eDemocracy08 today

I will shortly be heading down to London to eDemocracy08, Headstar‘s annual shindig for anyone interested in how technology and democracy can be improved by one another.

I actually have some involvement at this year’s event, having being generously invited by those friendly folk at Delib to share a panel session with Chris Quigley, Gez Smith and Steph Gray talking open source. Here’s the skinny:

Open Source in e-Democracy – How good can it be if it’s free?

Chair: Chris Quigley, Director, Delib

  • Steph Gray, Head of Social Media, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
  • Gez Smith, Senior Consultant, Delib
  • Dave Briggs, Digital Enabler, DavePress Ltd

Over the last few years, UK e-Democracy has been characterised by small pockets of piloting and ‘innovation’, often to the exclusion of demonstrable impact and software sustainability. In contrast to this, the wider internet has seen an explosion of participative software, free to use and open to be redeveloped, integrated and customised to suit individual situations. This session explores the role of such open source software in e-democracy. Featuring perspectives from central government, local government and the private sector, the session will look at the benefits and drawbacks of the open source approach, the value of software vs knowledge, and what all this might mean for e-democracy in the future. In the spirit of open collaboration, it will also hopefully feature a good participative discussion too!

Now, if that doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy then you must be mental.

Before these things, I always struggle a bit to think of what I am going to say. Part of this is that I just don’t know in which direction the conversation is going to head, and so having something heavily prepared might mean I end up banging on irrelevantly and irrate everyone present. However, in an attempt to do at least some groundwork, I thought I would put my open source principles to the test and try crowd sourcing the topic with my buddies on Twitter.

I got some good stuff back:

  • podnosh @davebriggs open source lets you spend money on building community instead of wrestling with shitely restrictive software?
  • stevepurkiss @davebriggs 1.Dont give your freedoms away, make sure to use Free/Libre OSS (not just OSS). 2.Collaborate on projects. 3.Put something back.
  • peeebeee @davebriggs Could quote some anti-patterns re Sharepoint perhaps?
  • marxculture @davebriggs http://tinyurl.com/6f5uha [link to a story about the work done in Parliament on the Hansard prototype site, using OS technology such as OpenSolaris, MySQL, Ruby on Rails etc]
  • ssutherland @davebriggs OSS a good fit 4 public sector cos of vfm and likelihood of future proofing solutions. Sector still needs to grasp key OS issues
  • gavinwray @davebriggs How o s advocates can tackle attitude of ‘cheap/free must be low quality & unsupported; expensive & proprietary must be good’
  • waugaman @davebriggs COMPLETELY agree w @podnosh – also general OS community is wide/deep enough to allow 4 service/product of diff user/dev needs…eg diff in folks who use joomla v drupal or wordpress.com v .org
  • watfordgap @davebriggs and OS is a bit like twitter. Community of developers wanting to help fix problems and make code better for YOU
  • philoakley @davebriggs The promise of oss is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.

I’ll try and work as much of this stuff in as I can. My own thoughts include:

  • Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it won’t cost you anything – using online stuff like OS blogging platforms such as WordPress, forums like phpBB or wikis like MediaWiki doesn’t mean that the project will be cost-free. No matter how open your platform, if you don’t commit resource to ongoing management and facilitation, it will fail
  • The difference between government deploying OS web software and desktop applications – the former is almost certainly easier to do
  • Taking an open source approach to working, whether in policy development or consultations, doesn’t mean someone else does the work for you. Linux has not many more than 160-odd active developers, OpenOffice.org just around 25. Millions of people use Wikipedia, but less than 4,000 are classed as very active contributors. WordPress has a large volunteer base, but there are four main developers who coordinate and validate the work of others

I’m sure more will occur to me over the course of today. Oh, and just to note – I wrote this post in WordPress, running Firefox on Ubuntu.

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