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NZ govt agencies now have open source software at their side

21 Jul 16

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) is helping government agencies pave the way for open source software use, opening doors for software developers keen to shape new innovative software, says Land Information Minister Louise Upston.

The NZGOAL Software Extension guidelines were themselves developed using open source tools and facilitated through Loomio, an online group decision-making platform. The final drafts were crafted through GitHub, an open source repository.

“Making government data freely available has resulted in businesses using it to develop precision agricultural tools and create apps for trampers. By taking the same approach to software, it too can be turned into new products for people to use,” says Upston.

The guidelines state that "Government agencies invest significantly in software development and often own the copyright in the software that they develop or that is developed for them".

The guidelines explain the benefits of open source licencing, which include time and cost savings, encouraging open innovation, contributing to economic growth through private sector support of open source software, contribution to 'trusted communities', continuous software code maintenance through user communities and fostering software code transparency.

The guidelines detail a number of policy principles for government agencies, covering the licencing process, copyright ownership or right to sub-licence, security code reviews, charging for software, contributions back to the open source society, acting fairly towards developers and liability obligations.

The guidelines class the SE Review and Release process into five separate stages to help agencies release code for re-use under a free and open source software (FOSS) licence.

'It is recommended that government agencies follow the review and release process set out below before releasing software source code for re-use under a FOSS licence, with assistance where required from their technical and legal teams,' the guidelines state.

Briefly, the five stages are:

  • Copyright-related rights evaluation
  • Evaluation of exceptions
  • Select a FOSS licence
  • Application of the chosen licence
  • Release of the software

The guidelines go into detail about the conditions of each process and provide instructions about how to navigate the decision-making process.

“This approach reflects a move to greater public participation in government decision making, pulling in both government agencies and software experts," concludes Upston.

The open source software initiative comes after the government recently announced that it is making select valuable data freely available to the public through its New Zealand Government’s Open Access and licencing framework.

Read more about the guidelines here.

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