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Managing opensource for e-participation

29. October 2009 – 17:41 by Peter Cruickshank

Over the last the last few days, I’ve been wondering how people involved in e-participation approach open source for their software. The rest of this post is taken up with a whole list of questions -  it’d be great to hear what people in our community think.

My starting point is an item Bengt Feil posted here last year: “Uniting the Open Source efforts in eParticipation”. Some of the responses at the time were interesting – but I’m not sure if any clear conclusion emerged, so I thought I’d raise the subject again.

As I see it, there are two issues to think about: First, what open source applications are there out there that can be used to support e-participation (eg Drupal, WordPress, Joomla) – and I can see the need for a directory somewhere where people can their their usefulness in our field, and to discuss which modules and add-ins to use, and how to configure them.

It would be good to hear if there is conclusion on where the best catalog/rating system was. Have the DEMO-Net virtual resource centre’s list of tools or the FSF Directory which were mentioned in response to Bengt’s posting proved useful? What about using epractice.eu’s e-participation community or the European e-Participation portal?

Second, there is releasing new or specialist e-participation applications as opensource. This was the area I am most interested in right now.

In my limited experience, it can happen that a project (or vendor) say their code is opensource, but in practice it can be difficult to actually find the code to download…

(I should point out that there is no obligation to release opensource source-code to the general public: the EUPL/GPL only requires that the source code is supplied to people who pay for the application, so there is no legal issue here, just one of best practice)

I guess what I’m most interested in right now is this: where where should we as e-participation practitioners and developers register or upload specialist OSS e-participation applications? To pick an obvious example, if code is aimed at European e-participation users, what do you think about the EUPL and using OSOR as a repository, is it just another a place to advertise your code, or would you make fuller use of it?

If not there, what would you use? Is it actually of any benefit for there to be access at the CVS/SVN level, or is it enough to just have a compiled package to download?

As a final point on managing the development and release of opensource application, the ‘single-vendor/commercial open source business model‘ as described by Dirk Riehle seems seems quite interesting as a way of bringing in the community while also allowing a development company to retain a revenue stream. Have you heard of it? What do you think?

That will do for now – I’m trying to give myself a crash-course where our (e-p) community is going with opensource, and to get an idea how important it really is to us in practice.

I’d appreciate any comments or examples of what’s worked for you.

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  1. 5 Responses to “Managing opensource for e-participation”

  2. By Tim on Oct 30, 2009

    In terms of cataloging, I’m working on a little side project right now that aims to build a directory of tools for e-participation (see the alpha version here: https://ParticipateDB.com).

    Hadn’t really thought about adding items a the plugin or component level, but why not?

    We just started out a few weeks ago and are still adding seed content. A couple of e-consultation projects have been added that used the WordPress blogging engine. Let me know if you have any project examples that ran on Joomla or Drupal (or, wait a few more weeks and you’ll be able to sign up and add them yourself). ;-)

  3. Avatar of Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

    By Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH) on Oct 30, 2009

    Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the questions you mentioned:

    It is interesting to see that you are mentioning more general software like Drupal (which is by the way now used by the WhiteHouse website) as potential support tools for eParticipation and not specific open source eParticipation tools. This seems to go along with the point I made in an article I wrote for the Headstar website (https://www.headstar.com/egblive/?p=144), which was that many eParticipation project heavily rely on open source technology as the basis for their solutions (languages, databases, server technology, CMS etc.) but that the actual solution is often so special that it cannot easily be transferred to another use-case or into an open source project in itself. There seem to be counter examples however: ePetitioning systems can be used in a very similar way under different circumstances and having an open source system would allow the implementation sites to adjust those last 5% of functionality and design which often cannot be adjusted in proprietary systems.

    As far as cataloguing goes: I am very interested in the work Tim does with https://participatedb.com/. Right now there seems to be a problem with a fragmentation of sites which present potential tools. We either need one overarching platform or a standard form of presentation – both in description and source code if we talk about open source technology.

    I agree that there is a need to really discuss how the eParticipation community can share information and technology using the open source model. However I do not think that the discussion has to be held on the level of licences and repositories at first (I for example tend to think that https://sourceforge.net/ and https://github.com/ are still the top of the line communities overall – but that´s just my opinion). The most important question we have to tackle right now is “What is necessary to have real open source eParticipation projects?”. We all know that just putting out the source code is of little use to others. Successful open source project live of the community surrounding it and the passion of the people involved helping to improve it. If this development does not take place the availability of source code does not help much and a compiled binary with a good installation guide might be more useful. Therefore those deciding to open source their code have to have a clear vision of how they want to build a community surrounding it.

