By Todd Akers
The same power of digital communication that is disrupting the commercial marketplace is empowering direct citizen participation in government. Whether enabling on-demand assistance, real-time information, or communications with legislators, much of what is empowering this new wave of citizen participation has its roots in open source.
In the last few years, governments across Canada have turned to flexible open source solutions. Open source software is freely distributed, and its open codebase provides an engine for innovation, as any developer can create improvements and share their work back with the larger community of users.
Municipalities like St. John and Ottawa are using the Drupal open source platform to provide government services online with greater speed and flexibility. Ottawa moved to Drupal in November 2012, introducing a responsive design that enables an optimal experience across mobile devices, tablets and desktops.
Use of Drupal has increased dramatically among provinces and federally, particularly in light of the Open Government Strategy, which encourages federal departments to adopt solutions that promote open information, open data and open government. Open source apps are enabling people to explore the wild, get updated train arrival times, access government research and publications, and bid on government contracts.
The agility that open source provides helps speed government digital initiatives to market. This provides a network effect that’s unmatched, and not limited to a department’s IT team or project budget. With open source, projects can be prototyped and tested inexpensively and quickly, which can help get a public sector site launched in a fraction of the time. In Drupal’s case, more than 30,000 developers have contributed code. That’s why open source can be a critical asset for capturing the opportunities that new technology presents.
The crowd-sourced efforts of the contributor community are helping improve citizen services. The Web Experience Toolkit is an open source code library developed to help federal departments build websites that are accessible and optimized for mobile devices. Those using the toolkit are standards-compliant and aligned with Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat's Web Standards protocol, which helps them get ahead of the game as Canada.ca seeks to consolidate information and resources with a common, open framework. Health Canada and Statistics Canada recently implemented sites with the toolkit.