Inclusive governance: Models of open source participation

8 Dec 2021 12:50h - 13:50h

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The workshop aimed to educate the audience on best practices for increasing inclusive participation in the development and use of open-source software (OSS). Ms Mala Kumar (Director, Tech for Social Good, GitHub) pointed out that governance in OSS faces the same challenges and opportunities as internet governance. Of course, there are differences in how OSS is produced, used, and funded in the social sector. ‘The social sector tends to focus on stand-alone applications, meaning there’s some kind of interface that allows a person to manipulate the code or perform a function without touching the code. Open-source software intends to be infrastructure tech that doesn’t actually have that availability,’ stated Kumar.

Ms Kriti Mittal (Entrepreneur in Residence, Omidyar Network India) shared several examples of OSS in education, financial inclusion, emerging technology, and the digital society of India. ‘From what used to be end-to-end tech systems existing in silos is now more a sort of open-tech paradigm where there’s an emerging understanding that the digital infrastructure should be open source and should have open API,’ said Mittal. OSS has become a ‘go-to’ model for government tech projects, and we will see it more in India with digital identity, payment systems, digital health, and an open network for e-commerce. Yet this collaborative approach brings big risks, especially since the regulatory landscape in India is still evolving. Mittal spoke of plans to create an open data platform for all public data that can act as a base layer for all kinds of open-source innovations that can go on top of it. ‘The technology part is not really rocket science,’ said Mittal, and added ‘What we’ve seen is that a lot of effort is needed in getting the design and implementation right for the governance and community layers.’

  • Should there mandatorily be a public body that acts as the institutional home of the digital platform?
  • Who should be held accountable and how?
  • Do we need new laws and regulations to prevent the exclusion of people who are on the other side of the digital divide?
  • How do we protect citizen’s data while encouraging open-source innovation?
Mr Samson Goddy (Co-founder, Open Source Community Africa) spoke of the history of the open-source community in Africa. He said that it was an opportunity to connect different parts of Africa into one diverse community. The community organises events and festivals to bring developers together and bring open source to local communities. Goddy explained that they have created a framework that empowers local communities to take the definition of open source from the West and make it local so that people can solve local challenges.

Following Goddy, Mr Dušan Milovanović (Solutions Architect for Public Health Intelligence, World Health Organization (WHO)) shared some insights from the work of WHO. He talked about the importance of health intelligence, the threats surveillance has on global public health, and the need to gather different types of data on population, geography, medical tests, and diagnosis. In order to improve this process, WHO started the project of collaborative intelligence. To approve the assessment and management of public health risks, collaborative intelligence is needed across areas, and includes a multidisciplinary approach, multistakeholder decision-making, and trust architecture. For this reason, WHO is using an open-source model to provide a truly distributed information exchange. Milovanović added that WHO will create a new open-source programme office within the context of what they have for academic intelligence, that will provide support to any projects internally but also worldwide.

During the Q&A, participants discussed the non-technical aspects of open source such as protecting human rights while using OSS for community needs, and the challenges of building OSS communities.

By Ilona Stadnik

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