dc10 - 0.5


Andy Oram
Day DebConf Day 1 / Debian Day (2010-08-01)
Room Davis Auditorium
Start time 10:30
Duration 01:00
ID 541
Event type lecture
Track Community Outreach
Language en

Steps to adopting F/OSS in government

Establishing and carrying through a commitment

This talk looks at both successful and unsuccessful attempts to adopt open source software (the term is preferred to "free software" in government) and lays out some principles for people inside and outside government agencies to promotes its use. In particular, I will discuss the assessment of costs and benefits done for the city of Munich in Germany, the creation of Forge.mil by the Department of Defense, and the process used to choose OpenOffice.org for the state of Massachusetts (a project that was defunded). The importance of using explicitly political arguments for the adoption of open source software, and for agency managers to understand the community and workings of open source at a deep level, will be stressed.

Free and open source software has been used by government agencies for quite a while, although often without fanfare, and prospects for increased use have been greeted enthusiastically by both knowledgeable government employees and free software communities. But mobilizing the necessary forces in government to move ahead has proven difficult.

Cost savings, the naive enticement, don't provide good enough motivation in the end. Although proprietary software tends to come with high licensing fees whereas free software can be downloaded without payment, monetary arguments for deploying free software are usually unsuccessful because of the high costs of conversion, retraining, and developing an adequate base for support. More subtle arguments citing the public interest are required.

Some themes I will highlight include:

Rational considerations (cost, and even public access) are not enough to drive adoption of open source. It must be pursued in a politically and even morally motivated way.

Open source software is inherently borderless, so advocacy should draw on support from international sources.

To successfully promote open source within an agency, a manager cannot simply like open source software in the abstract, but must have a direct understanding of its modes of development, its strengths and weaknesses, and its relation to users and communities.

Proponents must be alert to an ever-growing range of creative unethical methods and backroom maneuvers used to squash open source adoption by proprietary software companies, who see its adoption by government as an existential threat to their own businesses.

Topics in this talk (and the paper I am currently revising) include:

1) Reasons for adopting free software that are particular compelling in a government setting

2) The importance of the open government or government transparency movement and its relation to free software

3) The relation of open standards to free software and the importance of standards

4) The importance of starting with a profound insight into the community and development processes for open source

5) The value of explicit political goals

6) Processes for establishing government agency requirements