September 28th, 2009

Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland to open source, open data, and transparency communities: Let’s make this official


Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland to open source, open data, and transparency communities: Let’s make this official

You may remember a couple of months back—during the Open Source Bridge conference—that Portland Mayor Sam Adams made a commitment to turn Portland into a “hub for open source.”

But conversing about a topic, as they say, is relatively easy. Or to put it more bluntly: talk is cheap.

That’s why it’s incredibly heartening to see the City moving to get something on the books with a resolution that is designed to officially make Portland a more open city. And if you care about open source—even remotely—it would be great to see you at the City Council meeting this Wednesday during the testimony and voting on the resolution.

“Bottom line: the city government has unnecessarily been closed in proprietary software and has been a a laggard in using open source software,” said Adams during his Open Source Bridge talk.

Now, the City is working to change that. How? Well, they’ve put together a resolution that formalizes their commitment to be more open—both with their data and the systems they use to manage the municipality. If the resolution passes, not only will they work to make their efforts more transparent by opening City data to the outside world, they’ll also make sure that open source choices are given consideration during purchasing decisions.

That, my friends, is a big deal. And a step that will have Portland putting its money where its proverbial mouth is in regards to open source. And making this step official—by making it a matter of public record—takes it out of “yeah, Portland is kind of an open sourcey town” to “The City of Portland officially recognizes and strives to support the open source community.”

And if the resolution passes, it becomes that official.

Wait a second. What I am doing paraphrasing for you? You’re a sharp cookie. Let’s just take a look at exactly what the resolution says.

The content of the resolution is as follows (or you can download a PDF of the resolution):

Mobilize and expand the regional technology community of software, hardware and service professionals by promoting open and transparent government, open data, and partnership opportunities between the public, private and non-profit sectors, academia and labor

WHEREAS, the City of Portland is committed to engaging the community by working with citizens, soliciting their ideas, input, and creative energy; and

WHEREAS, the City of Portland is committed to using technology to foster open, transparent, and accessible government; and

WHEREAS, by sharing data freely, the City of Portland seeks to develop opportunities for economic development, commerce, increased investment, and civic engagement for Citizens of the Portland region; and

WHEREAS, publishing structured standardized data in machine readable formats creates new opportunities for information from different sources to be combined and visualized in new and unexpected ways, for niche markets to be identified and developed, and for Citizens to browse, interpret and draw attention to trends or issues with greater efficiency; and

WHEREAS the adoption of open standards improves transparency, access to public information, and improved coordination and efficiencies among bureaus and partner organizations across the public, non-profit and private sectors; and

WHEREAS, the City of Portland seeks to encourage the local software community to develop software applications and tools to collect, organize, and share public data in new and innovative ways; and

WHEREAS, Software applications and tools that enable Citizens to access, visualize, and analyze public information will promote greater civic engagement and encourage Citizens to provide feedback on local issues; and

WHEREAS, the Portland region is a global leader of the Open Source Software industry, with leading foundations, businesses, and professionals located in and around Portland; and

WHEREAS, supporting and encouraging the development of Open Source Software curricula in Portland area educational institutions will result in a “Culture of Openness” that will enable Portland to increase the momentum behind its efforts for the foreseeable future; and

WHEREAS, Open Source Software can enable the City of Portland to use, copy, customize and redistribute software it deploys for government services; and

WHEREAS, the City of Portland will consider Open Source Software as a potential alternative to existing commercial software solutions in its purchasing and contracting decisions; and

WHEREAS, the City will promote the creation and continued evolution of innovative Open Source Software solutions to meet civic needs;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Council of the City of Portland:

  1. Directs the Bureau of Technology Services to:

    1. Enter into agreements with our regional partners to publish and maintain public datasets that are open and freely available while respecting privacy and security concerns as identified by the City Attorney;
    2. Develop a strategy to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps, and other formats of media;
    3. Organize a regional contest to encourage the development of software applications to collect, organize, and share public data;
    4. Establish best practices for analysis of business requirements in software review and selection processes, identify existing commercial software systems with licenses that are scheduled to expire in the near future, and encourage the consideration of Open Source Software in the review, replacement and continual improvement of business solutions;
    5. Work with Travel Portland and regional partners to promote Portland as a host city for leading Open Source Software conferences and related technology events, such as LinuxCon, Innotech, etc;

  2. Directs the City’s Purchasing Agent to notify and distribute all formal technology related purchasing and contract opportunities for publication and distribution by the Software Association of Oregon, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the open source community in addition to those public notice requirements required under Portland City Code 5.33.300.

Show your support for open source

Even if you disagree with portions of the resolution, I think you’ll have to agree that it’s a good start. And a step in the right direction.

What’s more, I think it’s an even stronger commitment to the open source community than the Portland Economic Development Strategy about which I was raving—because it names specific actions the City will take to resolve the issues.

