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Leveraging Open Source as a Public Institution — New analysis reveals significant returns on investment in open source technologies

Vivien Deparday's picture

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?

What exactly is the US Government’s Digital Services Playbook?

Tariq Khokhar's picture
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US Digital Services Playbook on Github

The White House launched a new “US Digital Service” yesterday - a small team of of word-class technology experts tasked with working with other government agencies to improve the design and delivery of digital services. This is a similar idea to the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) which has succeeded in bringing into government the technology approaches once found only in the more dynamic elements of the private sector.  What are these approaches?

The Digital Services Playbook

The playbook outlines 13 specific strategies that draw on successful best practice from the private sector that, if followed together, “help government build effective digital services.” The plays are:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

As with the GDS’ 10 Design Principles, I like the clarity with which these are explained,  and that the entire playbook is published on Github, and open for public comment and collaboration. I’d recommend taking a few minutes to read it and think about how many of the approaches your government or institution uses.