[PublicPolicy] Open Sourcing Government Code

Matthias Kirschner mk at fsfe.org
Tue Jun 2 06:19:48 UTC 2020

Hellio Shimon,

* Shimon Shore [2020-05-31 20:11 +0200]:
> I appreciate all the well done materials. They are presented very
> well.
> From what I have seen most of the material is about using Open Source
> and much less about donating.

To make sure I understand you correct: By donating you don't mean
donating money to Free Software organisations (like OSI or FSFE) or
projects, but publishing source code by the government? 

> I am specifically looking for arguments for governments to open source
> their code beyond the moral argument (ex. Public Money, Public Code).

Can you clarify with of the arguments you consider moral? E.g. the short
four ones from publiccode.eu: 

* Tax savings - Similar applications don't have to be programmed from scratch every time.
* Collaboration - Major projects can share expertise and costs.
* Serving the public - Applications paid by the public should be available for everyone.
* Fostering innovation - With transparent processes, others don't have to reinvent the wheel.

> To play devil's advocate, the counter argument here is that since it
> is Public Money it must be used in ways that benefit the public.
> Creating repositories that no one looks at have no real value and is a
> waste of taxpayer money.

We heard that argument for many years and I agree that it is sad if code
is just dumped somewhere. But my question meanwhile always is: what is
the negative outcome of a simple code dump? How much does that cost? 

Now if only 1 out of 100 times another public administration can make
use of (parts of) software from such a code dump, isn't that already a
positive outcome? 

There is a huge disadvantage if people in public administrations have to
evaluate the usefulness of code before publishing it, or that they would
have to create a contributors community before they can do so. This adds
too many additional steps which are nice to have but if not done might
also prevent the publication of useful modules for others, decreases
transparency towards citizen, and decreases information to be able to
compete with existing implementations. 

So my recommendation would be to publish by default and if you have
budget, motivation, skills, etc. take the other steps like making it
easy to reuse and contribute to code (e.g.  by providing good readable
license information https://reuse.software/), documenting it, answering
questions, including other contributors, etc. 

Best regards,

Matthias Kirschner - President - Free Software Foundation Europe
Schönhauser Allee 6/7, 10119 Berlin, Germany | t +49-30-27595290
Registered at Amtsgericht Hamburg, VR 17030  |(fsfe.org/support)
Contact (fsfe.org/about/kirschner)       Weblog k7r.eu/blog.html

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