Exploiting the potential of open source software for better, cheaper, faster public services
The world is changing. Transformations of mobility patterns, pressing air quality issues, and growing flood risks present new challenges for European cities. Now, however, thanks to data and digitalisation, cities can tackle these challenges together. Rather than reinventing the wheel or going down the traditional software vendor route with its associated issues, cities can improve local services by co-developing and replicating digital solutions based on open-source software.
By Juliette Tenart and Dana van der Zee (Bax & Company)
Open collaboration between cities requires a partnership that is inherently transparent and collaborative. Open collaboration allows anyone to re-use, change, and redistribute what has already been made. Furthermore, it allows anyone to view the conversations around the production and offers ways for people to contribute. These methodologies enable large groups of people to solve complex issues together by allowing natural connections to form between challenge owners.
At the core of this approach are the open data and Open Source philosophies.
The open data principle encourages making data accessible to all if possible under a license that allows for the re-use of data by anyone.
The Open Source principle emphasises the importance of making software accessible and open for everyone to use, change, improve, and share it through initiatives such as GitHub.
Reduction in solution development time
Digital innovation is key to improving public services, and relies heavily on supporting software.
To measure and evaluate public service provision, cities look at the satisfaction and quality levels of the specific service, for example, the ability to report street incidents to the city authorities and the ensuing response time. This is valued and assessed by end-users, such as citizen groups or civil servants and city workers making use of services in their daily tasks.
Improvements and higher quality are ensured through the challenge-driven approach. Urban challenges are first defined by cities and shared once identified. The underlying assumption is that emerging solutions are solving specific challenges in the fields of mobility, environment, and flood risk, therefore improving service provision. This is measured by comparing the end-user’s satisfaction pre and post solution implementation.
EXAMPLE: In Aberdeen, increased monitoring of water levels allows for remote assessment of flood risks. Quicker reactions to the early signs of flooding improve the management of resources by reducing false call-outs and prioritising high flood risk events.
Improvement in quality of service services
Co-development, or close collaboration between development teams of different authorities can accelerate the process to conceptualise and code the software.
In the short term, time must be invested to facilitate the collaboration, for example, by making sure the materials are translated into English and adjusting datasets to the required formats. As a result, these up-front investments pay off in the long term as they facilitate smoother collaboration and save on development time.
Reduction in solution development time is especially noticeable when replication takes place. It can speed up the development process thanks to the reuse of certain components of the solution, and tailoring these to local needs further increases the positive impact on solution development time. The reduction is measured by comparing the time spent on developing a solution versus co-developing or replicating the same result.
EXAMPLE: The Mobility Dashboard developed by the city of Bergen has stimulated the collaboration between departments of the city. As a result of this process, the local crisis teams and health agencies can accelerate the process of data gathering for their prediction model, improving the efficiency of the services.
Reduction in public service costs using open-source software solutions
Relying on digital innovation for public services has the potential to make operations and processes more efficient, and lead to important cost savings without compromising the quality of the services delivered to citizens. Additionally, building on already existing software of components leads to cost savings (see reduction in solution development time).
Cost reduction can emerge in different ways, such as enabling civil servants to deliver a public service quicker, or eliminating costly steps such as physical monitoring of water levels, possibly done remotely. The cost reduction is measured through comparing the cost of delivering a public service pre and post solution implementation.
EXAMPLE: In Ghent, alongside ICT partner DIstrict09, the approach of developing multipurpose solutions that easily combine reusable building-blocks is gradually replacing a more conventional approach to public service challenges.
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