A model for public sector support for open source development

Guidelines for Public Administrations on Partnering with Free Software Developers
Ghosh R, R Glott, Encouraging Good Practice in the use of OSS in Public Administrations Project (2004)

This is a brief review of another EU-funded report which shows that there are several viable models for PAs to use an open source development methodology.

Ghosht and Glott describe models of how PAs can use open source techniques to mix paid consultants/developers and a wider community of users. This model is potentially relevant for an application like HANDS with a specialist purpose but could be used by other businesses as well as PAs.

A typology of OSS projects is constructed [pp20-22], dividing viable applications into five cases, on the basis of:

  • A: Type of solution: generic, specific purpose,specific to government domain
  • B: Type of development, ranging from ‘from scratch’ through to an existing application, and
  • C: Type of community: informal groups of developers through to commercial partner

HANDS would be analysed as having elements of Case 2 (Specific OSS, found externally) or Case 3 (Solution developed by PA, with possible pooling or reuse), in other words:

  • A2: Specialised purpose, could be used by PA and other business
  • B2/B3: Improvement of solution
  • C2: Organised community (The HANDS project and potential future partners)

A model of OSS development is provided here where the product does not meet developers’ personal needs (contra Schmidt & Schnitzer): on the contrary, it is argued that there are many examples of niche communities of users with their own niche community of developers [p8]. VistA, a Healthcare Information System is given as an example of a complex application that has successfully switched to an open source development model.[p10]

When it comes to taking advantage of the potential for open source development

The best way … to engage a community is to start with an application… [which is] then released. The core application provides the seed around which a community of developers can form [p11]

Engaging new PAs and developers can be done through established dissemination channels – eg the IDABC Open Source Observatory and BerliOS, or the European repository recommended by POSS, if and when that happens.

In all cases, leadership is at the core of the process.

… it is important to ensure that users in PAs interact extensively with developers… free software developers often work on a “user-pull”… model, responding to user requests, rather than forcing features on them [p15]

Leadership can be an issue in self-organising OSS communities, and there will be a tension between the most productive coders and the interests of the funding PAs.

In the case of HANDS, leadership may be best provided by the PAs who use HANDS working together to develop a roadmap for functional improvements, and using a technical partner to enforce technical standards and ensuring that appropriate technical choices are made.

Appendix 1 has a good summary of OSS developers, their motivations and how they work together.


About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
This entry was posted in e-government, Europe, Methodologies, opensource, paper. Bookmark the permalink.

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