Red Hat

Government as ‘The Open Organization’

The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance
When most people think “open source,” the first image that comes to mind is code, but open isn’t just technology. It’s also operations and culture with special attention to transparency, participation, collaboration and meritocracy.

In “The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance,” Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst shares how leaders can be more authentic, talking openly about challenges and addressing them through a system based more on those, internally and externally, who have the most to offer. It’s an inspiring read, one most appropriate for elected officials and public sector leaders.

In a nutshell:

An “open organization” — which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out — responds to opportunities quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability. The beauty of an open organization is that it is not about pedaling harder, but about tapping new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast-moving changes in your environment.

One of my favorite excerpts addresses a key issue that plagues some in government, especially the federal level, around relying on the limited aspects of crowdsourcing. While engaging the wisdom of the crowds to generate ideas and opportunities is interesting and helpful, its shortcomings are in cultivating a sustainable community that continues to build and refine a solution:

Open source communities operate on a level beyond crowdsourcing, going beyond the one-way and one-time-only arrangements in which a lot of people give their ideas or answers but don’t engage with each other over time. Instead, the way they operate is better described as open sourcing, where contributors work together as a community, building on each other’s work, to arrive at the best solution to a complicated problem. The communities involve many people working toward a similar outcome. They usually involve a diverse community of people who opt in as a way to work for a common cause about which they are passionate. And the produce results: they are more responsive to fast-changing environments and better at accomplishing “big, hairy, audacious goals” than any one single firm or organization.

Whitehurst shares how institutions can open up by creating platforms that allow everyone in the organization to contribute equally. He discusses how passion, purpose, emotion and emotional intelligence is integral to leading an open organization.

Government is a purpose-driven organization and, as Whitehurst outlines in “The Open Organization,” intrinsic motivation is at the heart of nearly every civil servant. For those who want to learn how government can become a more engaged institution, both internally and externally, “The Open Organization” is the blueprint.

Red Hat lead architect on open source software in government

During Transparency Camp a few weeks ago, I sat down with Red Hat Lead Architect Gunnar Hellekson and asked him the following questions around open source in government:

  • What’s the value of open source software to government?
  • What are the hurdles in implementing open source software in government?
  • What can be done to make implementing open source projects in government easier?
  • What’s the state of open source in government and its future?

New GovFresh feature: ‘Fresh from:’

Starting today, we’ll feature commentary from prominent industry leaders in a new section called ‘Fresh from:.’ The purpose of this new feature is to better understand what’s on the minds of vendors working in the trenches and how their work applies to open government initiatives and Gov 2.0 in general.

The first is Fresh from: Red Hat and will feature regular posts from Red Hat’s lead architect Gunnar Hellekson.

Look for new contributors over time. Contact us if you’d like to participate.

What the Open Government Directive Means for Open Source

On the heels of the Open Government Memo of January 21st, 2009, the Obama Administration has issued the Open Government Directive. The Directive tells agencies what they must do to meet the expectations set by the Memo. The directive names many deadlines for agency compliance, most of them around reducing FOIA backlogs and increasing the amount of agency data released to the public. This isn’t surprising, since the Memo names transparency, collaboration, and participation as the guiding principles. Transparency is the easiest to articulate and implement — just get the data out there in a useful form. Josh Tauberer’s Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practices for “Open Government Data” is an excellent handbook for doing this. If you want to track agencies’ progress, the Sunlight Labs folks have produced the outstanding Open Watcher.

What’s most interesting to me, and my friends at Open Source for America, though, are the more ambiguous orders. Although the Directive does not use the phrase ‘open source software’ at all, many of the principles and methodologies described are obvious references to open source. Many of these orders stand out as opportunities for open source developers, in the public and private sector, to demonstrate how our development model can help the Administration also make good on the last two principles: collaboration and participation. As Macon Phillips, the White House New Media Director said, “Open Source is… the best form of civic participation.”

Let’s take a look at the deadlines, helpfully produced by Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation.

45 days — January 22, 2010

“Each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.gov” (p.2)

This is a wonderful opportunity for open source developers to demonstrate the power of citizen participation through software. The Administration has taken a great risk by pushing this data to the public. There are all kinds of reasons to not do it: privacy concerns, security issues, and the risk-averse culture in most of these organizations. Despite the instructions to be careful with citizens’ privacy, and the reminder to be sensitive to security issues, there’s still a chance that something could go wrong — plenty of reason to not follow through with this exercise. We need to help the Administration prove that this was a worthwhile cause. Just as we showed the power of citizen programmers in Apps for Democracy and Apps for America, we need to take these data sets and make them useful to the American public.

