Albania's Minister of Social Welfare and Youth is supporting the country's first open source conference, taking place this weekend in the capital Tirana. Albania's new government is strongly influenced by the free software and open data movement, explains Minister Erion Veliaj, who will inaugurate the conference on Saturday.
"We try to lead via open politics, having come to power following an open campaign, including feedback and collective programming of our electoral platform", the minister said in an email. "Now all of that is being transformed in an 'open government' mentality, where strategies, budgets, and decisions are no longer the monopoly of the Cabinet of Ministers, but involve a wide range of actors and activists who give it shape prior to voting in parliament."
This Tuesday, Minister Veliaj launched a Pension Reform plan, making available all the data, statistics, scenarios and policy options. "We will now spend the next 7 months in a deliberating tour before a national consensus is built on how to move forward on much needed change to our pension system. This serves as an illustration, of how the rise of open source culture in communications, media, watchdog organisations, art and politics is perhaps the best news to come out of Albania in the past year."
Speaking to the conference organisers a few weeks ago, the minister offered to help fund future projects and find a convenient location for a permanent hackerspace. According to Elio Qoshi, one of the Open Labs members, the minister also showed great interest in the group's educational campaigns, "where we show citizens how to create entries on Wikipedia, or how to create applications for multiple brands of smartphones."
Open Labs has organised more than 70 events in the last 2 years, including workshops on the use of LibreOffice, and workshops on the Arduino and Raspberry Pi computing platforms. Open Labs is the first open source community and hackerspace in Albania, says Qoshi. "Sharing knowledge is our main principle." The group's Open Source Conference Albania (OSCAL) looks set to become a success. The 250 available entry tickets to the conference have sold out, and already more than 40 people registered on a waiting list. Qoshi: "This is Albania's first open source conference, and the interest has caught us by surprise."
Open Labs also reached out to the Ministry of Innovation and Public Administration. The ministry earlier this month published a report on free and open source, recommending the government to support public administrations to use this type of software solutions and to encourage the use of open standards. When purchasing ICT solutions, procuring authorities should weigh openness, cost savings, interoperability and the potential for re-use.
The report, published in Albanian and in English, advises the government to make the country's public administrations aware of the advantages of free and open source and to start an open source resource centre or coordination office. The report also suggests to include open source part of the learning process in schools.
The report is one of the outcomes of two studies and one workshop organised by the ministry in 2013. The workshop on 23 December, was addressed by Minister Milena Harito. Lauding its advantage including on openness, security and cost savings, Minister Harito announced to promote the use of free and open source. "We will use open source for e-government services and to improve the inter-government processes."
Open Source Conference Albania (OSCAL)
Announcement of the report on open source software (in Albanian)
Report on open source software by the Ministry of Innovation and Public Administration (pdf, in English)
Speech by Minister Milena Harito (in Albanian)