Last week was Open Access Week, and the combined libraries of Leeuwarden (both the public ones and those of higher education) for the first time organised daily public presentations and discussion around Open Access. Thursday, I was the last person to provide a presentation in the week long program, and I was invited to talk about Creative Commons. It’s the first time I gave a talk in my role as a board member of Open Nederland, the Dutch supporting association behind the Dutch Creative Commons Chapter. It’s still a very personal take, and mostly only the Creative Commons related information is part of the Open Nederland role, the rest is my own experience and perspective from the field. Below is the transcript with the slides:

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Creative Commons during Open Access Week. My contact details are down there, including twitter accounts, so if you have remarks or questions after we finished our conversation here today, you can use those. I’m here representing Open Nederland, which is the Dutch association of makers, and those interested in having a bigger pool of communal reusable creative output. Open Nederland powers the Dutch Chapter of the Creative Commons organisation.

First off all, I think it is fantastic that the Leeuwarder libraries are taking part in OA Week. Libraries are a fundamental building block of our socio-cultural resources, the commons of knowledge and re-usable artefacts, the creative commons. Open Access seeks to extend, or actually restore part of that commons, that over time has become less accessible, fenced off even. And Creative Commons licenses in turn are a building block of the Open Access effort.

Now a word of caution, I am not a lawyer. I am a pragmatist. So I am looking at all of the Open Access and Creative Commons licensing issues from a practical perspective, what it means in terms of the value to society, to all of us as the human collective. The expressed opinions are all mine, and the provided information is ‘as is’, and not legal advice.

I want to speak first about Open Access and scientific publishing, and what it means to me, my specific perspective on it. Then I will zoom in on the role of Creative Commons licenses, and your own role and individual responsibility in all of this. Let’s start with this, the Open Definition by Open Knowledge International.

Open means
anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose
(subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).

Freely here means both gratis, and libre, free as in beer and as in freedom.

Now this includes both the words Open and Access, but Open Access is not merely a subset of the Open Definition.

Open Access in fact covers most if not all of the Open Definition. It is basically a different representation of the scientific method, where one builds on the knowledge gained by those before you.

In order to build on the work of others, you need to have acces to it, AND be able to use and modify it, and then share it to see it taken further by yet another. This is how all human knowledge has come to be.

Building knowledge increases our collective ability to act. It’s a lever to do bigger things., to jump higher. Increasing our agency. Striking power. Resilience to counteract negative things. Agility to build on opportunities. Agency, the ability to act, is the fundamental drive behind our curiosity, our science. Agency to me is the crux of it all.

To me that there is a notion of Open Access, right next to the scientific method itself of which communication and community is already part and parcel, is because we are in a transition. Where one of the elements in making science work, in increasing agency, has become problematic: scientific publishing.

From the 16th century, when e.g. Louis Elzevier published Galilei’s Discorsi in Leiden, scientific publication increased our agency by providing multiplication and distribution, and because of those two discoverability. However digitisation and internet have made those first two trivial to do. Almost everyone has that ability now, it’s no longer an agency bottle neck. It has been democratised. Discovery still remains a hard thing to do, is the one remaining potential value add, but there are others equally or better positioned to serve it.

Meanwhile the pricing model of scientific publishing has gone the other way, based on academia’s addiction to using publications as reputation indicator. To the point where large parts of the scientific world, mostly outside highly developed economies, are practically excluded. They are actively and unnecessarily disconnected. Cut off from our collective pool of knowledge. Can’t use it. Can’t contribute to it. The same is true for non-academics: my work has been the subject of at least three PhDs and all the papers resulting from them, but I have no easy way to built on those results in my own practice or work.

From solving a bottle neck for hundreds of years, one of access and availability, scientific publishing now is the bottle neck. This is why I personally think Sci-Hub is morally ok, even if it isn’t legal. Morally ok, because it is aligned and in support of the scientific method and community, seeking to circumvent an existing bottle-neck for the express purpose of democratisation.

Open Access is the less radical, gradual way of resolving that bottle neck. To strengthen free discourse about theories and findings. To regain the crucial access and ability to re-use that increases our agency. And do so for a much wider group of people. Researchers, non-academic researchers, and practitioners alike. By publishing scientific papers according to the open definition. In Europe it is becoming more and more mandatory for publicly funded research to be open access, until it becomes the new normal.