Want to support it? Well, you’re invited to the City Council meeting this Wednesday, September 30, around 10:30 AM to witness the discussion of the resolution—and if you’d like to provide testimony there might even be the opportunity to do that.

I’m going to try to be there. And I’d love to see you there. Where we can all keep our fingers crossed, together, that the City makes this commitment to open source and open data less lip service and more of a reality.

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22 Responses to “Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland to open source, open data, and transparency communities: Let’s make this official”

  1. Gary Walter says:

    Rick, I know you’ve had a part to play in this – I see when you attend meetings with these guys. Good job to you – and others who have been working to make stuff like this happen!

  2. Tim Welch says:

    Thanks for sharing Rick.

    As Mayor Adams alluded to in his keynote at Open Source Bridge, there’s a healthy competition brewing between Portland and Vancouver, BC who passed a similar resolution earlier this year. Both cities have a similar focus on sustainability and also have healthy tech communities. It makes sense were things are heading. Everyone’s going to win in this contest.

    http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/05/22/tech-vancouver-open-source-standards-software-city.html

  3. Richard Davies says:

    Subscribing to comments.

  4. Rex says:

    Good on ya, Mr.Mayor. I applaud your actions.

    Now a warning, if you didn’t already know:

    What happens next is that Microsoft will fund some proxy, probably Portland’s local newspaper to smear your character, pretty much like they did to the gentleman from Massachusetts

    Microsoft will likely bribe legislators, correction: give generous campaign contributions to legislators to reverse your decisions and recommendations.

    If you are ultimately successful anyway, Microsoft will likely fund the campaign of one or more primary challengers to your next election. Then, if you are still successful, expect a well funded, by Microsoft, candidate of the opposition party. If you have any money left after the primaries, this might finish you off.

    Don’t get me started.

  5. Mike says:

    This is certainly progress, however an even more progressive move would adopt cloud computing.

    One concern is this will only encourage gov IT departments into believing they’re an Engineering dept when they should be focusing on Operations.

  6. Congratulations Mayor Adams, Portland City Councilmembers and citizens of Portland!

    This is great news. Data should be accessible and open in the broadest array of human-comprehensible and machine-readable formats and this proclamation is a great first step in the right direction.

    Following the nation’s lead with http://data.gov, many cities have already or are now considering opening their data – DC, San Francisco, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Tucson and Seattle to name just a few.

    Socrata is proud to be a part of the open data movement. We offer the world’s most advanced platform for sharing data socially. While not open source (yet), our turnkey platform is delivered in an affordable, cloud-based shared services model, making it extremely cost effective for every city to offer their own, privately-branded version of “mycity.data.gov.” And while we are a venture-backed, commercial business, our platform itself is open. Regardless of the format used to upload the data, those same datasets can be downloaded in many open and quasi-open formats like CSV, Excel XLS, JSON and XML. Every datsaset is API enabled with a RESTful web service. Every dataset is RSS/ATOM enabled. Datasets can be easily embedded in other webpages, blogs and social networks, extending the reach and utility of the data itself.

    What’s more important however, is that our platform makes it easy for mainstream, non-technical citizens to actually make sense of and share your data. We make it easy to sort, search, filter data and even to visualize it, republish it and share it.

    You can learn more about our social data platform at http://www.socrata.com/about or consider watching our short 4-minute, introductory video: http://links.socrata.com/7djq/solution/sdn-video

    Today, open data is a novel idea. I look forward to the day before too long when it’s only newsworthy when a city doesn’t share its data publicly and openly.

  7. Chris says:

    @Mike, I disagree. As an IT manager, IT very much is composed of three things: help desk, operations (server/client administration) and programming. I honestly find myself doing help desk more often per capita on Windows machines than on our Mac or Linux deployments. An open source network likely would leave time to do more engineering, e.g. programming work, and that’s a very good thing for everyone.

    Also, the idea that going open source and using Linux means you’ll be spending a lot of time setting it up or engineering it somehow isn’t true: you can drop a Linux disc in, just like Windows, and click “Next … Next … Next”. The idea that Linux is hard or for programmers largely echos concerns years old, which today just sound like FUD.

  8. Mike says:

    @Chris That’s great if your IT group can program, but that’s not what I want my tax dollars going towards in the public sector if a cloud-based alternative is available.

    In many cases, leading cloud-based services are already based on open source and include 99.99% uptime, 24×7 monitoring, and ongoing updates managed by focused experts.

    A Linux laptop with nothing but Firefox installed (for accessing cloud services) should be ITs operational focus in the public sector going forward.

  9. Kiala says:

    What Kevin said.

    Only a month ago San Francisco made this commitment with http://datasf.org/

    To me it’s a non-issue if the city wants to be taken seriously.

  10. Dan says:

    @Mike and Chris. Come on guys if you see this as an open source/closed source or linux/microsoft deal then you’re greatly oversimplifying things.

    For every shop that is faster at fixing linux desktops than windows desktops there are other shops that are exactly the opposite. Did you hire someone with 10 years linux and 1 year windows experience? or vice versa?

