I recently returned from the Thirteenth International Forum for Free Software (FISL) in Porto Alegre Brazil. With an attendance of about 8,000 this year, it is the largest tech conference in South America and likely the largest free/open source conference in the world. I was fortunate to have attended representing OSI and presented a keynote on free and open source software and its civic and social impact around the world, and a second session on Economic Development.
The Brazilian government – with great grassroots support – was a pioneer in the use of free software as an economic development strategy, and also to bridge the digital divide by lowering the barrier to access to technology. Today the government’s involvement has shifted in some respects, and community leaders from a number of Latin American countries are debating in general the pros and cons of government partnership in their FOSS initiatives.
The “Hacker Bus” project – pictured above behind myself and colleague Paulo Mierelles from the University of Sao Paulo FLOSS Competency Center - really impressed. Getting technology and “Hacktivism” out into undeserved areas makes for a fantastic program.
You can read more about the project on The Next Web published during last year’s conference.
I spoke to the OpenGov and eParticipation Summit in Belfast, Northern Ireland in late September. The event was produced by the University of Ulster with the help of a number of organizations and sponsors. I’d met faculty from the University when they came out to visit the Open Source Lab and learn more about the OSL’s success with supporting global open source communities. was pleased to be invited to share what I’ve learned working with a number of Open Government / Open Data initiatives and the open source community in the US.
Speakers ranged from county government to senior UK government, included industry, entrepreneurs and academics. Topics extended to open data and information exchange in health IT. A presentation from an Italian company which produces town hall style meetings using electronic voting described their product and process. The system was utilized during the Day 2 eParticpation Summit. The software interestingly enough was actually written by the Tuscany government and is available as open source.
It was interesting to see the conference and summit take the policy issues related to open data head on. In contrast to the US where private industry and civic advocates have driven the train while (most notably) the Federal government is de-funding transparency sites, Ireland and the UK governments themselves seem more engaged in creating a road map for opening their data and making that transition sustainable. At the same time, the open source community seems less engaged there in supporting more civic and volunteer approaches to opening up government.