A new report on Open Source in Government

09 July 2021

Author: Giulia Guadagnoli

This story was originally published in the article for the Open Source Observatory (OSOR), a European Commission’s project aiming at providing trustworthy FOSS expertise and information. OFE is a regular contributor to the Observatory.

By providing governments with a self-assessment tool and recommendations, this report aims to raise awareness within the public domain on the benefits and positive spillovers set off by open source.

On 21 June, the consultancy Public Digital, funded by the Omidyar Network, published the report “Open source in government: creating the conditions for success”, which aims to inform policy makers on their governments capability, with the objective of ensuring value for money in key digital sectors, amongst which stands out open source. By conducting 19 interviews in four continents, the team built up a self-assessment tool for governments, called Open Source Capability Model for Governments, aimed to inform open-source-related national policies through the identification of key investment areas for public money with an eye to sustainability.

As the discussion around topics such as digital sovereignty and digitalisation of public administration is becoming more and more relevant for the public sector, it is vital for governments to address the direct benefits and indirect positive spillovers brought by investing in open source. Particularly, according to the report, capacity building should be the pivotal goal of national technology strategies, and the main target of public investments. 

The self-assessment model is divided into four different dimensions of capability: policy environment, in-house skills and capabilities, open source vendor ecosystem and sustainability. Each one of them takes into account two or more areas, namely:

  1. Policy environment: political leadership and legislation, government standards and policy;
  2. In-house skills and capabilities: open source leadership and coordination, technical skills or experience in implementing open source software;
  3. Open source vendor ecosystem: open source procurement policy, ecosystem of vendors (national, regional or international);
  4. Sustainability: sustainable funding, ability to manage and maintain software, engagement with the global open source software community.

To use this model, the government of reference will have to self-evaluate in all the aforementioned areas, ranging from “Low” to “Medium” and “High” levels. 

“We believe that making things open makes them better. Using open source software is a powerful way for governments to take strategic control of their technology choices. We want leaders to use this framework to prioritise investment in the capabilities which support open source software implementation” said Emma Gawen, Partner at Public Digital.

The model is followed by specific recommendations for each dimension. Regarding the political environment, governments are suggested to create political consensus and support for open-source-related policies and investments. In this, drafting and implementing a technology strategy is a key driver for change, in a world where digitalisation has entered the agenda of most public administrations. Additionally, Public Digital stresses the need for setting open source standards as well as the necessity for governments to invest in the know-how and digital skills of civil servants. With reference to the open source vendor ecosystem, it is vital to open procurement policies and practices to open source, thus supporting new business models, boosting innovation and enhancing digital sovereignty. In conclusion, sustainability must lay at the heart of public investments in open source, by performing cost-benefit analyses of open source (software) projects that take into account positive and negative potential spillovers, as well as the role that the open source community can play in sharing experiences and best practices.

“We encourage governments to experiment with open source software, taking advantage of the low cost and friction to get started; while also looking to the long term and planning for sustainability.” concluded Emma Gawen. 

The report is open for review and feedback on Github.