GOSLING a shining example of IT innovation through shared ideas

According to www.goslingcommunity.org, GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments) is “a voluntary, informal learning and knowledge-sharing community of practice, involving civil servants and other citizens who actively assist the engagement of free/libre open source methods and software solutions in government operations.”That, however, is a bit like referring to a modern airliner as a .hunk of metal that flies; it does not really do GOSLING full justice. GOSLING is much, much more than that. It is the visionary leadership shown by IT economist Joseph Potvin who has been working at PWGSC for the past four years, and by Russell McOrmond, an independent consultant and intellectual property expert, both of whom have worked tirelessly to make GOSLING a reality.
It is an on-going, lively and spirited debate amongst all sorts of IT folk from government, universities and companies that started three and a half years ago as a end-of-the-afternoon Friday gathering, over our favourite libation and snacks. Usually several discussions are running in parallel about how best to move the open source way of working forward bit by bit, project by project, utility by utility, application by application, system by system and workgroup by workgroup, across the staggering welter of organizational units that make up the Government of Canada (GoC), the City of Ottawa, provincial governments, and others. This is a genuine volunteer effort by people who believe in the democratic and financial value of openness. It is also a chance for those of us who have managed significant IT projects and programs or served as senior IT executives or consultants to rub shoulders with bright young developers and mid-career supervisory managers who are working at the front lines now. GOSLING is thus also about making new contacts who share common ideals about open methods and technology in government , but who come from all sorts of philosophical perspectives.
This November, the GOSLING weekly format is expanding to include quarterly “keynote discussions” at 3 p.m., and this community doesn’t shy away from controversy. The first keynote, by a senior University of Ottawa School of Management professor, will be about how the use of open source spreadsheets (like GNUmeric) and spreadsheet auditing utilities (like TellTable) can help to make erroneous and false financials harder to accomplish, and easier to discover. Accountants and auditors should take note.
GOSLING has also been an innovative idea forum for schemes that have been adopted by GoC departments to save taxpayers money. One idea tossed around the table two years ago about the need for a Canadian-based service similar to www.sourceforge.net led to a proof-of-concept for both open source and closed consortium-based public sector involvement in collaborative software evolution (CoSE) on which Treasury Board and PWGSC signed a memorandum of understanding this past spring. Now, it seems several departments are interested in using such a facility for jointly working with counterparts — in the next office tower and around the world — on the further development of some of their own software. A seemingly unrelated GOSLING discussion about recycling old surplus servers quickly led to co-operation across departments and with vendors, in which IBM offered to swap the value of some surplussed hardware for brand-new Linux servers; these were formally assigned under another agreement to the CoSE initiative.
It is very hard to over-estimate the importance to the process of technological innovation of commonwealths of people, ideas, code, hardware and process, resulting in the sharing of all of these for a creative and common purpose. I’m not sure yet who will soon write the authoritative book on how Open Source logic got into government — and many people have contributed to the success of this thing — but don’t be at all surprised if it turns out to be Russell McOrmond and Joseph Potvin.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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