1. Objectives of the project
In recent years, open source software has developed as a novel form of collaborative production. Relative to its origin as a collaboration between individual non-professionals, it has seen tremendous success, both in terms of the commercial and technical strengths of the produced software itself, but also as a model of organisation: open source software is arguably one of the best examples of adaptive self-organising, collaborative networked organisations that exists today. Indeed, this success has been enough for open source to be considered as useful alternative for e-government applications, in particular within this Strategic Objective of the IST work-programme.
Several gaps still remain in our understanding of the functioning and purposes of open source software. The FLOSS project (funded by IST/FP5) resulted in the single largest knowledge base on open source usage and development worldwide, and filled some of these gaps, at least in our understanding of the economic and development models behind open source. Not enough knowledge exists, however, in the critical area of policy formation: the impact of policy choices on open source, and the effect of open source on available policy options and government actions is not well known. The support action builds on the FLOSS project to fill in important gaps in the understanding of open source with a focus on specific gaps in the policy application domain.
The primary objective of this project is to support and facilitate the objectives of the work-programme. The EU is already a leader in the usage and development of open source software, and the FLOSS project made it also a leader in research in this field. The FLOSS-POLS project aims to maintain this lead in a competitive global environment, especially in the domain of open source policy. FLOSS-POLS will work on three specific tracks:
While all areas will have a focus on studying the impact of policy and providing policy recommendations, they are designed to measurably further the understanding of open source by addressing specific, critical topics of relevance to the effective functioning of e-government and emerging networked organizations. Measurable objectives have been identified in terms of specific deliverable numbers rather than milestones, since deliverables are scheduled on specified dates.
Track 1 – Evaluating government policy on open
They will be supported by, and provide feedback for, three specific empirical surveys and studies. The first is on interoperability and open standards, and will aim to document both the attitudes as well as actual implementation of these in the public sector in order to provide concrete policy alternatives (D4). The second will clearly identify user needs in open source e-government through a comprehensive survey of open source attitudes and usage in European governments (D3). The third study will examine the open source community as a “costless” skills development environment – the FLOSS survey showed that a vast majority of developers see their participation as a way of developing skills that are valued on the job market. This study will, through the coordinated surveying of developers and employers, quantify this (D7, D9) and determine policy implications (D10)
Track 2 – Understanding gender issues in open
Track 3 – Modelling open source as a system for
Verification and measurement
2. List of Participants
*CO = Coordinator
** Normally insert “month 1 (start of project)” and “month
n (end of project)”
3. Relevance to the objectives
of the IST Priority
Track 1 supports the focus on “Open, secure, interoperable and re-configurable e-government” and enables the identification of best practises, attitudes and user needs at various levels of government in relation to the deployment “as much as possible [of] open source software solutions for all aspects of inter- and intra-government operations”. The survey and resulting policy recommendations (work packages WP1, WP2) will fill in the considerable gaps in the understanding of government authorities’ attitudes towards open source systems, map their current or planned usage and identify key problems faced and benefits realised. The e-government workshop and conference (WP13, WP15) will provide much needed interaction between user, developer, research and policy constituencies, while also feeding back into the understanding of government needs and the development of policy recommendations.
The interoperability and standardisation policy study in Track 1 (WP1) will also support the focus on open e-government through the identification of the role that open standards play in government deployment of ICT systems, and the costs and benefits as seen by them. In addition, the study will support the focus on “technologies for interoperability” by identifying constraints and bottlenecks in interoperability and recommending policies that could facilitate the effective deployment of open standards. This will also support the goals of IST Priority Objective 184.108.40.206 (“promoting standards and open reference architectures”) and 220.127.116.11 (“Active contribution to world-wide standards setting, in particular open standards”).
The study of the open source/free software community as a “costless” skills development platform (WP6) will provide general support to the goals of Objective 18.104.22.168, in particular relation to the focus on “Managing knowledge to support innovation” and “IST as driver for small business and government re-organisation”. In the context of the E-Europe 2005 action plan adopted last year, with the goal of making Europe a leader in enjoying an ubiquitous, accessible information society – with “Interactive public services, accessible for all, and offered on multiple platforms” – an critical element in reaching these goals is widespread training for all in using information society technologies. The open source/free software community has been shown (e.g. by the FLOSS surveys) to be above all a learning (or training) environment, which is valued by participants as well as by employers. What is most interesting is that this training environment is virtually “costless”, since no explicit monetary costs are born by either individuals, companies, universities or society as a whole in the support of such environments.
As such this training environment is proving to be a potential key driver for government and industry, especially small businesses. SMEs in particular cannot afford high training costs, and can greatly benefit from environments that provide training to their labour force or lead to a better-trained labour supply. As training is provided and received on a voluntary basis, quantifying, preferably in monetary terms, the method and value of such training is crucial for our understanding of Europe’s preparedness for the new accessible, ubiquitous information society envisioned by E-Europe 2005. The FLOSSPOLS project aims to take a significant step towards this understanding.
