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The Common Web Platform (CWP) was the winner in the ‘Open Source Use in Government’ at the 2014 NZ Open Source Awards. I had the honour of accepting the award on behalf of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), and took the opportunity to thank DIA and SilverStripe staff. It was great to hear about the people, projects and products from across a range of disciplines sharing their open source code. The setting at Te Marae in Te Papa was beautiful, and we were spoiled with a yummy dinner.

The New Zealand Open Source Awards recognise and promote:

  • the contributions of New Zealanders to free and open source projects and free and open source philosophy
  • exemplary use of free and open source by New Zealand organisations.

CWP was nominated as it is built on open source technologies, including SilverStripe CMS, Apache Solr Enterprise Search, and Gitlab for code management. Using open source technologies, CWP delivers a level of security and assurance that meets the Government’s needs in order for citizens to have trust in the information that government delivers. The content management recipe and modules used for the base CWP website are open source for developers outside of government. Agencies are also able to open source modules developed for their websites.

Other finalists

There were three other finalists in the same category, including DigitalNZ. DigitalNZ is both built on open source technologies, and has made its API, called Supplejack, available for everyone through open source licencing.  Using open source has let DigitalNZ get new features out more quickly, iterate more effectively, and share what they’ve developed with new partners around the country and overseas.

Another finalist that grabbed my attention was Piwik. Piwik is an open source application that is similar to Google Analytics. The point of difference is that it can be set up on your own web infrastructure, and data about your users’ behaviour is not sent to Google. This has benefits from a privacy perspective, as discussed in a recent blog post by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Piwik looks like it has great potential as an addition to the Common Web Platform. We are thinking about how that would work and how we could make it easier for agencies to use analytics to understand their customers better.

Open sourcing government code

We promote code sharing and reuse on CWP, which is made easy by everyone using the same code repository. We don’t want different parts of the Government re-inventing the wheel and wasting money. Agencies are pretty comfortable with sharing code between departments, as long as there aren’t issues around intellectual property or security. But there are not many examples of agencies open sourcing their CWP code. The team were the first to open source their CWP modules.

We need to start thinking about open source philosophy and how that fits in. Data is made open to the benefit of New Zealand researchers, companies and organisations. I think it’s time we placed the same lens over our website code, and unless there’s a security concern, make it open source. The UK Government has also been writing about this: When is it ok not to open all source code?

If you have an opinion on this, feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

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