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Open licensing

Understand open licensing, types of licences, issues and challenges, the impact of open licensing and digitization of intellectual property, as well as different business models associated with open licensing.

Good Stories Don't Grow on Trees: A Guide to Effective Costing of Storybooks in the Global South

Openly licensed resources are ‘free’ to access, but there are significant creation, adaptation, production, and use costs. The long-term sustainability of local-language publishing requires that these costs be met fairly, using financial models that will enable people to establish, grow, and maintain effective content creation organizations. This research aims to raise awareness of the various costs that go into producing and translating storybooks and of the relationship between investment and quality. It also serves to illustrate emerging business models for local organizations creating content using open licensing that funders and governments might wish to fund to support effective early literacy acquisition in developing countries.

Early Literacy and Open Licensing Workshop Report 2018

With funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and as part of its work on the early literacy ecosystem and open licensing, Neil Butcher & Associates (NBA) convened a small workshop, which brought together key players in early literacy in Africa. Participants, who came from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, represented commercial publishers, NGOs, and other stakeholders working in the early literacy field.

A list of participants and the agenda, including the workshop objectives, can be found at the end of this report. 

Open Licensing Made Plain: A Primer on Concepts, Challenges, and Opportunities for Publishers

Openly licensed resources are ‘free’ to access, but there can be significant user, creation, adaptation, and production costs. The long-term sustainability of African publishing in local languages requires that these costs be met fairly and completely, using models that will encourage people to establish, grow, and sustain excellent content creation organizations. This research will assist content producers to make informed arguments to funders (governments or donors) about the costs associated with open licensing to ensure long-term sustainability of the publishing industry in African countries.
The aim of this primer on open licensing for African publishers is to lay out issues to take into account when considering the use of open licensing in early literacy. 

Elephant in the Room: The Rise of Open Licensing in Early Literacy in Africa

Paper presented at the 2017 Africa regional conference of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in August 2017 in Kampala, Uganda.

Two innovations are upending traditional publishing paradigms, digitization and open licensing. Digitization can complement print and, in certain circumstances, may even replace it entirely. Digitization can also shift the burden to print from the publisher to the reader. With digitization, publishers do not incur printing costs, but users of the resource must if they want to read hard copy. Open licensing does not replace copyright, but it does alter the conditions under which copyright is employed. Open licensing is disruptive when it becomes a funder requirement with little or no understanding or input from publishers. Africa needs a vibrant indigenous publishing industry for economic and cultural reasons, which requires an understanding and willingness to work with open licensing concepts. The goal for this paper is to lay out and assess the issues clearly to help publishers and others in the book trade make strategically sensible decisions.

Report on the EdTech Hub Sandbox: Radio Program for Early Primary Literacy in the Lango Sub-region September – December 2020

As schools in Uganda closed down in late March 2020 due to Covid-19, Mango Tree Literacy Lab (MTLL) had to reconsider its 2020 work plan. When the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) published its “Framework for the Provision of Continued Learning During the Covid-19 Lockdown in Uganda” and began radio education programs in the Lango Sub-region, MTLL decided to develop our own radio education programming focused on literacy instruction for children in P1-P3, an area of the curriculum that the MoES was not able to address because it required creating materials in multiple local languages. With no dedicated funding for this, MTLL partnered with Radio Q FM, a local radio station, who generously agreed to provide MTLL with one hour every Saturday for no charge.
In May 2020, Mango Tree, together with Ichuli Institute, responded to a call by the EdTech Hub for non-internet education innovations that addressed the Covid-19 crisis. Upon selection to participate, MTLL ran a “Sandbox” (short experimental pilot) in the four districts of Alebtong, Dokolo, Kole and Otuke, in the Northern Uganda Lango sub-region from September to December.

