Publicly-financed software should be open source.
In this way, anyone can build upon public investment and create something new. Public funders have to value maintenance and care for critical systems at least as much as innovation.
»Public spending provides important income for the technology sector, but it seldom supports technology that empowers the public.
Public administrations which procure proprietary software – that may not be the most agile, secure or user-friendly – regularly become dependent on a single vendor which has become indispensable by winning a public tender in the past. This compounds the challenges faced by new market entrants from historically under-represented groups: those with pre-established ties to the public sector have an unfair advantage.
Lock-in to proprietary technology does not just hurt public administrations burdened with sub-par government tech or competitors who are excluded from the market. Societies as a whole lose out. Every publicly-funded open technology offers permissionless innovation: anyone can build upon a public investment. We will never know what we are missing out on by failing to prioritise open technology in our public investment.
Thanks to tireless campaigning by civil society, more governments are beginning to recognise the value of open technology. Unfortunately, too many of the nascent public funding opportunities for open technology are limited to fostering innovation, rather than the maintenance and audit of existing infrastructures.
Governments show the same bias towards celebrating the most visible, break-through successes while neglecting the value of maintenance and work in the service of others that feminist scholars have long discussed in labour contexts under the term ‘care work’.
Paying and supporting our digital care workers requires the development of new funding structures for those who tend to the functioning of the infrastructure – both technical and social – that our technology stack is built on. These infrastructures include code libraries, compilers, security and encryption tools, server infrastructures and other tech components that are not directly visible to the end user, as well as the standardisation and governance processes necessary for the smooth functioning of our IT infrastructure.
For their own sake as well as our own, public funders should value maintenance and care for critical systems at least as much as innovation.«
Who can inspire us with their work?
»The European Union has invested in translating countless legal documents, political speeches and parliamentary inquiries into its 24 official languages. This investment was made to support the functioning of a linguistically diverse, transnational democracy, not to foster innovation. And because these translations are freely accessible to anyone, technologists have been able to use them to train highly accurate automatic translation algorithms, several of which are available for anyone to use free of charge. The same openness should be applied to all knowledge resources developed from public funds.« — Julia Reda
The Prototype Fund is a funding program of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) that is managed and evaluated by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany. Individuals and small teams (which may include freelance coders, hackers and UX designers) can apply for funding to test their ideas and develop open source applications in the areas of Civic Tech, Data Literacy, IT Security and Software Infrastructure. They aim to keep innovation processes as well as infrastructures open and accessible. Each project chosen becomes eligible for a maximum of 47,500€ backing, as well as coaching. The results must be made publicly available under an open source license.
The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is an independent non-profit organisation committed to advancing global Internet freedom. OTF supports projects focused on counteracting repressive censorship and surveillance, enabling citizens worldwide to exercise their fundamental human rights online. Through research and development as well as the implementation and maintenance of technologies that facilitate the free flow of information, increase at-risk users’ digital security and enable free expression, the OTF community is working to shape the Internet as a platform that fosters unimpeded connection and collaboration – facilitating positive social progress and reinforcing core democratic values.