August 19th, 2010
On open source and government: An accidental manifesto
A number of us recently read the Willamette Week’s coverage of open source and the City of Portland’s engagement with the open source community. Seeing this type of coverage from a mainstream publication was a high watermark of sorts. A step forward. But how big of a step?
I asked Audrey Eschright, Open Source Bridge co-founder, the driving force behind Calagator, and local open source advocate, for her take on it—for more details on her position, more insight into her thinking. What she provided wound up being—by her own admission—an accidental manifesto on open source and municipal government.
And while she focused her response on Portland—”the city widely considered America’s open-source capital“—I believe her thoughts and insights have a much broader reach for the interaction of open source and government as a whole.
Her response is as follows:
It’s not about the work ethic.
Look at all of the side-projects going on, the things we accomplish beyond our regular work day. This isn’t a lazy community, but it’s important to understand that people may be motivated by different things, and have different ways of measuring success. There’s room for different approaches, as long as we recognize each others’ interests.
Change has to happen on multiple sides.
What happens when the complex processes of government meet the complex processes of open source? A whole lot of frustration and confusion on all sides. Bringing open source into government requires that we listen to each other, understand how each part works, and build new connections. At a recent OpenGovWest meetup, we discussed how most software developers don’t know how to get involved in government RFP processes, and how government technology decision-makers often don’t understand how open source works. We need to keep working on that gap.
It’s not (only) about the money.
This is good! We’ve shown we know how to build things of value to us, even with limited financial resources. We’re interested in how we can make our communities better. Look at Free Geek: they went from “how do we keep computer monitors out of the river?” to a being part of a state-wide electronic waste recycling program and putting computers and technical training into the hands of needy Portlanders, as a non-profit, collaborative enterprise.
It is about building something of value for all parties.
That’s really the key part. What succeeds does so because we share the benefit. Maybe what we’re after is better health care for all Oregonians, or maybe we’re just there to have fun, but we engage in these projects because we’re getting something out of it.
It is about recognizing our strengths and working with them.
Portland is Portland. Not San Francisco, not Seattle. This is our own city, with our own technology communities, and we need to build models for success in this environment.
It is about having a common goal.
How else are we going to work together? Let’s decide what we want to do and get moving on it.
That’s Audrey’s take on the open source community and its interactions with government and economic development in Portland. What’s your take? Agree? Disagree?
Let’s hear it.
(Image courtesy Selena Marie. Used under Creative Commons.)