    I am looking forward to help an interesting open source eParticipation project of the ground if those putting it out there keep in mind what is necessary to make a project really open source: community – community – community.

  4. Avatar of Peter Cruickshank

    By Peter Cruickshank on Oct 30, 2009

    Bengt – Good points as usual.

    I think there may be a question before your one: “Why (or when) would we need an e-participation project to be opensource?”. Currently, I’d answer it in terms of giving assurance that the e-participation service is not dependent on a vendor remaining committed to a particular application – ie community benefit doesnt have to be the main motivation, at least at first.

    I think the e-participation community is one of solution providers (or evaluators). The other side of this is that e-participation practitioners are (rightly) less interested in the details of technology (PHP, Java, MySql etc) – the community is more focussed on what can be done with the solutions. Maybe then we’re unlikely in ourselves to support a large community of (unfunded!) developers – they would rightly belong over at drupal.org, wordpress.org etc.

    It’s not clear what would happen with specialist tools – some could exist as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal projects (CiviCRM might be agood model) but I guess there will always be standalone applications…

    That’s why I was wondering if the single-vendor OSS model like MySQL’s would actually be more realistic, at least as a starting point? At least that way, the code is available to the community, and there is a forum to discuss how to use and develop it (as you say, code by itself is not much use!), share problems and ideas.

    Is there an example of a community driven e-participation application? In the Headstar article you say: “Many such projects could be clustered into groups, such as e-petitioning systems or vote matching websites, and within these groups projects could gain a lot from co-operation and perhaps even the construction of an open source solution to solve the similar problems they all face.”

    Does this mean we could start thinking about how we’d go about identifying an OSS space which we’d use? (I’ll defer the EUPL/OSOR vs Sourceforge debate for another time)

    PS Tim – thanks for your feedback. If you want to see how far it is possible to go with a catalogue of solutions, have you seen cmsmatrix.org? So many factors to take into account… and that’s just choosing a CMS!

  5. By Tim on Oct 31, 2009

    I’m not sure which of the two came earlier, but the Wikimatrix wiki catalogue (https://www.wikimatrix.org) was actually one of the inspirations for ParticipateDB. Coming up with a metadata set for easy side-by-side comparison will be a bit harder since some tools may fall into completely different categories (e.g. how do you compare an e-voting system with a web-based brainstorming tool?), but I’m sure we can develop enough meaningful structure over time.

    We’ll have the ParticipateDB blog up shortly where we’ll put those ideas up for review and discussion. In the meantime, here’s a question I had about what kind of project-related information we should capture: https://www.intellitics.com/blog/2009/10/27/participatedb-projects/

  6. By Csaba on Nov 4, 2009

    Hi Guys, I think we have the right conversation. But wait a minute. What are we talking about exactly? Do we talk about e-participation projects in general and a community approach, to set up a database as a partisan entitiy, or even pep-net? Or do we talk about a standard of submitting EU funded IT projects, that are involving OS components (it can be e-participation) to have somewhere in a repository (like OSOR). On thing, is a need, that we feel: It would be good to turn to a site, where OSS eparticipation “information” is there. On the other hand, I think, it is a simple requirement, to have a central repository – for the benefit of all (like OSOR). But as we are moving forwards – sharing in a community of the benefits and pitfalls of different systems is raising the imporance, as technology is only one factor (Although a significant one), of the cooperative community. I think. This is a good community to start. But as regularly in every burocratic systems it is likely to happen, there are no clear rules. Anyhow, how about starting a common evaluation of the DEMOS system, that we have used as a start? We have had some ideas here in pepnet, to evaluate these kind of systems. …let me know your thoughs on this (demos case).

    The other thing is that the egovernace drived eparticipation notion is having a closed view on whati eparticipation. Since it is in current state connected to governments, and not governance, not able to see the whole opensource community, as a great example and as a model that could be adopted on different levels. Particularly, I am not talking about the communities in general, but more likely about the way, how they cooperate and work together.
    I have recently participated in the Plone World Conference 2009, and this has proven me a lot of things. According to pep-net, we do not behave like a real opensource community. But shall we? I still lack a common vision…

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