A Policy Win For Open Source Software in New Zealand

The recent announcement of a new policy framework on open source software (OSS) licensing will lead to better results across government and industry by enabling more collaboration.

Joseph Cederwall
Aug 10, 2016 · 6 min read

This policy is significant as it increases the likelihood of future government web services being developed using open source code and allowing external parties to copy, adapt or integrate their features. This will provide more efficient use of public money, more integrated government web services and contribute to driving local innovation and economic growth. However, what is perhaps most remarkable about this new framework is the transparent and collaborative online consultation and drafting process through which this ambitious idea became a robust policy in less than a year.

Paul Stone (Programme Leader) and Cam Findlay (Senior Adviser Open Source) at the NZ Open Government Information and Data Programme (OGIDP) at Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) were interviewed about this policy on today’s Radio NZ Nine to Noon Show (Audio available here). Cam will also be speaking further on the topic along with Keitha Booth ( Public Lead at Creative Commons Aotearoa) at the OS//OS Open Source Open Society Conference on August 22/23rd in Wellington.

A Clear Need

Governments today are challenged to meaningfully engage more people through technology with less money than ever before.

Where taxpayer money is being spent on developing web services, governments need to ensure that the money is used efficiently to engage a diverse citizenry and to facilitate local innovation and economic growth. However recent high profile cases like the Novopay payroll service nightmare have highlighted the limitations of such proprietary software in this regard.

Uncertainty over copyright status, can be a major barrier for government employees, researchers, developers, free software communities and others who might want to make use of pre-existing source code. Cam was a ‘Developer Advocate’ at SilverStripe (a shared web service platform provider used extensively by government departments), when he noticed this uncertainty was resulting in relatively low software sharing by public sector employees. Seeing this missed opportunity led him to catalyse and eventually provide advice to the Government on the drafting and consultation process of a policy to provide clarity around open source licensing.

The GOAL-SE Policy — a Game Changer

Open Source Software (OSS) is increasingly recognised globally as offering more robust, cheaper, faster and more secure software outcomes than proprietary software.

The policy will also make it easier for external parties to take advantage of government developed web services for creative and innovative purposes. This will lead to a proliferation of innovative new applications or interfaces making our lives easier by allowing more effective online engagement with government services. This, for example could look like an Air New Zealand check-in system linking to government systems and notifying users when their passport is up for renewal or even lodging a new application. Local start-up enterprises stand to benefit most from the lower upfront investment and the superior customisation potential of OSS to help them leverage their unique strengths and comparative advantages.

Open Policy — Open Process

Both the NZGOAL-SE policy itself and the open and transparent consultation process it utilised represent welcome progress towards New Zealand’s OGP commitments to harnessing technology to offer more open government and citizen engagement.

This approach allowed active participation and engagement in developing the policy by both senior government IT professionals and members of the open source community. According to Paul, the level and quality of input gained would have been impossible under traditional government consultation methods and it has resulted in a very detailed and robust policy with good buy in from across both sectors.

Breaking down Barriers at OS//OS 2015

A crucial step in the realisation of this policy was a fortuitous meeting at the Open Source Open Society Conference (OS//OS) in 2015 between Cam Findlay and a senior member of the OGIDP.

What Next for OSS in New Zealand?

According to Cam however, the full impacts of the policy will be seen when a strong community of sharing practice and trust between government agencies and the open source community is in place. A longer-term step towards this will be creating a ‘discovery portal’ to ensure that New Zealand web developers can easily find and share government OSS code and technical support. The dream is that OSS sharing becomes the normal or default practice in New Zealand and that we become a leading example of the potential for technology to drive open government and collaboration between government and industry.

Be a part of the next big policy win at OS//OS 2016

You can now read this full story on Scoop here

OS//OS

Open Source Open Society Events 2016. Find out more: osos.nz

Joseph Cederwall

Written by

writer, social entrepeneur

OS//OS

OS//OS

Open Source Open Society Events 2016. Find out more: osos.nz

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade