Gov 2.0 is Open Source

It’s interesting to reflect back on the not too distant past and think about how governments have used open source software.

For many state and local governments – as recently as a few years ago – the use of open source software was something of a foreign concept. Many a government IT worker made an impassioned and well reasoned plea to bosses and co-workers to consider using open source software to capitalize on a range of different benefits. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, when I was a state government IT worker I made many such pleas to bosses and co-workers.)

For a long time, those pleas usually went unheeded. How far we’ve now come.

Not only are more and more state and local governments starting to realize the benefits of using open source software, some of them are actually starting to become developers of open source solutions.

The notion of government-sponsored open source software development isn’t necessarily new – it’s how we got SE Linux for example. But it is still a relatively new concept for state and local governments. I can think of two government entities that are leading the charge.

First, the New York State Senate. Under CIO Andrew Hoppin, the New York legislature’s upper chamber has become a leader in the public sector for its use of open source software. Not only does the Senate use Drupal for its public website, they also contribute Drupal modules back to the community.

After becoming the first legislative body in the country to develop iPhone and iPad apps, they not only released the code for these apps on GitHub, they actually did a code walk through for developers at a recent event in Albany.

And now, the State of Washington has released the code for its own mobile apps on GitHub. They are actively encouraging people to submit ideas to help further develop the software and to identify bugs.

Both of these governments (and others who are out there doing the same thing) will realize more benefits by open sourcing the code for their apps than they would have had they kept the source code a secret. By making the code for their apps visible and reusable, they’ll attract more developer interest and help ensure that bugs or security issues get identified quickly.

Other governments will benefit as well – these two organizations are clearly ahead of the curve in developing mobile apps, and other governments will benefit from their experience and expertise. Since’s governments generally don’t compete directly with each other, this type of sharing makes perfect sense.

Improvements or enhancements to these open source applications will in turn provide benefits for the governments that created them – this is one of the driving dynamics of Gov 2.0.

I’m wondering if there are other state and local governments out there doing this same thing. Do you know of a government agency or entity with a GitHub repo or other open source code repository?

Leave a comment below with the details.

Time to Get Tough with 311 Vendors

Big news recently in the Open311 world.

Lagan – a technology company that provides solutions for local government, including 311 systems – has announced the launch of an integration toolkit to allow “local government customers worldwide to receive and action service requests via social networks, mobile applications and third-party websites.”

This is good news for governments that want to utilize different communication channels to accept and respond to non-emergency service requests, or that want to stand up an API for outside developers to use.

Lagan’s announcement is based on some pioneering work done in the City of San Francisco to do both of these things – San Francisco was one of the first (if not the first) city to use social networking services to take 311 service requests, and they were an early adopter and enthusiastic advocate of the Open311 initiative.

Hopefully, this action by Lagan will catch on with other vendors. It’s worth noting that, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts (which conducted a study of Philadelphia’s 311 system earlier this year, and compared it to 14 other large cities with 311 service) that over 30 percent of large municipalities with 311 service share a common vendor – Motorola. It would be nice if Motorola would follow Lagan’s lead on this issue.

Whether or not they do is an open question. Certainly they have a customer that is as pioneering in their support of Open311 and alternative channels for 311 service as Lagan does (Motorola is the vendor for the District of Columbia).

I continue to believe (and have argued the point with other Open311 advocates) that the best way to “encourage” vendors to support integration toolkits like Lagan’s in their products is to make it a requirement in bidding on 311 projects.

Let’s be realistic – if even one of the large cities that utilize Motorola’s 311 solution made it a requirement during a contract renewal or an open bid that any 311 solution considered must support integration of multiple communication channels or have a generic interface for implementing an externally facing API it would get done. No question about it.

This position is actually strengthened by Lagan’s recent announcement. They have removed any possibility of responding to such a requirement in a bid by saying that no vendor supports such functionality. There is now a vendor that does – Lagan.

It’s time for governments with 311 services to get tough with their vendors and insist that they support alternate channels for servicing 311 requests and for implementing external API’s.