Citizen and government collaboration: let's work it out. |

Citizen and government collaboration: let's work it out.

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Over the last couple years, many of us involved with open source in government have had discussions about what it means for citizen coders to become involved in state, local and federal efforts. There are all kinds of legal, ethical, and logistics questions that haven't been answered. Everyone seems to be solving them individually, but it's not well-coordinated. This means that agencies who want to engage developers are wasting valuable time trying to figure out the "right way" to work with the public.

The domain is large and already bearing fruit; I think we're all enthusiastic about CivicCommons, CrisisCommons, and a host of public service oriented application development contests in many major cities.

On the other side, the Federal government is putting its toe deeper in the Open Source waters, recently making agreements with SourceForge and other web-based developer services. The GSA has announced its intention to launch "", inspired by The VA is exploring how to open source their VistA electronic health record system. The list goes on.

It seems now is a good time to bring together the disparate voices, various citizen coders and stakeholders in both online and in person venues to determine what we expect from the Federal Government. We anticipate a series of open workshops and online discussions leading to a more engaged developer community, articulation of what the Federal Government needs from us and what  we'll need in return. We'll want to turn some of these ideas into practice during a code-a-thon if we find it makes sense as a result of our discussions.

Why should you care: the government literally spends billions of dollars a year on creating new software and source code. As we've seen with code bases made available to the public (VA Vista, FalconView, CaBIG, NASA WorldWind, etc.), pushing them to be open has huge benefits both for the government and citizen developer.

We'll kick off this effort at the upcoming GOSCON 2010 Conference in Portland, Oregon, October 27-28th. We'll have our first discussion at 8:00am Oct. 28th and continue dialogue throughout the conference. Other folks have also approached about the potential of continuing the discussion in Washington DC in November/December. 

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About the author

Gunnar Hellekson - I'm the Chief Strategist for Red Hat's US Public Sector group, where I work with systems integrators and government agencies to encourage the use of open source software in government. I'm a founder of Open Source for America, one of Federal Computer Week's... more about Gunnar Hellekson