru and this is First Monday Podcast.

[Introduction: Audio Montage]

Eduardo: Openness means the wonderful possibility of getting a lot of the knowledge produced by my peers and my colleagues all around the world that will enhance my ability to, produce new knowledge, to better understand my world, and at the same time this means also the commitment I shall have to return the kindness of these strangers in a way that is usable and useful for them.

AJ: Hi I'm AJ Hannah

Joy: And I'm Joy Austria. Welcome back to First Monday Podcast's Openness 2.0 Series.

AJ: For part two of our series, we spoke with Eduardo Villanueva, Professor at the Communications Department of the Catholic University in Lima, Peru. His work ranges from libraries to new media and the drafting and implementation of public policies surrounding open access and more recently the Peruvian One Laptop Per Child movement.

Joy: Professor Villanueva shared with us a Latin American viewpoint of current realities and hurdles to the openness movement in developing areas such as Latin America. He began by deconstructing the actual term 'open access' and how the meaning can get lost in translation.

Eduardo: You know, one of the things that I try to talk about with my colleagues, with my students, with journalists sometimes, is how difficult it is to translate the concept of openness, because there's no word in Spanish to say exactly that, and that's the first hurdle. When you say openness, there's no way to put it in Spanish in one word. How do you explain a concept that doesn't have a word for that? So, you have to go around it happens a lot actually when you translate English concepts or terms into Spanish. You need to use a paragraph for what in English is just a word.

As I understand open access, it means not just taking but giving, like you commit yourself into a system of more or less fair exchange of ideas and of products of those ideas. But my feeling, at least in Latin America, that we feel somehow entitled to just take and give very little back. In many senses, this means that we don't feel the obligation of producing new knowledge and providing that new knowledge into the common treasure - the commons. That's more or less the problem I see here. We are very fond of using things that are available to us for free, but not necessarily we are into the logic of providing back knowledge and ideas and the products of this knowledge into the commons.

Joy: Is that strictly a problem in Latin America? Or is this a problem in other developing nations?

Eduardo: I think there's a significant Latin American factor into this because we have an underdeveloped university system, but at the same time we are more or less stuck into a situation where we are aware of the products and the possibilities of the developed world in terms of the education and research but very self aware of our limitations and our impossibility of reaching that kind of height.

So we tend to overcompensate our absence of resources and possibilities to access things, through the appropriation by not necessarily formal means of resources in the form of papers, books, whatever. So we are very quick to justify the way that we act into a sort of a trope of poverty, lack of researches and so on, that allows us to be unfair with others. Like, we take a book and we photocopy it and we say, "Well you know we are poor we have to photocopy it because we cannot buy it." And then suddenly there are a different set of rules like the ones open access proposes, okay you can take whatever you want but at the same time you should give back. And then we say well we're poor and we're used to take and not necessarily give back. We're more or less stuck into a way of thinking and a way of acting that is not necessarily the same that has created the environment where open access has flourished.

AJ: So are you equating this type of accidental open access as possible another face of piracy? Or another type of piracy?

Eduardo: Yeah, but I make a very strong differentiation. There's a very specific and identifiable group of people that uses piracy towards their benefit, monetary benefit. While many people that actually just plunder things do it without looking for monetary benefits. Nor, and this is very important, they are looking towards any kind of monetary gain in the future they're just using content being that music to academic papers but they don't think they need to pay for it they think it's free, but they are not necessarily concerned with the real costs that the production of those cultural goods imply. So it's not the same as piracy. Perhaps from the point of view of those who are producing it, especially the industry producing content, it may look like piracy but it doesn't necessarily can be equated into piracy because it doesn't involve monetary benefits.

Eduardo: There are evidently money problems. The costs of importing materials are extremely high right now and they're not going to get lower and that means that a lot of people cannot afford basic manuals, books, and certainly they are not able to access paid-for content in the form of academic papers and so on. So we also need to change exchange. We need to make more affordable these kinds of materials so there's less justification for the argument that we need to take things without considering the fact that there's costs involved because we are poor and we have to live that way.

Joy: Is money the only hurdle blocking open access development or is there something else?

Eduardo: You know there are at least two different sets of issues here, one is the individuals. People have problems because they don't have access to computers. There are also the realities of the institutional construction of these materials. Let me explain this idea. For instance, if we will have to produce materials for them the costs will be pretty high for us because the actual market for these materials is pretty small - twenty-five, thirty thousand students - and we don't' have enough financial support from inside the university, from outside the university, from our government, whatever, so we need to put people into their desks and their computers to start writing things. And they have to do that instead of, for instance, giving classes, grading papers.

You may say this doesn't make much sense because we're talking about manuals, but then again we don't have enough manuals in our universities. Our students don't buy manuals at the beginning of each semester, they mostly use photocopies or they use the library for those manuals. There are manuals in the market for our students, the problem is that if we import some of the materials we're talking about like the equivalent of forty-five, fifty USD per manual. So you can imagine that for us it's pretty a lot of money.

