Open Source Governance: State of the Art and Lesson Learnt in Italy (part III)

The lack of open source vision by the Italian government, along with attention paid by Obama to open source, brought my attention back to the importance Open Source Governance.

I want to strive for open source adoption by national and local governments. I want to take the opportunity here to share some thoughts about why a FOSS governance is needed, and how we could accomplish the goal to use open source software to develop innovative initiatives.

Talking about open source governance basically is talking about IT governance. Look at open source acceptance and adoption: is a bottom-up process. Legal departments, procurement offices or HR directors are often unaware of how and if open source usage is spread across the organization.

Public personnel sometimes pose questions to clarify licensing issues, more often technicians just download the software, and probably wonder about contributing back or not patches or new modules of general interest.  Without an open source governance program, managing employee participation or even tie it into individuals’ performance plan is just a dream.

IT procurement and outsourcing need to be adjusted according to licensing, communities and software vendors involved. Project management has to review and track the use of open source software as well, and considering that even involving enterprise IT in open source is difficult, public administrations have to find meaningful and affordable ways to fully capitalize on open source.

Monitoring the viability of an open source product/community, is also different from the way an organization buys software from a proprietary vendor, and appropriate metrics and methodologies have to be put in place.

“Non solo fannulloni” (eng. “not just lay-abouts”) is an Italian initiative launched by Minister Renato Brunetta, aimed at “recognising merit” and “rewarding the best” in the context of the public administration. Ambitious technological and IT programmes are welcome and, keeping in mind the substantial budget cuts, there is an opportunity for public administrations innovating using open source software.

The Italian case

The importance given to the replication of experiences (slide n.10), indicates methodologies and organizational changes as part of the initiative, and specific funds for know-how transfer are included.

Collaboration skills are probably part of being an individual, as seen with some Italian local public administrations. But closing the “open source gap” maybe effective and feasible, as far as Italy and its regions get that open source collaboration is not just about launching (yet another) forge.

Open-source software isn’t just about providing solutions to general problems, like the open source office suite OpenOffice.org. Open source maybe used to address specific “vertical” problems, as seen in USA with projects like VistA – the electronic health record and health information system – or the most recent TriSano , a citizen-focused surveillance and outbreak management system for infectious disease, environmental hazards, and bioterrorism attacks.

Club good theory suggests that a group of organizations can derive mutual benefit from sharing the cost of production of an (pure or impure) public good. Foundations like SAKAI successfully coordinate development activities around the SAKAI CLE free and open source Courseware Management System, giving educational institutions a powerful tool as well as helping commercial affiliates to make business with it.

American open source vendors and actors ask Obama to consider open source, and say:

Building high quality software at much lower costs through collaboration will be a catalyst for good work between software developers in the IT industry and subject matter experts, like doctors and nurses, in the public sector.

I totally agree. Italian public administrations can be “technological clubs aggregators”, and Italian IT SMEs will definitely cooperate in technological endeavours if the benefits outweigh the costs. Network effects can help to choose to join the “club”, since SMEs involved could eventually selling services and support to other public administrations thanks to know-how transfer programs.

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