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Open Source Software and Public Authorities (OSSPA)

Research project TA/00/24 (Research action TA)

Persons :

Description :

The main objectives of the research are twofold : to analyse and conceptualise, on basis of compared case-study methodology, various forms and functionnings of those OSS communities and to better understand ways by which Public Authorities (PA) do interact with those communities for their own purposes.

Organizational forms supporting OSS development are very diverse. The ability to achieve solid and coherent results from community inputs, and in principle, spontaneous, sudden and evanescent involvement is viewed as an enigma by sociologists and economists. The endogenous literature offers an answer to this enigma, by promoting the "bazaar model", yet this concept is not convincing: a simple comparison between thousands of OSS is enough to observe an extreme heterogeneity in the organisational modes and action processes, as well as the contributors' involvement processes (Crowston and Howison, 2005). There is then a growing ask from the scientific community for in-depth case studies dealing with the organisational aspects of OSS communities, and our research aims at contributing to the answering of those scientific enigmas.
Given the increasingly massive diffusion of OSS, as well as increasingly political recommendations both within Belgium and on a European scale, the decision makers within the public sector are (and will be) confronted more and more often with the need to make choices that require the ability to appreciate the potentials of the numerous existing OSS programs. This selection is even more delicate in that it entails mid or long term use. It is consequently necessary to understand at the same time the credibility, stability and the future characteristics of software which will inevitably evolve, as well as the future availability of the associated services. And, given the original production method of OSS, these evaluation criteria do not correspond to the traditional specificities of a commercial editor (solvency, customers, team composition, sales/support, etc.).

The analysis of the functionning of OSS communities, will be the basis for adressing the issue of the use of OSS by PA, and the shift towards new relationships with the software producers they use, and new specific questions: is collaboration necessary and desirable? According to what methods? What particular problems do cooperation with “communities” present?

The two main issues will be adressed by using several research methods coming from both existing sources (large-scale quantitative studies, unanalysed qualitative interviews), and data to be produced during the research (longitudinal follow up of case studies depicting various PA/OSS interactions).

Due to the inherent "boundaryless" dimension of OSS, we chose for an international partnership gathering researchers from The Netherlands and France, being experts in their own approach of OSS and use of specific methodologies (economists and sociologists; quantativists and qualitativists). Although the empiricial research will be mainly carried out in Belgium, this international partnership will favour international comparison of cases.

Therefore, the added value of the project is multiple : explore emerging and very critical issues in the fields of sociology of work and organizations and economics of the information society; provide PA with in-depth analysis and conceptualization of practices ; an international, interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approach.

Documentation :

Logiciels libres et pouvoirs publics: synthèse  Desmarez, P. - Vanheerswynghels, A. - Zune, M.  Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2012 (SP2461)
[To download

Vrije software en overheidsdiensten: synthese  Desmarez, P. - Vanheerswynghels, A. - Zune, M.  Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2012 (SP2462)
[To download

Open Source Software and Public Authorities: summary  Desmarez, P. - Vanheerswynghels, A. - Zune, M.  Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2012 (SP2463)
[To download

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