These are questions that also mean some kind of investment by the student or by our institutions, so these demand some kind of systematic approach, planning for the future but not just in terms of the imperative need like we have to develop open access because most of our university administrators say, "Well, what does it mean in terms of investments?" And then you have to answer and then everybody gets cold feet because it's a lot of money. And we cannot ask our students to buy those materials so we should produce them and make them available. I mean who is going to devote the resources in terms of monetary institutional resources needed to develop this access? So we're in sort of a vicious circle of how do we provide for our students better education, better materials, who is the one in charge of investment? These are the kind of hurdles we have to face.

AJ: But this is turning into quite a list. You're saying that things that need to be addressed are linguistic, economic, these sound like subsets of the digital divide - technological...

Eduardo: I think that when you, you sort of use this zoology of the digital divide you start drifting outside of the actual problem that we have right now. That is, we here in Peru, we may have access all around the place, but what exactly does this specific kind of access allow us to do?

I was having this, this conversation with a journalist here in Peru the beginning of the week, that he was asking me about the iPhone. We have the iPhone in Peru and everybody says, so in like five years everybody's going to have an iPhone and so on, and say, excuse me, but here are just, a few, a tiny sliver of the population in my country that can actually afford to pay the sky high rates for 3G access. So if you're talking about wonderful connectivity, you have to consider that connectivity and access is different depending of the quality, the position, the place, and the hardware involved.

When all things are considered in terms of access there are a lot of ways to access the Internet and all it's materials in countries like Peru. Even in the most poor places, I mean the poorest places in the country people have access. How? Cybercafes, they don't have coffee, it's just a place where you go and they have like four computers and you can access the Internet from very very far away places. The problem is, is that people are not necessarily developing new approaches to their educational needs and their productive needs through the Internet, but they are using the computers as a sort of complimentary way to enhance their consumption, their media consumption.

So, it's quite different for, someone like me to have the kind of access I have compared to those who cannot have broadband at home or those who have broadband at the cybercafe next to their homes, but it's a place where most of the kids that go there only go for massive multi-player role-playing games. So it's not an environment conducive to study, for instance. So, the quality, the place, the way that you actually access changes the way that you can actually do things with the Internet.

Joy: You're involved with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), does it actually, effectively address the quality of access slash digital divide issues that we've been talking about?

Eduardo: I think that one of the problems with OLPC actually is that they are giving much more importance to traditional dual approach of the have and the have-nots that's typical of the digital divide interpretations than I think it's logical in countries like Peru.

Even if you solve the access question, then you have a whole lot of new questions to deal with in the form of, for instance, exactly what is going on with kids. What is happening at the school level with the kids? They are using the Internet everyday, just recently there has been a very ambitious large scale study about the use by young people of the Internet in Latin America and one of the things the study says is that Peruvian kids are using the Internet the most for educational purposes, but at the same time the quality of the work that they're doing is very poor. So the question that's more or less obvious after this is, "okay but exactly what are they doing with it?".

So you can see one way that the digital divide has sort of been solved through market alternatives, but at the same time you can also say that the digital divide has been transformed in a variety of divides with different layers that you have to deal with. And then you have OLPC and you say, "Okay OLPC is a wonderful solution for the educational issues in Peru because it will bridge the digital divide," and you say, "but come on the digital divide was already bridged, what you're going to do with this is exactly what?".

And that's the thing that we have been asking our educational ministry here in Peru, "Exactly what do you want to achieve through OLPC?". And that's the answer we're still waiting for. So the viability of OLPC basically lies there. If we're going to move away from the duality of the digital divide into something new, exactly how into this something new are we going to put OLPC into, and how are we going to use it towards what ends? And those are the questions that the politicians in charge haven't responded yet.

Joy: Are there any initiatives occurring right now, even just at your university, to try and tackle these sorts of infrastructure issues?

Eduardo: It depends a lot on the kind of institution you're talking about, because in Latin America, as in many other parts of the world we have this big drive toward national policies for access at the beginning of this decade and right now sort of has fizzled out and we are left with specific organizational, institutional policies about access. There are two different realities as everywhere in the world: private universities and public universities. Public universities have so many things to deal with that they are not necessarily developing, for instance, the basic infrastructure, nothing beyond like Wi-Fi connectivity, you provide them Wi-Fi connectivity but then you have to ask yourself, you're going to demand all your students to have a computer available? You're going to provide them with computers, or you're going to request them to have computers to bring to college? Or you're going to rely on cybercafes, or you're going to rely on home connectivity.

In private universities, you can set standards, not necessarily like that easy. In my university, our campus is completely covered with Wi-Fi connections and there are some financial programs to allow for our students to buy themselves laptops. Also we are trying to provide open source tools for students and professors to create content. But there's no specific program to develop these because it means that you have to sort of choose winners or losers in our internal marketplace who are going to receive the money and the skills needed to develop this and which group of students are going to be requested to buy computers at the same time it's sort of there are so many things to deal that you say, "Okay, open access is wonderful, let's promote that our students access open accessible materials, but in terms of creating our actual infrastructure to access and produce open access materials, well let's wait til next year to see how things are going." That's more or less what's happening right now in my university and I feel like in many other universities in Latin America with some exceptions of course because some universities have more resources or more focus or whatever.

