Open source collaborating

The Marketplace is cutting time, cost, waste, and service duplication by making it easier to re-use the great work done by others.

An illustration showing books on a shelf
Caption: An illustration showing books on a shelf.

In late May, we released Collaborate.

Collaborate is a place for local governments to share and publish their early stage Smart Community projects in order to avoid duplicated effort. It provides an opportunity for councils to learn from each other and to help identify possibilities for closer cooperation.

Collaborate is a minimum viable product — a small-scale first-pass at delivering a solution to the challenges identified in our user research around innovation. This research focused on how local governments were creating their Smart Community agendas. We found several councils starting similar programs of work with no simple way for them to connect and learn from each other.

This got us thinking about the valuable services, features and designs that have already been developed by digital teams in government, and how we could make them available for reuse by other teams. We believe there’s value in being able to reuse services, plug-ins, APIs, design templates and even user research — this is the gold we want to mine.

The problem is that — even if it is already available in open source repositories — there is no easy way to find this gold.

A library of shared models

So we’ve created a library of shared models. A shared model is an artefact that is owned and maintained collectively by a community of users.

The many benefits of this approach include:

  • dramatically reducing time to see value — our own Marketplace used open source code from the UK to deliver a transacting platform in just five weeks — five months ahead of the original schedule

  • reducing effort through adaptive re-use — existing services can be efficiently repurposed for new uses. For example, the citizenship interview booking service we feature started life as a tool for scheduling prison appointments. It’s suitable for many other applications of agreeing people, place, and time

  • boosting capability and learning — studying how other teams have worked through their challenge can really help new projects conquer their learning curve on new projects

  • increasing overall market maturity — every time a service iterates, there are benefits not only to the maturity of the service, but also to the overall knowledge base around that service, both in the public and private sectors.

When and what

We launched the library this week and we’re starting with a small and select number of services from across government.

Some of the things we’re showcasing initially are:

  • popular GovCMS design templates
  • an appointment booking service
  • hard rubbish collection and pet registration services developed by the City of Casey
  • an early stage version of the design templates in the DTA’s UI-Kit.

How you can participate and collaborate

You might already be comfortable using and contributing open source code or still working towards meeting the Digital Service Standard open source criteria:

Regardless of where you are in your open source journey, here’s how you can get involved as a government team:

  • Take a look at the library and provide feedback
  • Contribute your own work into the library (coming soon). All it takes is a quick description and a link to your repo (we’ll have that in a few weeks — contact us if you want to contribute before then)
  • Start thinking about how the output from your team’s services can be positioned to benefit others in government
  • Specify open source deliverables when you publish a Digital Outcome brief on the Marketplace. You don’t need to add any legal wording — it is already the default position in the Master Agreement signed by all sellers.
  • Let us know what shared models you would like to see in the library. This will help us to get a better view of the priorities of the community and publish according to those priorities.

As a seller, you can contribute by committing to building open source code by default and by contributing quality and complete repository entries.

How we will know if we’re succeeding

The Digital Marketplace works as a lean startup. This means we release updates early and often and will use live data to understand how the library is being used and what change it creates. If we’re on the right track, we’ll add more library items (or gold), quickly. So what you do matters!

Happy browsing!

Catherine Thompson is Head of the Digital Marketplace at the DTA.