The Role of Open Source Software in Government

Published on May 26, 2023

OSS is an acronym for Open-source Software. This software shares its source code by making it available for distribution, use, and modification with its initial rights.

Open source software includes a valid license that allows software programmers to modify the software to fit their needs and also how it can be distributed.

The source code in open-source software is part of the software that computer users don’t see; it is with this code computer programmers manipulate how an application or program behaves.

Open-source software is fast becoming an indispensable and prominent aspect of the government infrastructure, allowing various governments to participate.

Multiple Roles that Arises from Open-Source Software in Government

1) Sharing and Retaining Knowledge: open source software allows the government to retain knowledge and skills within departments; knowledge is best to spread and share using better open source techniques.

Furthermore, troubleshooting existing software problems becomes more manageable using open-source solutions.

This leads to reduced frustration for software engineers resulting in less turnover. This accessibility encourages the sharing of code between various departments and avoids writing new codes from the start to solve similar issues.

This makes it possible for different subdivisions in the government to view work of other staff and improve efficiency and agility when working towards individual goals like having a new plan for social care or digital health.

2) Freedom: When different government agencies purchase proprietary software from various vendors, they are at the mercy of these vendors because they do not have the source code or have rights to change anything in the software that they decide to buy.

This results in what is called “vendor -lock-in”- this is where the government and its agencies depend entirely on the vendor they buy the software from in case a need arises. On the other hand with open source software in government, there is freedom from total reliance on the vendor to modify the software as the government is in total control.

3) Flexibility and Ability to Customize: If you use proprietary software like Microsoft, you’ll be familiar with the updating protocol that pops up without warning; notifications keep asking you to update the software, and if you refuse to update, the software may cease to work at some point in time.

But with open-source software, the government can say goodbye to endless demands and notifications and enjoy customizability and flexibility. Governments can now efficiently work with open-source applications to meet all their specific requirements and needs and enjoy total ownership of their software.

How Governments are Adopting Open Source Software to Improve Efficiency, Reduce Costs and Foster Innovation

The benefits of using open-source software in government are many; let’s learn about some of them:

1) Improves Efficiency and Reduces Cost: The optimal strategy in government is pursuing cost-effective solutions and maximizing existing resources. One fact is that a different jurisdiction or office has solved most challenges civil workers encounter.

Reusing and building on other departments’ work can significantly decrease opportunity costs and allow different teams to start making changes quickly. When the government begins a new project, intense effort is spent on  discovery, development, testing user needs and wants, and security.

With open-source software, having the code reduces the cost and the time, which is a better and more efficient route.

Reusing the same processes and existing code helps improve the spread of development and deployment, reduces development costs, and gives ways to best practices. For example, you may find fewer bugs and vulnerabilities in your software since the source code has encountered open-source software.

2) Foster Innovation: Open source software encourages better development practices by creating public accountability. Simply put, if everyone sees a thing, it is good enough to show it to the public.

The quality of open source documentation, work, version control, code reviews, etc., are held to a high standard, thereby providing better software development innovations.

Open-source government software brings better security, documentation, software designs, ownership, and processes to the forefront.


When using open-source software, go for software that is actively updated with intelligent security patches and releases better features.

If implemented fully, open-source software will bring about innovation, sustainability, and government collaboration. All of this is possible by building open-source software for government use.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 12 MAY 2023