AJ: Okay, to quote your paper, you say, "Openness is here seen as availability to materials," and further on you say, "real open access is a policy designed both to overcome limitations created by commercial concentration in overreaching intellectual property as well as a tool for disseminating information beyond the limits of the printed page."

Now, these are obviously somewhat at conflict when you describe how people are using openness and not returning with dialogue or by submitting further information or research. How can higher education and how can people push for a change of social and institutional attitudes to make these two ideas dovetail together?

Eduardo: Well, first of all I think that we need to be very straightforward in saying that the current policy environment is not conducive towards our development and the development of our academic sector. The way that information is being managed and used as business all around the world is not conducive to development, because it's taken and used as a commodity without any rules for fairness in trade. The end result is that if it's becoming more and more expensive for the first world or academic institutions, you can imagine that for developing world, academic institutions the costs to access this kind of information is are simply impossible to bear. We need to promote alternative access mechanisms to commercially available information, but also to open access information basically because we have to be aware that things have to change if we're going to allow our communities to increase their access.

And one of the ways is promotion of open access production and use of open access companies. At the same time we have to increase our responsibility in terms of two things, one is respect of the rules that are agreed with those providing the information. Being that completely free information or being that very restricted commercial information, we have to be fair and we have to accept those rules and we have to enforce them. And at the same time we have to provide for more production and make, these contents, and information we have produced available to everyone, and, when I mean everyone, I'm saying not just inside one institution, but across the country and across the region. One of the advantages that we have in Latin America is that, we all speak the language, we are completely able to understand each other. We can also read very easily into Portuguese, it's not such a hurdle. So we can actually communicate very well, but at the same time there is very little exchange of information in Latin America.

If we have been able to create a Latin American, a real Latin American market for information, knowledge, documentation, that will have been a wonderful development because it will have allowed for a lot of information to flow across countries. An increased exchange of academic points of view and again results, and research. And also it will mean that we can find a way to deal with the, with these issues through materials produced in the region, for the region instead of importing a lot of things from other countries with the , necessary monetary costs, or even in the case of open access, we have to use this, this advantage of sharing a culture and a language, it's a leverage to allow us to increase our capacities for, exchange, for producing and exchanging knowledge.

AJ: So what do you think can change the dies to move away from a lack of social returns and back, or move towards an increase of dialogue?

Eduardo: That's a good way of putting it. I wasn't aware of the actual term "social returns." There's a need to increase our involvement into the exchange of knowledge. I mean from most of Latin America it's not something that you can actually attribute to all the academic sector in Latin America. There are a lot of people involved, very well involved and very well committed to the active exchange of knowledge because they participate into it.

What happens in many cases in Latin America that we tend to live in our own sphere of exchanges so we don't feel like we have to become responsible towards the others, we only take what we need, but we assume that we're not going to be in position to give anything back. As long as we try to get into a dialogue with the rest of the world, with the rest of the academic world, we will need to find that we have to produce, we have to create knowledge and give it back and this should in turn become one of the drivers of academic policies of the institutional policies towards how do we deal with open access.

Sharing goes both ways. We need to start sharing because there is willingness to share, but we have to give something back, and I say to my students, a very little step towards some kind of openness for instance, is you all love the Wikipedia. How many of you have actually sit down and start at least changing the commas and the dots in some Wikipedia article? How many of you have tried to become Wikipedians? And, I don't mean to say with this that everybody should become a Wikipedian, but everybody should be aware that they can share something and not only take but give, that's what openness should be for us. We should be not only aware but we should commit ourselves towards participating not only as consumers of the content allowed for us, but also as providers of content in the various small places and the various small ways we can actually do that.

Eduardo: Openness means two things, that are interconnected with each other. First of all, it's the wonderful possibility of getting a lot of the knowledge produced by my peers and my colleagues all around the world that will enhance my ability to, produce new knowledge, to better understand my world. And at the same time this means also the commitment I shall have to return the kindness of these strangers in a way that is useable, useful for them allowing them to access the things I do. So if I use papers published in an open source journal, in an open journal, I should publish myself in an open journal. And I should try to exchange and increase the amount of knowledge available for everyone else through my research and the publication of this research, and also by promoting the proper use of these open access materials. Making people aware that they should not only take but also give and they should respect the terms the people provide for the materials and they should be always looking for opportunities to give something back. That's more or less what I think I would like to, what I understand is open access and openness.

Joy: Thank you for joining us for part 2 of First Monday Podcast's Openness 2.0 series.

AJ: We'd like to thank our guest Eduardo Villanueva for taking the time to talk with us.

Joy: Also we'd like to thank Ed Valauskas, Linda Naru and UIC for their continous support. Special thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

AJ: As always we welcome any questions and comments from our listeners so feel freel to e-mail us at comments at first monday podcast dot org. I'm AJ Hannah

Joy: And I'm Joy Austria, thanks for listening.