Over Christmas I spoke with a team in the US government who are pulling together some work on open source policy on that side of the Atlantic. To help them I tried to document recent UK government history on the topic. Having done that it seemed helpful to publish it somewhere in case I ever need to referene it, but the GDS blogs didn’t feel quite right.
This is definitely incomplete and I know a lot of other people were doing a lot of work. There’s a clear GDS-centric slant here because that’s what I know first hand. If you spot any particular egregious missing pieces, feel free to use the comments to add them.
In the first couple of years of our last Parliament (which ran from 2010-2015) there were two parallel strands of work running which eventually came together in GDS. The first was focussed on ICT/”technology”, and the latter on “digital”.
The last government’s ICT strategy laid out the initial commitment to a level playing field between open source and proprietary software
Most of the ICT strategy’s recommendations are embedded in the “Technology Code of Practice” which we still use, and which is backed up by a set of spending controls.
We started our work on GOV.UK in the open but didn’t have the support in place to really support any of that code by packaging it for others’ use. I coined the phrase “coding in the open” to describe what we were doing and blogged about that.
The Design Principles we published early in the life of GDS have been the rallying cry for openness in everything we do.
The Open Standards Principles were one of the areas where the digital and technology groups began to come together (we formally merged into GDS in 2012).
The Digital by Default Service Standard was gradually piloted over 2013 but came into force in 2014. It’s been revised a little, but point 8 has been consistent.
Our “Service Design Manual” includes some content on open source – that’s still weaker than I’d like in terms of advice and we’re working on an updated version that should begin to appear during 2016.
The project GDS has invested most in open sourcing (to date) is called vcloud-tools. My colleague Anna wrote about our process for that.
A lot of this is underpinned by procurement reform that intends to make it easier to buy smaller pieces, work to open standards, etc. Examples of that are our G-Cloud and (forthcoming) Digital Outcomes and Specialists frameworks:
I see a lot of what’s happened to date as being about laying the groundwork for what we really want to do, which is about building a community and leveraging this work to reduce duplication, better understand opportunities for consolidation (eg. providing more common platforms), and also softer things like improving our profile as an employer of technologists.
We’ll be gearing up to really invest in that in the new year, but we’re doing a similar thing around the “open standards” side and some recent blog posts start to give a flavour of that.