    If your user base will require 1000 hours of training to switch to a linux or windows system does it really matter saving 15 minutes per desktop?

    microsoft, linux, cloud, in-house, outsource, IT doing mostly programming, IT doing mostly helpdesk, it’s all about using the best tool/resource, whatever that may be. And if you boil those types of decisions down to a one-or-the-other type of equation you’re probably missing some things.

    Most of those resolutions (with the exception of #3, which is a cool idea) I would think would be common sense but I suppose it helps to have that in writing. Hopefully this writing will turn into positive action.

  11. Jason Mauer says:

    Rex, hate to burst your bubble, but Microsoft supports government open data efforts like these. They even have their own Open Government Data Initiative to encourage both governments and citizen developers to get on board. (more info at http://www.microsoft.com/industry/government/opengovdata/default.aspx )

    As far as open source software goes, I don’t think Microsoft (or anyone else) has any qualms with having the option to choose, as this resolution is written. It’s when mandates are made that REQUIRE purchasing one way or the other where things get out of whack.

    If an open source option is the best solution for a particular governmental need, so be it. Likewise for proprietary solutions. Many successful, local software/tech shops have proprietary offerings (WebTrends, MacAfee, CheckFree/Fiserv, etc). They would most likely agree that when it comes to a technology decision being made, we should consider all the options available.

    -j (your friendly neighborhood Microsoftie)

  12. Mark Lawler says:

    I have very mixed feelings about this. I believe that business and IT decision makers should be empowered to make the best purchasing decision possible that align with business goals and empower their users to be more productive and to innovate. However, I don’t believe in arbitrary constraints; I think IT should be free to choose what the best answer is vs. being told what that answer is. Don’t get me wrong–we leverage dozens of open source libraries (non of which are copy-left) and am a big fan. That said as a commercial software vendor and SaaS provider I also value my IP and like my customers we do exist for an economic purpose. On a personal note I would hate to have a resolution or law in place that dictates the technology choices that I make every day; I am glad that I enjoy the freedom to pick and choose what makes the most sense for my business and my customers. In that regard, based on the problem at hand, I have had the freedom to choose Java, Microsoft, open source libraries, and commercial 3rd party libraries & products to build the best possible solutions for my customers. Conflicting choices? Not really–my goal is to accelerate innovation while delighting customers so they can focus on their business goals vs. the technology stack. The good news with technology is that it isn’t a religion although some seem to try to make it so–you really can sample the best that each has to offer vs. picking a doctrine. I think everybody should enjoy that same freedom of choice.

    -Mark

  13. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Mark Maybe I’m biased, but I didn’t read it as forcing the City to choose the open source solutions. I read it as the City should be giving open source solutions a fair chance when evaluating the needs of the City.

    At this point, I don’t get the feeling that open source solutions/projects even have a seat at the table when it comes to making IT decisions.

    In other words, I’d like to see the City adopting your stance: the best technology for the job whether it’s proprietary, open source, or some combination thereof.

  14. Jason Mauer says:

    As a Portland citizen and a Microsoftie, I agree 100% Rick. There’s room at the table for everybody.

  15. I want to echo what Jason Mauer wrote. I too am a Portland resident and MS employee. I spoke at the Council meeting today and made it very clear that Microsoft supports the move to greater openness of the data and collaboration with the community.

    Collaborative development has much to offer governments of all sizes. Moreover, their constituents will have unprecedented access to government data through these types of activities. There is nothing but goodness in that.

    I really appreciate Mark Lawler’s comments above. My feeling is that government investments in ICT as a consumer are served best when their IT professionals can pick solution based on value-for-money, quality of technology, long-term viability, etc. Consideration for a given solution should be based on a neutral set of principles rather than under a policy mandate.

    For producers of software – they want the freedom to choose the model that makes sense for them as well. Most software providers now take a hybrid approach, and certainly all seek to collaborate with various communities.

    My $.02 – but I think the general direction of this resolution is good. As a PDX resident, I hope they are mindful to avoid procurement mandates.

  16. Robert says:

    It is simple economics. After years of seeing hundreds of millions of dollars disappear across the border into Washington, a wise administration has decided it is far wiser to save money and what they do spend. invest it locally and develop their technological base. There is room at the table for any commercial company to supply, service and support open source product and, there is no room for companies that are just a dead end drain on the economy. It is always the companies choice whether they want to supply product based upon the stipulated non discriminatory contract conditions, open source, allows any company to bid for contracts.

  17. [...] Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland to open source, open data, and transparency communities: Le… [...]

  18. [...] Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland to open source, open data, and transparency communities: Le… [...]

  19. [...] fall, when the City of Portland adopted the nation’s first open source software policy, one of our goals was to help attract premier open source conferences to Portland,” said Portland [...]

  20. Edwardo Loendorf says:

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  21. [...] And those that embraced open data early are formalizing their commitment to open data – the City of Portland is a great example of this. [...]

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