Review of global Open Source policy across the public sector

The UK has benefited from the 2012 Open Standards policy which was formally reviewed in 2015, and the guidance toward selecting Open Source, as described in the official UK government IT strategy, which states “where appropriate Open Source solutions and Open Standards will be considered”. However this document is becoming outdated, as the development and use of Open Source rises, and policy needs to evolve in order to keep up with action already being taken by many organisations within the public sector.

USA

Compare this to the progressive strategy outlined by the current White House Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, a strong advocate of Open Source, who believes that technological innovation is built through collective knowledge and collaboration.

Scott’s department has released a draft Federal source code policy for public consultation by 18th April 2016 and are encouraging the wider community to provide comment. This draft requires that all custom code purchased by the Federal Government to be made available across Federal Agencies, but for now, only limited obligation to be released as Open Source software to the community.

President Obama seeks technological progress and there is a view that investing in openness will address this. The White House describe the Open Data aspirations, API’s and contributions to Open Source on their developers pages.

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is maintained by the US Department of Defence which aims to address the common issues that arise during selection and procurement which is generally also of benefit to non-US administrations.

India

A similar picture is emerging in other countries including India who encourage the use of Open Source over proprietary software.

Europe

Across Europe, many policies and guidance have been issued over recent years.

The French Prime Minister recommended that agencies return between 5% and 10% of savings made from the use of Open Source opposed to proprietary back to the communities as part of it’s Open Source drive.

Basque Country issued a decree in 2012 and was one of the first EU states to issue such a strong statement.

Initial Italian publications in 2012 lead to the development of criteria and guidelines in 2013 promoting importing of Open Source and the re-export of the software to other departments.

Although this is very positive progress, these policy developments focus on the importing of Open Source, with some limited obligation to share amongst other departments.

Bulgaria has lead the way with an all-round Open Source policy. Following the introduction of mandatory evaluation of Open Source solutions for government tenders in 2015, the government proposed a repository of Open Source applications which will be mirrored with Github, therefore enabling developers and other departments to interact, acquire and feed back to the software assets. The policy is currently under review in parliament and is anticipated to successfully pass in the near future.

Poland released their policy in 2016 which describes their aspiration to become an all-round Open Source government and this encompasses Open Data in addition to the software assets.

A review of EU policies and analysis of the response of 10 EU regions can be found in a 2013 document which presents the position of sharing and re-use of digital assets. A full report is available detailing the position of 30 EU nations.

Local government and departments

Such a policy applied to central government does not directly ensure that the public sector as a whole must comply. Local government, states and departments generally require their own policy to enforce such activity. A statement by USA digital working group 18F propose that their policy is extended to states and local government as described here. However the policy is likely to encourage generation of relevant Open Source software within the sector that other departments benefit from so we can expect it to be influential.

What next?

The importation of Open Source into government software projects does not ensure a two-way ecosystem, therefore failing to engage and stimulate the Open Source business, community and the benefits this may otherwise bring. Procurement and supply chain issues still need to be addressed in order to further evolve policies to reflect the needs and challenges of organisations within the public sector

At the time of writing, Open Forum Europe are working with other organisations to research the business use of Open Source across Europe. It is anticipated that this will bring more clarity to the positions of the nations outlined here as well as the first objective study of business impact of Open Source.

There is no argument that a purchaser of software and services would welcome solutions that ensured the freedoms identified by the Free Software Foundation. This has been considered a utopia and unachievable in the course of contemporary business. With the significant progress this decade toward Open Source policy, and leading nations experimenting with the all-round approach, it is now becoming more widely accepted that these freedoms will become a common expectation when acquiring software.

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