Legal and Procurement Issues Guide
This guide is aimed at government lawyers and officials who are looking at open source software.
There’s a challenge in putting together any kind of guide for government staff. On one hand, you have a sea of studies and analyses produced by scholars and advocates of open source, on the other hand you have government employees in the trenches, confronting and solving (or not) actual problems, and then, on top of everything else, there is the law. And those three often don’t relate to each other very effectively.
But considering even just the savings - the millions of dollars that are saved by leveraging open technology reuse and development practices - the rewards of bringing together the scholars and advocates, the government staff on the ground, and the law itself make the effort an imperative. Further, as technology allows for the greater dissemination and sharing of knowledge and technology, so it also allows for more effective collaboration and cooperation around building, cultivating, and reusing shared and open source resources.
The need for useful guidance is especially pressing now, when the need to save money amid smaller budgets and greater public demand for service and accountability is complemented by the increasing availability of free and open source software and knowledge around it. This Wiki is intended to be a living, breathing guide - just like the open source projects it seeks to support. Its success is owed to those scholars, government staff, policy makers, and the general public who understand that their ongoing contributions and sharing can give back to them, in the form of a leaner, more effective and more transparent government.
Inevitable Lawyerly Disclaimer: This guide seeks to provide practical information regarding problems and best practices in open source procurement and development, and discusses common legal issues. However, any best practices or opinions shared in this guide should not be considered legal advice, or a substitution for the normal procedures of legal consultation that may be needed in the preparation of procurement contracts, requests for information, requests for proposal, licenses, or any other legal instrument.
What’s Your Issue?
Open Source Business Models
You: I want to know how the business model around Open Source Software (OSS) changes the way I will have to work with procurement to acquire an OSS solution.
Civic Commons: We’ve interviewed several of your peers in government on this topic, as well as scoured the internet and our personal network of experts to weigh in on this. Check out our section on Legal Issues and Best Practices Around Procuring or Deploying OSS In Your Organization.
Evaluating OSS for Risk
You: I’ve found an OSS solution I like, but I don’t know what to do next. Given the differences in the Open Source Software model from a proprietary model, what are the criteria I should consider in evaluating this OSS solution?
Civic Commons: A scholar with experience in OSS procurement has developed a set of criteria for evaluating OSS. Read more on our section Best Practices for Complying with Procurement Regulations
How to Open Source Your Code
You: My government organization has developed a great application in house, and I’d like to share it with partner cities so that they can reuse the app, and help with future development tasks. What should we do?
Civic Commons: Maybe an Open Source model will work for your needs. Check out our section on Legal Issues and Best Practices With Converting/Contributing In-House Developed Code into a Reusable FOSS Project.
Government In-House Code Development
You: My government organization doesn’t have any money to buy software this year, but we do have IT staff capable of doing the development work for a needed application in-house. What should we be thinking about?
Civic Commons: There are free development resources available to you for your in-house project. Check out our section on Legal Issues and Best Practices With Starting a New OSS Development Project In-House.
Share Your Knowledge
You: I don’t really need guidance for any particular legal or procurement issue, but I’ve just come across a really interesting problem in my work regarding procurement and OSS, and I want to share it out with everyone or see who else is researching it so that others can learn from what I had to struggle with.
Civic Commons: We really want to hear about it!! Please share!! See if its something on our radar or not and check out our section Legal Issues Not Well Known, and Possible Solutions
Beyond the Commons
You: I’m curious to know more about what organizations are researching the legal and procurement issues with reusable technology, or what resources are available on the web that I can reference for more detailed inquiry?
Civic Commons: Check out our list of organizations researching various aspects of civic tech reuse and some other web resources in our Appendix section.
Browse The Guide
You: I’m not sure I have an issue, but I want to learn more about the kinds of legal and procurement issues that the Civic Commons community has come across with technology reuse.
Civic Commons: Fair enough. Feel free to peruse the entire guide starting with our Introduction here.
Reuse Our Research
You: I’m a researcher currently working on a related topic. Can I see the notes from the interviews that Civic Commons has conducted with various experts?
Civic Commons: In the spirit of reuse, of course! We’ve abstracted attribution for the interview notes at the request of our interviewees, but all of the notes can be found here.