By addressing the challenges and opportunities of using open source in the public domain, the session focused on the benefits that public administration could gain from open source and drew ideas to fuel cross-border cooperation.
From 20 until 22 April 2021, the European Commission hosted the three-day DigitALL Public conference. Speakers coming from the public sector (at international, European, national and local level), industry, SMEs and academia took part. Following the conclusion of the ISA2 Programme, which lasted from 2016 to 2020 and gravitated around the concept of interoperability for public services, this conference aimed to draw up a thorough evaluation of the processes and outcomes of the Programme.
Together with the assessment of ISA2 and a thorough conversation on interoperability in both the public and private sector, the various sessions, ranging from keynotes to fireside chats, networking, round tables and workshops, dealt with a variety of topics. Amongst the large array of subjects addressed, innovation and GovTech, smart cities, trust and security, co-creation of digital services and open source certainly stood out.
With particular reference to the latter, the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn opened the conference with a keynote, stating that “open source is a force of good. The solutions of tomorrow must be built using public code. This is not only to ensure a sound use of public money but also to promote freedom of choice and avoid vendor ‘lock-in’. With open source we can use and re-use software solutions, pool efforts, and get much more bang for the buck when we invest in digital transformation of our public administrations”.
Alongside the keynote, open source has also been at the centre of a fireside chat held on the second day, entitled “The role of open source in the public sector”. Monika Sowinska, Project officer at the European Commission (DG DIGIT), moderated the session, featuring Bastien Guerry, Free software officer at the French Interministerial Digital Directorate (DINUM), Janis Tupulis, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Open Technology Association (LATA), Leonardo Favario, open source project leader at the Italian Digital Transformation Team, and Sachiko Muto, CEO at the openness think tank OpenForum Europe (OFE).
During the session, each speaker presented the challenges, initiatives and opportunities occurring in their own fields, ranging from the European to national and business level. Overall, the panellists flagged the crucial role that open source can play within the public domain, as well as the benefits it can bring, such as transparency, accountability, choice for the end-users, increased security and an overarching boost to innovation.
By pooling a cross-border ecosystem of resources (e.g. maintainers, developers, service providers), open source can protect from vendor lock-in as well as generate a large return on investment (ROI). It has also been stated that even though the private sector embraced the concept of open source as a key enabler for innovation, the public sector has even more to gain from its use. In fact, since there is no economic competition in the public sector, one can fully focus on collaboration and results. Finally, the panelists addressed the possibility of building Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) all over the European Union, to fuel cooperation beyond local and national borders. In this regard, several examples and best practices have been flagged: the Bothorel report in France envisaging the creation of an OSPO at national level, the OSPO established by the European Commission as part of its Open source software strategy 2020-2023, along with references to the private and academic world.