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Open source toolbox released in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is advancing the digitalisation of the government by turning open source theory into practice.

Published on: 15/04/2021

As part of its Digitisation Strategy, the Dutch government launched its new open source toolbox, which includes useful information for civil servants to switch to open source, as well as a communication platform to engage with each other.

In the wake of the Dutch Digitisation Strategy 2018-2021 (Nederlandse Digitaliseringstrategie 2018-2021, NDS) launched by the State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Minister of Justice and Security, and the State Secretary of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, on 17 April 2020 the latter sent a letter to the House of Representatives about the release of the source code by public administration and the application of the “open source by default” principle.

In the letter, he acknowledges that, in some cases, releasing the source code might clash with interests of national security or public safety, as well as harm the necessary confidentiality of the government's working methods. Notwithstanding, he strongly supports the principle of “public money, public code”, according to which the software developed with public funds should return to society as soon as possible for sharing and re-use.

Balancing between those two needs created the baseline of the State Secretary's policy “Open, unless” (“Open, tenzij”). Considering the large investment required to release the existing source code, arising from the obligation for public bodies to scrutinise on a case-by-case basis whether it is allowable to release the software, Knops recommends to switch to open source, as a solution to avoid such legal and economic costs.

In order to bring public bodies closer to both open source software and open source community, and as part of the Digitisation Strategy, the government thus launched the open source toolbox.

The first version of the platform is built on the idea of strengthening a community across public administration bodies. It provides civil servants with useful information to switch to open source, addressing the trade-offs between open source and proprietary software as well as the legal and economic aspects behind this choice. In this regard, it offers practical help to navigate the domain of software licensing and development, along with a cost-benefit analysis of expected costs and social benefits associated with open source.

What is more, the toolbox offers a communication platform for government employees to get in touch with each other, setting up a space for discussions and Q&A as well as an array of groups to join. So far, three groups have been established. The most popular one is called “open source community”, including 165 members. It focuses on discussing what is needed for the 'Open, unless' policy to become a reality. Each one of the members is allowed to start a thread and comment on it, as well as asking questions to the other members.

OS toolbox boxes OS toolbox boxes OS toolbox boxes

The nine boxes on the open source toolbox.