“Public Money, Public Data: Norway’s Labor and Welfare Administration sets a new example for public repositories”
The debate around whether or not publicly-funded projects and software should be made open-source has been an ongoing topic for years, and one that garners both support and criticism. However, Norway’s Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV) has taken a step forward since 2018, when it set a policy to open up all the code for their publicly-funded projects. With over 2,000 public repositories available on sites such as GitHub, NAV has been accepting pull requests from those who want to support and improve government services.
This decision has led to a close collaboration between new and existing partners that was not possible before, enabling them to create projects that have been more beneficial to Norwegian citizens. Previously, many projects funded by the government were kept private, and the state-owned websites offering legal information about companies were selling data for thousands of dollars. NAV’s approach, on the other hand, offers a more transparent way for taxpayers to access public data that they have funded.
Although some argue that open-source software could hurt specific industries and that this policy’s implementation could lead to a decline in efficiency, proponents of the “public money, public code” movement argue that this should be the norm, and those receiving funding should be required to make their outcomes available to everyone. Staying transparent with money and data flow is vital, especially when government departments need to be more accountable to their citizens.
One of the arguments against open-source for publicly-funded software is that some work on military-grade software can’t have the code out in the open for everyone to access. However, this should not prevent lawmakers from promoting open-source software in other areas where all citizens can benefit from it.
Governments worldwide must realize that not only will this policy allow for better interop between government branches, but it also will benefit the communities they serve by improving efficiency and transparency. The private sector could still participate in a public-private partnership if necessary, meaning they could offer to lease specific software instead of selling software with source code.
In conclusion, NAV’s policy of open-sourcing publicly-funded projects shows that transparency and collaboration can benefit governmental organizations and public welfare. While obstacles remain, if more governments worldwide promoted open-source software for their publicly-funded projects, it could lead to improved efficiency, transparency, and a better citizen-government relationship.
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Author Eliza Ng