HFOSS at the Open World Forum: Sahana á Paris

The 4th Open World Forum (OWF) was held in Paris on September 24-26.  Last year, I had the honor of chairing a small inaugural panel on the use of Free/Libre Open Source Software Against Crisis; this year, with the support of OWF Co-President Louis Montagne, HFOSS was expanded into a half-day track, organized by Dave Neary of the Gnome Project.

The Humanitarian FOSS Track at OWF

The panelists on the Humanitarian FOSS track included Dr. Shuichi Tashiro of the Open Standards Promotion Center of theInformation Technology Promotion Agency of Japan, who spoke of how open source was used to help in the response to the earthquake in Japan earlier this year; Syrine Tlili, Chief of the Open Source Software Unit at the Tunisian Ministry of Communications Technologies, who spoke on the impact of new technologies during the Arab Spring revolutions; Olivier Sarrat of Groupe URD and the SigmahHumanitarian Project Management software (whom many of us first met in Lisbon earlier this year as a participant at ourSahanaCamp@ISCRAM; Laura Walker Hudson of FrontlineSMS; Michael Vorburger of Mifos; Sean Daly of Sugar Labs (have your kids trySugar on a Stick), Thomas Bjelkeman of AKVO; Jeff Klingler of the Human Rights open source software project Martus; and Simon Redfern of the Open Bank Project. It was a great mix of what “humanitarian FOSS” means to us in the disaster/emergency response segment; and “humanitarian FOSS” in the much more general charitable meaning.

My talk on Sahana focused on some of the featured deployments for each of our projects – the City of New York’s use of Mayon for shelter and resource management; the National Library of Medicine’s Lost Person Finder Project built with Vesuvius, and the recent deployment of Sahana Eden in response to the Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami, as well as our Community Development programs.

There was lots of interesting discussions between my fellow humanitarian FOSS panelists and participants that occurred during and after the session, and at a social dinner at Mémère Paulette’s organized by Dave (I had the langue de boeuf if you want to know what type of amazing meal it was).   A couple of the main themes that came out of these discussions that I wanted to share with the Sahana community are:

  • There was a great desire expressed by many to spend more time together sharing our experiences like this. For most others (we’ve been blessed in this regard, working collaboratively and having the opportunity to meet with other open source projects regularly), this was the first time they had the opportunity to discuss community issues, governance, sustainability and other challenges with the leaders of other humanitarian free and open source software projects.
  • There was universal respect for what Sahana has accomplished as a volunteer community over the years – from the number of deployments and positive impact that Sahana has had – to our involvement in Community Development programs like GSOC, GCI and RHoK, GWoB, Grace Hopper Celebration Codeathons, the HFOSS Project and our SahanaCamp program. Interestingly, most of the other open source projects participating in this track were solidly funded on the basis of delivering a specific project for a specific customer; but had absolutely no volunteers contributing to them and were challenged by sustainability and diversity of adoption beyond the specific project for which they were funded. Of course, we are starting from the other extreme and hope to meet them somewhere in the middle.

Invitation for SSF to Join OSI

The major outcome for the Sahana Software Foundation that came out of the Open World Forum is that we’ve been invited to become an Affiliate Member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI).  I had the opportunity to speak with Simon Phipps, a Director of OSI and the Chair of their Governance Committee, about this after he announced this program during the OWF Community Summit. The OSI Affiliate program is part of an effort on the part of OSI to better serve those using open source licensing and relying on OSI for leadership by including “representatives of unequivocally independent groups with a clear commitment to open source” in their governance, according to Simon.

This program is a good fit with the commitment of our own membership to supporting OSI approvals for open source licensing, is in alignment with the goals of our Standards and Interoperability Committee, and is an opportunity to raise the profile of SSF in the general open source world. I have shared this news with our Directors and Members and there has been overwhelming support for SSF joining OSI as an Affiliate Member so we will be moving forward with this.

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I want to thank Louis Montagne for arranging to sponsor my trip to the Open World Forum that allowed me to participate in this valuable open source conference, and to Dave Neary for organizing a great program.  I look forward to participating in an even broader HFOSS track next year and hope that Sahana might participate in their hands-on demonstrations for users that takes place at the OWF on Saturday and the coding experiments that go on throughout the event.

For the second year running, I was struck by the commercial and governmental acceptance of open source in Europe generally, and in France in particular, in vast contrast to the rest of the world generally, and the United States in particular. Part of that is the maturity of the commercial sector to support open source solutions in Europe, something I wrote about needing for Sahana in the Open Source Business Resource last year. But a large part is dependent on our community as well; to do better at communicating our capabilities and supporting our users. To this point, I am extremely grateful and looking forward to the results of the Google Doc Sprint which several members of our community are participating in – a full week to focus on improving our documentation. You’ll be hearing more about this soon.

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