“The Deputy Director for Management at OMB, the Federal Chief Information Officer, and the Federal Chief Technology Officer will establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. This group, with senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, will serve several critical functions, including:

  • Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote transparency, including system and process solutions for information collection, aggregation, validation, and dissemination;
  • Coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency, including the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; and
  • Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote participation and collaboration, including how to experiment with new technologies, take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside the Federal Government, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and civil society.” (p.5)

Now here’s a working group I would like to speak with very much. If you read the language of the third subsection, it’s amazing how many words you have to use to not say the words “open source”: experiment with new technologies, using expertise inside and outside the government, high-impact collaborations with many communities of use… they’re all but begging to create open source software projects to support the release of this government data.

In this “forum for best practices” on open data initiatives, you can imagine how useful a recommendation of open source software might be. You can even imagine the working group recommending government open source projects to help handle data that may be in strange government-specific formats.

60 days — February 6, 2010

“Each agency shall create an Open Government Webpage located at http://www.[agency].gov/open to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive” (p.2)

“The Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer shall create an Open Government Dashboard on www.whitehouse.gov/open. The Open Government Dashboard will make available each agency’s Open Government Plan, together with aggregate statistics and visualizations designed to provide an assessment of the state of open government in the Executive Branch and progress over time toward meeting the deadlines for action outlined in this Directive.” (p.5)

Of course, if an agency is writing new software to support these new “/open” areas, I’d like to see that software made available under a open license. If there are any clever data analysis or visualization tools, those should be licensed as open source software, as well. That way, citizens would have the opportunity to help the agency with their own disclosures, and agencies could more easily share tools with each other.

90 days — March 8, 2010

“The Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.” (p.5)

This is a strangely oblique reference to Vivek Kundra’s Apps for Democracy project when he was CTO in Washington, DC, and the national-scale follow-on, Apps for America. Both of these contests asked that submissions be provided under OSI-approved licenses. This is important to keep these projects going. If contestant’s software is under a proprietary license, there is no momentum behind the contest, since nobody can contribute to it after the fact. You might as well hold no contest at all, and instead just bid the work out to a contractor.

120 days — April 7, 2010

“Each agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities. Additional details on the required content of this plan are attached. Each agency’s plan shall be updated every two years.” (p.4)

I would hope very much that these plans for additional public participation and collaboration include invitations to open source developers who would like to help an agency build tools that make them function more transparently and efficiently.

“The Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer, will review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.” (p.6)

I hope that this review would include an examination of FACA implementation guidelines, which is understood by many to prevent open source developers from directly participating with some Federal agencies, for fear of having offered the explicitly prohibited “volunteer help.” We believe this isn’t the case, and it would be great if OIRA published some clarifying language. If they were to provide an interpretation of OMB Circular 130-A that ensured it was safe for agencies to create open source software without running afoul of procurement regulations, that would be wonderful.

So here’s a tremendous opportunity for the open source community. We have been given an early Christmas gift: a pretty clear path for more open source software and (perhaps more importantly) more government-sponsored open source projects inside each agency. If you want to help take advantage of this opportunity, you can sign up at Open Source for America and join a working group. You’ll be glad you did.

A hearty thanks the Heather West of CDT and Melanie Chernoff of Red Hat for their invaluable comments.

Gov 2.0 guide to Open Source for America

Open Source for America is an organization formed in July 2009 by businesses and organizations to advocate for open source technology use within the federal government.

Mission:

“To educate decision makers in the U.S. Federal government about the advantages of using free and open source software; to encourage the Federal agencies to give equal priority to procuring free and open source software in all of their procurement decisions; and generally provide an effective voice to the U.S. Federal government on behalf of the open source software community, private industry, academia, and other non-profits.”

Goals:

  • to effectuate changes in U.S. Federal government policies and practices so that all the government may more fully benefit from and utilize free and open source software;
  • to help coordinate these communities to collaborate with the Federal government on technology requirements;
  • to raise awareness and create understanding among federal government leaders in the executive and legislative branches about the values and implications of open source software. OSFA may also participate in standards development and other activities that may support its open source mission.

Podcast with OSFA board members Roger Burkhardt and Tom Rabon on the creation of OSFA:

[audio: http://www.opensourceforamerica.org/podcasts/rabon-burkhardt-launch.mp3]

Red Hat Government’s Gunnar Hellekson announces launch of OSFA at OSCON 09:

‘Getting Involved with Open Source for America’ video:

Links:

Open Source for America launches new video campaign

Open Source for America launched a new video campaign to promote the benefits of government using open source technology. The video includes business leaders from Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Google.

OSFA’s mission:

“To educate decision makers in the U.S. Federal government about the advantages of using free and open source software; to encourage the Federal agencies to give equal priority to procuring free and open source software in all of their procurement decisions; and generally provide an effective voice to the U.S. Federal government on behalf of the open source software community, private industry, academia, and other non-profits.”