I have recently had the fortunate opportunity to listen to several talks from the open source evangelist Bruce Perens. This inspired me to do a short survey on the use of open source in eGovernment.
There is no question that open data and open source are key elements to ensure transparency in government. Any scientific survey on these topics will tell you this, such as: Government Transparency via Open Data and Open Source, Open Source Government Transparency Projects, etc. Furthermore, not surprisingly, the European Commission reported that open source software as well as the use of open standards are necessary for successful interoperability.
Despite of this, a recent paper by Robert Deller and Veronique Guillox,
Determining relevance of “best practice” based on interoperability in European eGovernment initiatives, identified that open source and open systems are unfortunately significantly under utilized when efficiency is measured in government services. In fact, Deller and Guillox’ data indicates that open source is the most under-represented characteristic when benchmarking interoperable systems. The study shows that only 6% of the best practice initiatives from the ePractice portal had explicit requirements for an open systems. Similarly, as much as 84% of the initiatives had absolutely no indication that open source were part of the initiative.
In contrast, an excellent project which won the ePractice good practice label 2007 is PloneGov. The project is still innovating and is again a finalist for the good practice label in 2009 (and has won several other impressive awards). The project has realized that government agencies world wide often have similar requirements and face similar challenges. Thus, PloneGov attempts to unite efforts and focus on creating portals for local governments and cities. There is no question that they do this very well; the PloneGov reference list is impressive and speaks for itself.
Joomla is another open source portal which has been used for local governments web sites. We are for example starting to see this used by several Norwegian municipality web sites. I work with Norwegian municipalities myself and have often been surprised that we have not seen more open source projects such as Joomla used for the web sites. Norway has 430 municipalities, most of which have very similar requirements, this is specially true for their web sites. This should be the ideal situation for use of open source software. It will be interesting to see how Joomla will compete with the well established proprietary vendors in the Norwegian marked.
Another eGovernment tool based on open source and open standards recognized by ePractice is openFWPA. Even though it is currently only deployed used in Asturia, Spain, it is a large application which has the potential to make collaboration between public entities more transparent and much easier – both in Spain and globally. This project has a huge potential and it will be exiting to see if other government agencies will start to utilize this in the future.
Let us hope that we see many more excellent open source government projects in the future as well as more transparent eGovernment.