Hi folks! I know many of you are attending the ICT4D Conference this week in Lusaka. Later today, there will be a “Big Discussion” on Collaboration and Openness:
A discussion and debate on the promises and pitfalls of open approaches and collaboration in ICT4D programs.
Part one - debate moderated by Kate Wilson
Part two - Q&A moderated by Kentaro Toyama
I’m wondering what questions we as a group might have for the panel Q&A, and thought we might try to add some here in this topic. Here are a few to get things started that are on my mind:
- From your experiences, what do you see as some of the major challenges when multiple organizations collaborate on a single ICT4D project?
- What do you see as the value (or drawbacks) to using open source software in international development projects?
- In the private sector, organizations like Salesforce have learned how to leverage cross-organization collaboration on open source “commodity” platforms and then often build proprietary “value added” services on top. Might this model work for aid organizations and others in the ICT4D space? Why or why not?
These are obviously things from my personal point of view that are on my mind. I’m curious what other people are thinking about … what other questions might we have as a group?
I know the ICT4D Conference is over but thought it might be useful to drop some thoughts here for the future. So starting from the top bullet point
From your experiences, what do you see as some of the major challenges when multiple organizations collaborate on a single ICT4D project?
I think there is a large organizational overhead when it comes to running a project and perhaps when we talk about collaborating on a FOSS project, maybe we should speak of it in terms of smaller contributions vs trying trying to run the entire project together across large gaps.
Especially in the early stage of project I can imagine coordinating to be quite difficult, especially with all of the overhead when it comes to NGOs.
What do you see as the value (or drawbacks) to using open source software in international development projects?
The largest drawback that I anticipate is the lack of education around the benefits of FOSS within many NGOs. I stumbled across this pretty solid blog post by Rufus Pollock which I thought might be a good set of info in which we can base our argument for FOSS within development. Why Open Source Software Matters for Government and Civic Tech [and how to support it] · Rufus Pollock Online
In the private sector, organizations like Salesforce have learned how to leverage cross-organization collaboration on open source “commodity” platforms and then often build proprietary “value added” services on top. Might this model work for aid organizations and others in the ICT4D space? Why or why not?
Honestly I dislike this idea but I suspect we will see something like this happening. Regardless when it comes to creating tools for vulnerable populations, especially when doing so from a humanitarian point of view, these people are not an opportunity to make a profit. I’ve heard many in our field already take issue with software that is billed as a tool to help humanity, yet somehow it seems to be better at making money for the vendor who has built it.
Now I understand that nothing comes for free but perhaps the discussion can focus on how we can sustainably and ethically fund software projects like these. A lot of money gets thrown around in order to try and help vulnerable populations and maybe we can hack together a more efficient way to use it by not having our tools be businesses focused on generating revenue.
Just my $0.02 but I’d be interested to hear others thoughts
Thanks @nolski, these are really good points that you raise.
A couple items to add. I’m going to try to work with my colleagues who were organizing this session to see if:
- We can get the rest of the in-person audience questions added here. (The Internet was spotty during the session so we “fell back” to paper & pencil!)
- I think there may be a summary of the session and if so, hope we can get that added here too for folks to get a taste of what the panelists had to say in the session.
Meanwhile, I would be really interested to hear folks’ response to the issues Michael raises above, as well as raising other related questions!
I’m adding the in-person audience questions here. I’ve grouped them by what I saw as being the broad themes addressed. What do we think?
FOSS vs COTSS
- What about Open “by default”? i.e. it’s fine to use proprietary, but only if you can justify why.
- Should donors or ministries of health endorse open source vs a proprietary solution?
- We all agree that not all cases or projects are appropriate for free and open source systems/platforms - there are many defensible arguments for commercial software. So how do we effectively evaluate the cost/benefit when the Digital Principles skew our perspective towards open source?
- As we think about taking solutions to scale in the public health arena, the question of how to deliver quality solutions for little or no-cost to end users is likely more important than “proprietary v. freeware.” Please offer your thoughts on how we can do this.
- How do we overcome the challenges & misunderstandings about the benefits of OSS? Just because you see the code doesn’t mean it’s more secure or you get data faster or anything else - but those misperceptions exist and it leads to bad decisions
- We’ve seen private sector orgs like Salesforce leverage collaboration on open source platforms and build proprietary services on top. Could this work for ICT4D?
- Open Source seems to drive fractured solutions. How can resource strapped non-profits “chase” the skill sets required to implement and maintain them?
- How can we more effectively build capacity of the workforce?
- Short of ‘donor mandate,’ what are some ways we can shift market forces away from competition and towards collaboration in T4D product development?
- Please discuss ideas for how to create durable collaborations that allow for open and closed source solutions to evolve over time to address emerging and evolving needs for new and adapted solutions
- I like the idea of a compact for procurement on software and digital systems. How can we do this collectively? Can DIAL lead on this?
- Should we revise the Digital Principles?