Thursday, November 13, 2014

Open Source and the City!

What is Open Source? 

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder supplies the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any reason or function. Open-source software is very oftentimes developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open-source software is the most striking example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open-content movements.

A report by the Standish Group (from 2008) states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.

In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via a free license to a product's design or blueprint, and universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone. Researchers view open source as a specific case of the greater pattern of Open Collaboration, "any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants, who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike".

The open-source model is based on a more decentralized model of production, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies.

A main principle of open-source software development is peer production by collaboration, with the end-product, source code, "blueprints", and documentation available at no cost to the public. The open source movement in software began as a response to the limitations of closed proprietary code, and it is now spreading across different fields. This model is also used for the development of open-source-appropriate technologies, solar photovoltaic technology and open-source drug discovery.

There is an accelerating interest in and use of Open-Source Software worldwide. Local governments are changing. Forward-thinking municipalities are embracing technology to make our cities better for everyone. Innovative government staff are sharing resources, best practices, and collaborating on common problems. Jamaica an its municipalities need to provide a broad range of resources, programs and services to support and advance civic innovation. Open Source Software becomes the leading information technology day by day and there are open source alternatives to most of the commercial softwares...

I use Linux Mint 17! So why can't the government do it?

So why is Government in general, and the St. James municipality in particular not looking into Open Source? It's time that Jamaican government IT policy goes as far as expressing a formal preference to use open source!

How can you apply the concepts of open source to a living, breathing city?

An open source city is a blend of open culture, open government policies, and economic development.

Five characteristics of an open source city
  1. Fostering a culture of citizen participation
  2. Having an effective open government policy
  3. Having an effective open data initiative
  4. Promoting open source user groups and conferences
  5. Being a hub for innovation and open source businesses

Citizen participation: Probably one of the most difficult components of an open source city is to foster a culture of citizen participation. Having citizen champions around certain causes can really help boost citizen participation and engagement.

Open government policy and open data: Policy is another key component of an open source city. 

User groups and conferences: Participation comes in another form with user groups and conferences—like-minded people gathering around their passions. Hosting these conferences and supporting user groups will boost your open source city credibility.

Economic development: Finally, having an economic development strategy that includes open source companies can help foster innovation and create jobs. More and more cities are also seeing the advantages of having an open data policy tied to their startup community. Cities that can combine their open data policy with their economic development strategy can give a real boost to startups and other businesses. Being a hub for open source companies and a catalyst for open source startups can have a positive impact on the city's bottom line. More importantly, this feeds back in to culture and participation.
Municipalities and Open Source
As a Linux User I keep myself abreast by reading Linux Format! I found this interesting article in the April 2014  edition.

Munich’s switch to open-source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration’s users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said Thursday.
In one of the premier open-source software deployments in Europe, the city migrated from Windows NT to LiMux, its own Linux distribution. LiMux incorporates a fully open-source desktop infrastructure. The city also decided to use the Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, instead of proprietary options.
Ten years after the decision to switch, the LiMux project will now go into regular operation, the Munich City council said in a document published on its website.
As of November last year, the city saved more than €11.7 million (US$16.1 million) because of the switch. 

Why should other cities do this?

Other cities should do this for many reasons such as:
  • Proving to its citizen-bosses that it is doing its job and working hard in response to their needs.
  • Opening up data and processes because, you never know, those citizen-bosses may be able to do something cool with it or make great suggestions.
  • Opening up gives citizens a sense of ownership and welcome.  They are more likely to be engaged and satisfied if they feel ownership and pride in that ownership.

Benefits of Open Source to Montego Bay

Community Participation – Taking it to the streets
  • Citizen-led communities
  • Connection between youth-development programs and open government community
  • Connection entrepreneurial community and open government community
  • Importance of broadband access for any of this to be useful

I believe in the critical role of open-source software to create the applications and infrastructure necessary to support electronic medical records and other government-funded technology projects. Open-source software has already resulted in dramatic cost reductions in many technology areas.

Open-source software brings transparency to software development. There are no “black boxes” in open-source software and therefore no need to guess what is going on “behind the scenes.” Ultimately, this means a better product for everyone, because there is visibility at every level of the application, from the user interface to the data implementation. Furthermore, open-source software provides for platform independence, which makes quick deployments that benefit our citizens much easier and realistic.

The open-source industry is changing the world of software development in many of the ways many politicians have promised to change Jamaican politics. The values of open source are hope, change, and openness. I sincerely hope that Montego Bay and the St. James Parish Council if not the entire Jamaican government, will make the use of open-source software a key component of every new technology initiative it is apart of.

The open source characteristics of collaboration, transparency, and participation are shaping municipalities world wide as we brand our city as a city for the creative classes we must also give it the open source city brand. 

It's time that Jamaican government's IT policy goes as far as expressing a formal preference to use open source!