As I said earlier, what we are all after is to increase our ability to act, and having access to knowledge and being allowed to re-use it are key elements.

Openness is what allows that access and usage. And what enables agency, our ability to act.

For that it must be very clear, something is open, that you’re allowed to access, copy and re-use something, such as a scientific paper. A clear signal that individuals, researchers and academic institutions can easily give, and anyone can easily recognise. It takes a very clear license, that immediately conveys what the author allows. Otherwise you have to assume nothing is allowed.

That clear license is Creative Commons. Most if not all Open Access publications carry a Creative Commons license, or more precisely a few specific versions of a Creative Commons license.
It is an add-on to regular copyright, and also covers database rights. It’s a tool for an author or creator to manage their copyright conditions.

Let’s dive deeper into what Creative Commons is. And that dive starts with copyright.

Copyright is an automatic right that any creator gets upon creation of an artefact (not ideas, not mere data). ‘All rights reserved’ is the default. It provides a ‘temporary’ monopoly, where temporary means 70 years after you died, so not really temporary in any practical sense. If someone else wants to do something with it, it needs permission. You need to write to the author, negotiate the terms, and document the agreement. It’s a lot of work, for both author and re-user, that needs to happen for each and every use.

Creative Commons is a tool for an author or creator to give up front permission for specific conditions of re-use. No need to ask for permission, no need for negotiations, no need for contracts. From all rights reserved to some rights reserved. This allows for nuance, and to create conditions that foster knowledge sharing, stimulates creativity and equal access to all.

The principles behind CC licenses are that it’s 1 to everyone. Unlike a copyright agreement, you can’t revoke it for existing users. It’s based on 4 building blocks.

The 4 building blocks are: Attribution, Share Alike, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works.
Creative Commons licenses allow you to create nuance with these four building blocks.

With those blocks you can create 7 different licenses, based on which and how many building blocks you use. Some are more open, some are less open.

Open Access is only those three green ones, because only they align with the open definition of free acces, use, modification, sharing, with at most mentioning the source, or sharing openly again.

These CC licenses can be applied to anything you create, where you have copyright, or where you have database rights. By doing so, especially with an open license, you are enriching our common cultural pool of artefacts and knowledge. The core principle is if you allow others to build on it, you create agency for others. There’s an enormous amount of artefacts out there already, the CC website claims over 1.6 billion.

Some of those 1.6 billion and more works with a CC license, are by me. My weblog has had a Creative Commons license for 17 years. Attribution, Share Alike. It’s an open license, because I want my blog to create conversations about my professional interests by thinking out loud. That needs openness.

I also share my photos on Flickr with a CC license, attribution, share alike and non-commercial. This is not an open license, as I think it is only fair if someone makes money with my photos, I get some share of it. Non-commercial newspapers however have used my images, as have NGOs and e.g. schools.

I don’t want to show all 1.6 billion examples but just a few to give you a sense of the diverse angles.
Dutch government publishes all their open data with creative commons licenses. This is not strictly needed from a copyright view, as Dutch government only needs to give permission if they claim copyright on their artefact, otherwise you can assume you can use it. However, they do want to give a very clear signal, to those who don’t know of the specific quirks of Dutch copyright law, such as people outside the Netherlands.

This site, for instance has freely re-usable music.
And if you search for CC license photos you can use sites like Flickr which I just mentioned, where there are 4500 open licensed photos of Leeuwarden. Some of which are from the Leeuwarden city archive.

This type of sharing allows for collective action, not just individual agency. I have a sensor kit in my garden. It shares data online, many other people and their sensors do too. And together we build knowledge about how my city deals with heat and micro climates. This citizen science project collaborates with government and academic institutions, and leads to publications. Because all parts in the chain use open licenses, that works smoothly.

I’d like to put it to you that CC is useful for everything you make and create, scientific or not, to allow yourself and others more agency.

Raise your hand if,
You have ever written a scientific paper,
Have ever designed something,
Made something (like a 3d print, or a laser cut object),
Made a song,
Wrote song lyrics,
Made a recording of yourself making music or singing,
Made a video,
Made a photo,
Wrote a poem, a thesis, a novel, a story,
Ever made a drawing, came up with a joke, a magic act,
Wrote a blogpost, a Tweet?

