Examples abound of leading tech companies that have adopted open source strategy and contribute actively to open source tools and communities. Google, for example, has been a long contributor to open source with projects – such as its popular mobile operating system, Android – and recently launched a directory of the numerous projects. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is another major advocate, running most of its cloud services using open source software, and is adopting an open source strategy to better contribute back to the wider community. But can, and should, public institutions embrace an open source philosophy?
In fact, organizations of all types are increasingly taking advantage of the many benefits open source can bring in terms of cost-effectiveness, better code, lower barriers of entry, flexibility, and continual innovation. Clearly, these many benefits not only address the many misconceptions and stereotypes about open source software, but are also energizing new players to actively participate in the open source movement. Organizations like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) have been systematically adopting and leveraging open sources best practices for their geospatial technology, and even the U.S. Federal Government has also adopted a far-reaching open source policy to spur innovation and foster civic engagement.
So, how can the World Bank – an institution that purchases and develops a significant amount of software – also participate and contribute to these communities? How can we make sure that, in the era of the ‘knowledge Bank’, digital and re-usable public goods (including open source software, data, and research) are available beyond single projects or reports?