5. Methodological Note

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Several research methods were employed to produce the Guidelines for Sustainable Open Source Communities in the Public Sector. More specifically, a three-step approach was taken consisting of a literature review, a dedicated survey of public sector OSS community representatives, and the development of five case studies illustrating sustainable public sector OSS communities. Each step was built upon the main findings from the previous steps. This approach allowed us to put together Guidelines based on both theoretical literature and practical findings from the survey and case studies. The outcome of each step is described in more detail below.

Step 1 – Literature Review

The key objective of the literature review was to identify the most recurring success and failure factors of sustainable open source communities. More than 30 information sources were consulted, including academic papers and online resources. The literature review focused on the specificities of open source communities in the public sector as this is the goal of the Guidelines. The outcome of the literature review was a streamlined list of five key success factors that contribute to OSS communities’ sustainability: software maturity, sustainable finance, community vibrancy, community governance, and public sector adoption incentives.

Step 2 – Survey addressed to the open source community

In order to validate and expand on the findings of the literature review, we launched an online survey targeting members of public sector OSS communities. Between 16 January 2020 and 15 March 2020, the survey gathered a total of 74 complete responses. In addition to gathering feedback on the success factors behind sustainable public sector OSS communities, the survey also helped us to put together a long list of existing communities in public administrations.   A total of 46 examples of public sector OSS communities were identified.

Step 3 – Case Study Analysis

To further explore what makes public sector OSS communities sustainable, we developed five case studies. They were selected from the list of communities identified in our survey, taking into account their geographical distribution, level of administration, and type of community together with its sustainability. The resulting five case studies were: the Developers Italia community launched by the Italian government; the implementation of participatory democracy through the CONSUL platform in Groningen; the Integreat application, originally developed by German students and now used by over 60 municipalities across Germany to provide information to new arrivals; the OSKARI software in Finland and the Lutece software launched by the City of Paris and used across France. All five are available on the OSOR Knowledge Centre.

We had initially envisaged producing four case studies looking at sustainable public sector OSS projects and one looking at an unsustainable project. However, it proved difficult to follow up with representatives of case studies on unsustainable projects and to receive consent to publish their input. For this reason, all five case studies focus on sustainable communities.

These case studies helped us to gather an in-depth understanding of the similarities and differences across OSS communities in the public sector. They also helped us to better understand how the success factors we identified through our research contribute to communities’ sustainability in practice.

More information about the above methodology can be found in a supporting study Success Factors for Sustainable Open Source Communities published on the OSOR Knowledge Centre.

Community feedback

The three-step approach described above was only possible with the kind contribution of the vibrant OSS community that shared their thoughts and experiences throughout the entire process.

Our team held a workshop at the FOSDEM 2020 conference conference to validate the research on the five key sustainability factors and to gather further input from the open source community. We also organised a community webinar where we presented the draft on the Guidelines and gathered feedback from the webinar participants on how the Guidelines could be further developed.

Finally, several community members (see Acknowledgements) provided feedback on the draft version of the Guidelines.