You all are makers. You all are copyright holders, whether you realised it or actively used that right or not. And if you ever share(d) anything of what you make, you could add to the common pool of our cultural heritage, our creative commons, by using a CC license. Let’s not wait until we all have been dead for 70 years and copyright expires, because that means for something you create today it will take another 100 to 150 years for it to become generally available.
Use open resources, and share back to our creative commons from your own creative output. So you allow others to do more too.

As a student, a teacher, a researcher, a maker, a citizen, be the change you want to see when it comes to Open Access.
Use and apply open licenses.
Copyright gives you a monopoly, and CC allows you to easily put that monopoly to communal use.

CC licenses are not what makes our creative commons, our collective space for culture and progress. People, you and me, make that commons. But using a Creative Commons license, is a clear signal you want to be part of that, part of “team human”.

And if you want to help spread that mission, you’re very welcome to join the Open Nederland association, that powers the Dutch Creative Commons chapter. We’re open. And it’s free.

Thank you for your time and attention.

We visited the Escher’s Journey exhibit in the Frisian Museum in Leeuwarden today, as part of a very nice day with the three of us. Leeuwarden is Europe’s cultural capital this year, and Escher was born in Leeuwarden. They brought a large collection of works together in a beautifully made exhibition that we really enjoyed. Part of it was a replica of Escher’s studio in Italy where he made the famous self portrait of his reflection in a ball. Visitors could sit at a desk and hold a similar reflective ball with a camera in it, for a portrait that was then pasted into Escher’s drawing and sent to you via e-mail. The bookcase in the back, the chair to the side, all similar to the original.


our portrait and original next to each other, deliberately at low quality

Earlier this year I worked closely with the Frisian Library Service to create the project ‘Impact through connection, at school‘ together. At the core was my model of agency and a process I designed to guide a group towards exploring using both technology and methods to address a local issue. Today I had a conversation with Jeroen de Boer, of the FryskLab team, who had involved me in putting my idea to practice, at a primary school with a group of 10 year olds. We talked about what came after the project that took place in January to March.

Group photo with the class
The class and our team in front of the Frysklab truck last March

That’s when I received some awesome feedback.

“Your experimental process has basically become the way we work now during workshops and with groups”.

He also had heard from the teacher of the class we worked with that “the pupils said it was the best thing in the entire school year”.

The project was partly financed by the Dutch Royal Library and they indicated it was “one of the most inspiring projects they helped finance this year”.

That sounds like a great starting point to explore what else we can do together next year.

In the past weeks I’ve been part of a team working with a class of 10/11 year olds, as an experiment around increasing agency with 21st century digital skills, under the title Impact through Connection. In this I’m partnering with the NHL (university of applied sciences), and the regional Frisian library BSF, with some funding coming from the Dutch Royal Library as part of their Vision Mediasavviness 2016-2018 program. The experiment centered around helping the group to identify communal issues, situations they would like to change, and then to develop ideas and realize them. So that the group ‘gets’ that with various making and other machines and instruments, they have the agency, have the power, to change their surroundings for themselves as a group.

Since January we’ve been meeting with the school’s team, and then weekly 6 times with the class of 22 children. It was loads of fun, not just for the kids involved. The highest compliment we received was that one of them said “this is more fun than the annual school trip”. Another remarked feeling sorry that all other classes had to work, while they were making stuff. We pointed out that they too were working very hard, but differently, and that having fun does not mean you’re not working.

Yesterday we’ve had the final session, ending with presentations of the things they built (such as phone covers for phone-types that aren’t otherwise available, a way to look under water, a class room MP3 player for audiobooks, games, computer controlled door locks, a candy machine, a robot to counteract bullying, websites documenting the process, and a money system for the school).

Afterwards I returned home and jotted down a list of observations to reflect on. We plan to do a similar experiment with a group of adults from the same neighborhood as the school serves, as well as will aim to replicate it for other school classes.

