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How Open Source Digital Platforms Enable Greater Citizen Engagement

In late 2014, the Australian government embarked on an ambitious plan to create a “platform for the country.” This platform was a long-term project aimed at creating a highly scalable platform the government could use to serve its constituents, both now and in the future.

To create this platform, the Australian government turned to open source technology due to its robustness, scalability, and adaptability. The end result was the “govCMS” platform built on open source content management system (CMS) Drupal.

The primary motive of such digital platforms is to foster greater engagement between you, the citizen, and your government. This is an age in which citizens expect to be treated as consumers, not as subjects, by the government. They demand the same kind of service, connectivity, and openness they’ve come to expect from private businesses.

Recent initiatives have definitely helped improve the benchmark for what passes for government service among consumers. The “We the People” petition system, for example, has given people a glimpse of what interaction with government agencies can and should be like.

As it often happens, government websites also compete against private organizations for the same audiences. IRS.gov, for example, helps people file tax returns online. Even though it delivers a commendable user experience, it is not as robust or seamless as those offered by other non-governmental businesses selling tax filing services.

For government agencies, the solution is to follow Australia’s lead and adopt open source technologies for its digital platforms. Open source software is not tied down by legacy issues, nor does it come with the prohibitively high costs of proprietary software. Much of the widely used open source software (such as Drupal) have widespread developer support, easy integration with existing technologies, and strong compliance with open-data standards.
The end result is a digital platform that is scalable, adaptable, and cost-effective enough to fulfill the needs of both public and private organizations. With such platforms, governments can foster better dialog with their constituents, and engage them at a far deeper level than is currently possible.

This is the second post in a series on Open Source Government. Stay tuned for upcoming posts, where we’ll discuss which open source platform is used by more .gov sites and why, and what innovative agencies are doing with open source in the market today.

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