The EC OSPO heralds a new-ish way of managing open source

The European Commission OSPO in context

Published on: 13/11/2020

On October 21, the European Commission approved its newest iteration of its Open source software strategy for 2020-2023. The first concrete action by the European Commission was to set up an Open Source Programme Office (OSPO) as “as facilitator for all activities outlined in the strategy and the action plan”.

This organisational step was arguably what recieved the most attention from stakeholders. The open source business associations APELL, OSBA, and CNLL, welcomed the strategy as a whole, and pointed out the importance of the step of creating an OSPO. Free software activist groups such as the FSFE in Germany and April in France, while more skeptical of the strategy, specified the creation of the OSPO as the stand out feature of the new strategy.

The OSPO is an established concept in industry. It has been around for a long time, and has, over time, been widely adopted by a great number of ICT companies as best practice for achieving a company’s open source goals. It is considered to be the part of the organisation that gives its open source operations structure. Responsibilities can include dealing with legal compliance, engaging with and building communities, training and supporting the distribution, contribution and usage of code.

Behind the term OSPO hides a variety of organisational constructs, however, each shaped to meet a company’s size and open source needs and goals.

In the public sector, the OSPO is not established practice yet, but the Commission is not alone in its efforts. Last month, in line with its increased commitment to open source, the City of Paris CIO Nejia Lennouar outlined their plans on forming an OSPO for the city.

Moreover, as reported in OSOR, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software (Lero) established an OSPO in October to increase their involvement with open source.

This indicates that, while nascent, the OSPO will be a flexible organisational construct in the public sector as well. A large city, a national research institute and the European Commission have diverse needs and goals in the context of open source, which can be expected to be reflected in their OSPOs.

In the private sector, a sign of maturity of an OSPO is their networking with other OSPOs to share best practices. The new Open source software strategy of the European Commission does “provide for increasing outreach to open-source communities”. How and to what extent the new European Commission OSPO plans to collaborate with other government OSPOs to further develop the concept and construct is, however, still an open question.