First, for context, the order of the sessions we did.
Session 1: group discussion about the children’s environment, things they would like to change, ideas for making things they had. Resulted in a ‘wall of ideas’, ordered from ‘looks less hard to do’, to ‘looks harder to do’.
Session 2: getting to know maker machines (3d printers, laser cutters, electronics, etc.), by bringing the machines to the class room, and parking the Frysklab Mobile FabLab out front.
Session 3: getting to know programming (using Micro:bits, all the children got one to keep)
Session 4: Diving deeper in to the idea now they have a notion of what is possible with the machines and material available, using a canvas to think about what the idea solves, whom it is for, what part of the idea to zoom in on, and who in their own social network could help them realize it.
Session 5: building prototypes (again with Frysklab parked outside)
Session 6: building prototypes and presenting results

In non-specific order here are some of the raw observations I made in the past weeks, that we can further elaborate and chew on, to create the next iteration of this experiment.

On the process (time, time time!):

  • The school team school was extremely supportive, and the teacher showed enormous flexibility. She rearranged her normal class schedule extensively to ensure we had more time than we thought possible.
  • The process we designed worked, but we could have spent more time and attention to several parts of it.
  • The process worked in the sense that we got everyone to make things, and have them dive deep beyond the initial magic and wow of 3d-printing and laser cutters
  • We asked them to map out the groups they belonged to, and both their own and their classmate’s skills. We spent too little time to do that properly and to use it fruitfully in the process afterwards
  • We didn’t succeed in our original plan to bring the group to defining one or a few projects that were less person and more group focussed (except for the kid that designed a currency system for the school), and then select parts of that on which individuals or small groups could work. It seems we would need to spend more effort in the run-up to the cycle of sessions to do that properly
  • Working with a pool of people with specific domain knowledge that we could bring in when needed worked very well and strengthened the results
  • I used a canvas to help the group get to better defined projects, and while it worked, the steps in filling the canvas could have been better defined. Now some raced ahead, without key information for the next bits, while I worked with others to take the first few steps
  • The overall process hasn’t become clear to the group as a distinct shape, I think. Although that would enable them to design their own projects on their own (more on that later)
  • Having the children present their work to the group at the end was fun, useful and a good way to bring everything together again

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Two filled out canvases

On our team and the teacher

  • When we look at Making, we see how it is different from what was before, how all of a sudden ‘anyone’ can do things that took specialised machines and factories earlier, and how that changes the dynamics of it all. The children don’t see it that way, because they don’t have that history. Although that history is the source of our own fascination it is not the fascination you can confer to the children, as it is by definition a meaningless comparison to them.
  • Our large pool of people to help out was necessary to be able to provide adequate guidance. Even if adding 5-7 adults to a classroom feels like a lot.
  • More clearly articulating to the group which roles team members help might be helpful (e.g. I don’t know my way around the Frysklab truck, but still got asked a lot by the kids about it. I solved it by saying, I don’t know either, let’s go find out together)
  • The teacher could likely have a more defined role during the sessions (other than trying to keep a semblance of order), maybe also in building the bridges to other parts of the curriculum in the run-up?
  • We had several preparatory meetings with the teacher and others inthe school
  • There’s a lot I can’t do (too little experience with the machines to have internalized all routines, my own thinking is often too little visual and too much textual) It’s partly a pro as well (as it makes it easy for me to led the child lead the thinking proces, as I don’t have answers either)

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At work in the FabLab truck, and 3d printers chugging away

The path the children took

  • Large differences within the group, also in self-image, means very different speeds within the process (‘I don’t think there’s something I am really really good at’)
  • Finding out that the path from your fantasy to making it tangible reality contains disappointments (what is possible, what is realistic within time given, how does a result compare to what you imagined at first), and finding or not finding ways to surmount that disappointment
  • Not everyone was able to visualize from their ideas towards the parts that make up the whole, or different aspects and steps
  • Enormous richness in ideas, but sometimes very narrowly focussed
  • It is very important to build a bridge from the classroom project to at home (“can I take this home” “but this is something I can’t do at home”). Part of the empowerment lies here. (Also as they proudly told and partly mobilized their parents for their ideas as well)
  • They willingly left us their projects so the Frysklab team could show them on a national conference the day after the last session, after promising to return their projects soon