To read more: and

Closed or open? Ubongo’s switch from copyright protected to Creative Commons licensing

Ubongo is a non-profit social enterprise, originating from Tanzania and with staff across Africa, which produces edutainment content for kids and caregivers. Ubongo has two main cartoon shows: Ubongo Kids and Akili and Me. Ubongo Kids focuses on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and life skills for children in primary school (seven years old and up), while Akili and Me is aimed at promoting learning readiness for pre-primary children.

Almost all of Ubongo’s content was copyright protected until 2020. This brief tells the story of Ubongo’s decision to switch from copyright protected licensing to Creative Commons (CC) licensing, why, and the possible ramifications for open educational resources (OER) more broadly.

Storybooks by and for children: The experience of Soma Book Café in facilitating children’s creativity

Soma Book Cafe in Dar es Salaam is a readership promotion space and innovative co-creation hub for literary expression and multimedia storytelling approaches. It provides different arenas for literary expression and discourse; promotes reading for pleasure and encourages independent pursuit of knowledge. Soma, which means read or learn in Kiswahili, is an apt name for an organization that strongly encourages both.

Watoto na Vitabu is Soma’s children’s storytelling programme. It seeks to cultivate creativity, love of reading, communication, and critical consciousness among children through interactive reading and storytelling. Soma's ambition is for this programme to function as a resource for multimedia content creation with and for children. In February 2019, Soma undertook a research and writing process with children on a pilot basis, experimenting with how to facilitate children to research and write original stories inspired by Tanzanian storytelling traditions. Its purpose was to generate insights and data on early literacy content creation with and for children. Through this project, Soma intended to systematically test and document its methodological approach as a replicable model, with tangible outputs to show for it. This case study documents Soma's process and the findings of this pilot project.

Book titles produced out of this project have contributed to Soma’s debut Kalamu Ndogo (Little Scribes) series. The series is written by children for children. These stories are also informed by how the children experience contemporary realities and their aspirations beyond the here and now. 

Case Study on Open Licensing of Early Grade Textbooks in Uganda

This case study tells the story of a small Ugandan NGO’s experience using openly licensed government primers to support early primary literacy. Mango Tree Literacy Lab  (MTLL) believes that African children have the right to read, write and engage with ideas in a language they know and understand. MTLL aspires to work side by side with government to ensure successful implementation of innovative education policies, making mistakes and learning within the constraints of real-world challenges. This case study describes how MTLL began to explore how the open licensing of national literacy materials could be harnessed to print additional copies for schools with insufficient numbers of usable primers.

The Use and Dissemination of Openly Licensed Storybooks and Learning Materials by Mango Tree Literacy Lab, Lira, Uganda

Mango Tree Literacy Lab (MTLL) is a Ugandan NGO that believes that African children have the right to read, write and engage with ideas in a language they know and understand. Since 2010, Mango Tree has been supporting early primary literacy in the Lango Sub-region of northern Uganda. This project case study is on the use and dissemination of openly licensed storybooks and learning materials.This project has provided the opportunity to learn about the impact open licensing could have on the distribution of MTLL's literacy materials as well as experiment with establishing a local market for our storybooks through sales by local vendors.

More information about MTLL’s work can be found on its website, as well as on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Open Licensing Business Models for Publishers: Evidence from Research

A key barrier to improving children's reading skills is limited or no access to textbooks and reading materials. An open education resource (OER) policy could help progress Early Grade Reading (EGR) efforts and is now a policy requirement for all United States Government-funded projects. Can stakeholders in the book production chain embrace an OER model, finding benefit in the approach for their businesses?

The answers to that question and other related matters are discussed in this webinar ( sponsored by the Global Reading Network (GRN) and its partner, the Global Book Alliance (GBA), for publishers in the African region of the globe on June 27, 2019 and those in the Asian region on July 18, 2019. The webinar focuses on Open Licensing Business Models and is aimed at creators and publishers of children's literature who are exploring the benefits, possibilities, challenges, and limitations of an open licensing business model.

This presentation was done by Neil Butcher.