Track 2 of the FLOSSPOLS project envisions the first comprehensive study that will provide insights into the role of gender in open source software development communities. The fact that women make up such a small part of open source developers (well below 5%) in relation to their share of proprietary software developers (20%) is a cause for concern. The FLOSS survey of developers showed that the few women who responded had, on average, a much higher degree of contribution than the average male respondent (see figure 1), and were well within the “high-contribution” group overall. This clearly shows that when the conditions are right, women can participate very actively, and could greatly boost the open source phenomenon.
Figure 1: Comparison between men and women responding to the FLOSS developer survey
Based on 2198 male and 25 female respondents, so these differences are not statistically significant. See http://floss.infonomics.nl/report/
The IST 2003-2004 work programme (Annex 1, part 2 “Cross-cutting issues”) aims, “where possible, to reinforce and increase the place and role of women in science and research both from the perspective of equal opportunities and gender relevance of the topics covered”. Track 2 of the FLOSSPOLS project clearly supports these aims, within the context of understanding, reinforcing and increasing the role of women in the development and usage of open source software. Given that open source software is seen as a priority for e-government (Objective 22.214.171.124), it should be obvious that issues involving half the participant and user base for e-government should be addressed. The methodology of track 2 – combining empirical survey data with rigorous ethnographic study – provides a strong base of facts to support our understanding of the issues facing women in their participation in this important, highly productive aspect of the information society. It also leads to an understanding of the processes and conditions common in open source developer communities that inhibit women’s participation, and recommends ways to get around these features so that women can take full advantage of those attributes – collaboration, sharing knowledge – that are the most valuable in the open source model. Thus, Track 2 ensures that in the deployment of e-government for “all aspects of inter- and intra-government operations including electronic democracy systems, interaction with citizens and businesses, governmental process re-engineering and knowledge management” (Objective 126.96.36.199), women are not left behind, and indeed ensures that their participation is strengthened. Track 2 also addresses global EU goals for Structuring the European Research Area, specifically the key Objective of Women in Science (ERA/4 – Science and Society, Objective 4.3.5) “To boost gender equality in research, through stimulating the participation of women in science and technological development; and fostering the integration of the gender dimension throughout European research” and Objective 4.3.2 on Ethics (“ensure that rapidly advancing progress in science is in harmony with fundamental ethical principles”) through work package WP3, Deliverable D5.
Track 3 directly supports the first focus of Objective 188.8.131.52, “multi-disciplinary research into complex adaptive and self-organising systems and modelling, representing, tracking and measuring distributed work and knowledge flows”. Open source development communities represent one of the most widely used and productive self-organising productive networks that exist today. Previous research (FLOSS, LICKS) has provided detailed measurement and tracking methods applicable to participants in these communities. It is possible now to build simulation models of agents reflecting different motivations and types of behaviour, to test the widely held belief that self-organising networks of collaborative (information-sharing) agents can be more efficient than structured networks of “selfish” (information-selling) agents. Academic understanding, the behaviour of practitioners, emerging business models and even – as the Objectives of the IST Priority show – EU policy depend on assumptions about collaborative networks. Track 3 will use and customise existing tools to model the interaction of collaborative and “selfish” agents under different sets of assumed motivations. An evaluation of the resulting network structure and agent behaviour, as well as the cost-to-benefit scores for participants at the individual and aggregate levels will further understanding. Of special relevance to policy formation will be the analysis of how collaborative networks respond as increasing numbers of “selfish” agents are introduced into the system. This is highly relevant not only to business models for collaborative, networked businesses which must avoid losses from “free-riding” but also to policy makers who must determine when (and whether) governments should enter to provide support if collaborative (e.g. open source) networks are unsustainable in the face of one-sided exploitation.
The FLOSSPOLS project is expected to have no less an impact within the community of developers, users, industry and those who study the libre software phenomenon, since the issues addressed – especially of gender and skills development – have rarely been examined before, and certainly not in terms of the comprehensive studies resulting in empirical data. The FLOSSPOLS project is also expected to have a broad impact on the government and policy community, partly because of the critical issues addressed by the project, but also because of its work plan placing dissemination and feedback at the heart of the project goals, beginning with a major conference and continuing with a series of workshops.
European added-value and relations
to international research activities
The FLOSS workshop on “Advancing the Research Agenda on Free/Open Source Software” (October 2002) jointly supported by the European Commission and the US National Science Foundation clearly saw the imperative need for research in gender studies, skills development and standardisation. The FLOSSPOLS project is involved with US and other international research initiatives in this field, while aiming to maintain Europe’s lead in this area.
(1) Search term: +FLOSS software OR open OR source OR libre OR free -dental -site:www.infonomics.nl -site:floss1.infonomics.nl