Visible impact and affect during the sessions

  • Really listening to ideas and trying think them through, remembering what they said about it 3 weeks earlier, is a boost in empowerment for the kids in itself
  • Children don’t have as many experience based associations and ‘hooks’ to listen to our stories, so examples are needed
  • Examples from ‘nearby’, such as the kid with a 3d printed hand prosthetic living in the neighbouring province are therefore very valuable. We need to collect many more of them.
  • Such appealing examples may also aid in bringing across the process and thinking model itself better
  • Giving everyone a Micro:bit during the process therefore turned Jeroen into a hero of everyone in the room (loud cheers!)
  • Taking things home is a source of pride
  • Other classes were jealous of this group
  • The group quickly build attachment to the team (where is Ton? Cheers when a team member arrives a bit late)
  • Concepts like ‘prototyping’ are hard, and zooming in on something small and maintaining attention is too

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Some of the created projects

The making itself

  • Robots! At first almost everyone wanted to build robots (to clean their room e.g.)
  • Things for yourself, versus things for the group. As said, before the making we likely need to build a ‘ramp’ towards more communal oriented projects
  • The realization for the chidren that things take time, can be complicated. That it isn’t magic but actual work
  • The dawning notion that programming means cutting everything into tiny ‘stupid’ steps (‘like explaining it to my 3 yr old sibling’)
  • Software is equated to computers and phones. That things that don’t look like computers can be programmed, and that hard- and software are getting merged more and more (cars, IoT, robots) takes time to land
  • Likewise ‘making’ is connected to hardware, objects and software mostly. Creating ‘systems’ or ‘processes’ is a novel concept (except for the currency making project). Challenging systems is like a fish changing the water it swims in.
  • Similarly for most, their actual environment (the street, the neighborhood, city etc, are also like ‘water’ and mostly perceived as immutable. Measuring things in your environment and acting on it was notably absent in the ideas
  • The attention span needed to zoom in on a small part at a deep enough level to be able to apply it is pretty hard to maintain
  • Building websites to document projects is an essential part the children came up with themselves. Needs to become a standard component of the process.

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Presenting results

Other circumstantial elements

  • Searching online for examples and useful material (like code snippets) can be a stronger part of the process (as answer to the frequent question “but how can I do that?”). Means paying attention to searching skills.
  • The mentioned websites can contribute to that by collecting links to resources etc.
  • Data collections didn’t play a role (likely as there were no ‘sensing’ projects), but could be a resource in other iterations
  • E-mail is not available to all children (not allowed to, don’t want to give out their parents e-mail), but often needed to register for online coding and making tools, or to create a website. Providing throw-away e-mails, like I personally do with 33Mail, is something to add to our toolkit.

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Gathering the group for the final group picture

(more pics here in this Dutch language posting by the Frisian library and Frysklab team)

In the coming weeks I will be working with a Dutch school class (group 7, so 10/11 yr olds), in collaboration with the Provincial Library Friesland and their FryskLab team (a mobile FabLab).

Last summer I wrote a series of postings on how I see a path to significantly increase agency for various group in various contexts, if we succeed in lowering the adoption threshold for existing technologies and techniques. Then any group can recombine those technologies and techniques to create a desired impact in their own contexts and environment.

With a little bit of funding from the Dutch Royal Library, the Provincial Library Friesland and me will work with a school class of the Dr. Algraschool and later with people in a neighborhood to put that model to the test.

In collaboration with the NHL, a university for applied sciences, we will use the results of the experiment to propose a follow-up project as part of the NHL’s lectorate on ‘agile craftsmanship’.

The first session is Wednesday, where we will start with the class to discuss the type of things they would like to change or improve around themselves, and what capabilities they feel they themselves and classmates have. In a follow-up session we will combine those ideas and their talents with the facilities of FryskLab, and then work with the children to build their own prototypes, solutions and projects.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since I worked with primary school kids. Back in 2007 I worked with 12 primary schools to integrate digital literacies in their regular lessons, where we explored what children were already doing online, and how schools could help guide that, and build on it in their lessons. And it will definitely be a pleasure to work with the FryskLab crew (who were such a great addition to our 2014 Make Stuff That Matters birthday unconference)

Frysklab in da house!
The FryskLab mobile FabLab, parked in front of our home, 2014