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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA

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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA
OSS Forjes
Future Trends


What do we mean by Public Administration Open Source Communities?

Many government agencies use open source software. Some agencies have personnel that write code that contributes to an open source code base. This study focuses on community generated code applications that are used by public administrations for conducting the business of government. These are projects in which government agencies are leading or otherwise participating in the community developing open source public administration applications.


Study drawn up by:

  • Deborah Bryant, Deborah Bryant & Associates.

  • Pop Ramsamy, National Open Source Observatory (ONSFA).

With the collaboration of:

  • Javier Molero Santos y Íñigo De Los Heros Busó, PWC Spain SL

Executive summary

The study report provides context, detailed case studies, extracted prototypical models and maturity tools. The case studies cover a range of disciplines in public administration; e-Government, Healthcare IT, running libraries and prisons, sharing 3D geospatial information, exchanging public safety information. They provide lessons learned and best practices from government agencies that have been using the approach for up to ten years.

The study found increasing use of the open source community development model by public administrations with a number of successful, sustained efforts. Benefits include reduction in costs, increased capabilities, some localized economic benefit, and information sharing of value beyond the application itself. Limitations in project growth or sustainability were often due to inadequate infrastructure either from lack of funding or policy constraints, difficultly in communicating the value of the project to decision makers, and lack of dedicated resources for community outreach. Significant project challenges include changes in administration or political leadership, inability to secure funding as part of continuous operations through the budget process, and loss of key leadership.

The study also identified a key differentiator for open source communities in the context of public administration. The most important distinction between open source development historically focused on infrastructure where the developer is also the end user and the subject matter expert (SME) contrasted with the development of applications where the developer is neither the end user nor the SME. Rather the end user may be a doctor, a law enforcement officer, or a private citizen. This has significant implications for a range of issues from governance to software development methodology. This issue of governance becomes critical when the needs of the broader community and the interests of the volunteer development community are not in complete harmony.

The study concludes that there is sufficient evidence of technical, operational, social, economic and political benefits with this type of development to justify pursuing and refining the open source community development approach in the government space.