Independent advice: Norway's Friprog competence centre

Published on: 10/11/2008
Friprog is the Norwegian competence centre for free and open source software. Set up as an independent advisory body and financed by the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform, Friprog provides advice on the use of open source software to public bodies and private companies. It also helps to shape Norway's policies towards free software. The centre was built in close cooperation with similar projects in other Scandinavian countries.

Policy Context

The competence centre's mission is to improve understanding of open source software and implications for the public and private sector. However, there is no dedicated policy program by the government aiming at the use of open source software.

Description of target users and groups

The competence centre's services initially only aimed at the public sector, but soon after its establishment also addressed the private sector. With regard to the public sector, the services used of the national and local governments usually differ. The national government is more interested in general issues, like efficiency and how to use the taxpayers' money for the greatest benefit. Local government, however, look at more sprecific issues, like the quality of services and how to improve these services using open source software.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Ideas for an open source competence centre date back to 2006. These ideas were finally clarified and presented to the Norwegian Government in White Paper “An Information Society for All” in 2006. The document, addressed to the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform (Fornyingsdepartementet), included a detailed proposal for the creation of a competence centre. It also discussed open source and its usability, open standards and government services. The discussion on the idea and the White Paper that followed in the Norwegian Parliament was a pleasant surprise to the initiators of the White Paper. The parliament voted to follow the recommendation of the White Paper regarding a round-the-clock public administration based ICT and open source, digitalisation of documents, more sharing of source-code in the public sector and the establishment of an open source Competence Centre. The decision to create Friprog was backed by research done by the Parliament and the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform (ICT Ministry).

Technology solution

There is not one specific project that Friprog focuses on, as the main aim generally is to promote the use of open source software, and the sharing and re-using of code. Examplary for their work Friprog is also active when it comes to new standards and decisions issued by the national government. For example, the Norwegian Government has decided that all official information will be available in open document formats such as HTML, PDF and ODF. According to the government, HTML will be the main format for publishing public information on the internet. In case of PDF, PDF 1.4 and in the future PDF/A ISO 19005-1 will be obligatory when there is a need to present a document in its original layout. ODF in ISO/IEC 26300 will be used for documents where users is allowed to make changes, such as public forms. These requirements should be implemented by January 1, 2009. Friprog is responsible for informing the parties in the public sector on how to implement these standards. Technology choice: Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The study does not provide for specific numbers of the economic impact of the use of open source software. However, it is assumed that especially the code-sharing among public institutions and private organizations alike will generate large savings. Moreover, is the same assumed for the use of open source software generally. For the future Friprog will thus place large emphasis on making it easier for public entities to share source code, and re-use code produced by others. Exemplary for this, in early 2008 a Norwegian municipality invested 700,00 Norwegian Kroner (EUR 88,000) in a system for administering courses. This system is now being used by 34 other municipalities, without having to do additional investments, and thus saving public spending.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

When Friprog was initiated, its creators and contributors not only borrowed ideas and experience from other countries and competence centres when embarking on the centre's setup. The Friprog team remains in constant contact with their counterparts in other countries. Particularly helpful was the 'Nordic Network' between the Scandinavian countries, which has been operating for several years already. Due to its cooperation with other bodies, Friprog can have a wider impact on the local and national economy.

Lessons learnt

Though Friprog started only relatively recently, the centre already has some achievements to show. Having successfully advised the government on the matter of document formats, the competence centre has shown that it can carry its expertise over into the political arena. As for the work of the centre one of the most important aspects is the focus on the user rather than the developer, as Friprog's concentrates on making it easier for Norway's public bodies to re-use existing code. Defining problems and listening to users is therefor vey important. This way, usability problems will disappear faster and open source software will become more popular and useful, both in the public and in the private sector. Another key element in the success of the centre is its operational (though not financial) independence from the government. It allows the Friprog team to feed their expertise into the political process where needed, and the be seen as a neutral partner when interacting with public bodies on the national, regional and local levels. Scope: National, Regional (sub-national)