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Open source for good government

18F and GDS logos

A common misconception of open source is that it is just a licence for using software. For individuals and organizations involved with open source projects, it is a philosophy of openness and collaboration embedded in the project from idea to launch. Whether it’s designing an interface, or deploying an application, open source is fundamental to everything we do. Organizations like 18F and the U.K.’s Government Digital Service (GDS) fully embrace open source, and this commitment to openness and transparency is transforming the delivery of government digital services in both countries.

GDS set the standard for this. By implementing open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats, government is:

  • improving adaptability and the ability for government to provide services based on users’ needs – avoiding digital exclusion based on the technology choices made;
  • putting in place a level playing field for open source and proprietary software, giving government the ability to move between different technologies without the risk of lock-in;
  • making it easier to share appropriate data across and beyond government boundaries, providing efficient services for users and delivery partners;
  • making the cost of government’s digital services more sustainable by making things simpler and encouraging reuse.

We then built upon it as part of our own open source policy:

  1. Use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in our projects and to contribute back to the open source community;
  2. Create an environment where any project can be developed in the open; and
  3. Publish all source code created or modified by 18F publicly.

Earlier this week, we shared a tool built by an 18F team member that helps developers test their products with a small portion of their own datasets. Open source projects allow developers like Catherine to share solutions rather than re-solve the same problem over and over. Our readers were excited at the prospects:

Since our launch in March, we have had a number of informal conversations with our counterparts at GDS on a host of issues – technical, policy, and operational – further strengthening our relationship and fostering our open collaboration.

Both teams believe that transparency in our operations from day one is key to creating the best possible products, and we look forward to future collaboration with GDS, other government organizations, and the public.

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