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The rising role of Open Source foundations and public policy

The year 2022 marked a significant turning point for public policy affecting the Open Source ecosystem. This transformation has manifested as both a concern about the risks associated with regulations developed in isolation and an opportunity for Open Source and its related domains, such as open science, research, education, and more, to thrive as policymakers contemplate how to foster and endorse greater collaboration in the public interest.

2023 has become the year of Open Policy, ready or not. This summer in my role as Open Source Initiative‘s US Policy Director, we launched the Open Policy Alliance. On October 17th, we’ll gather in Raliegh, North Carolina at All Things Open for a session on Open Source and public policy. The panel includes Ruth Suehle, Stephen Jacobs, Patrick Masson and Greg Wallace.

This post kicks off a series of brief interviews on opensource.net, where I’ll be talking to non-profits working on today’s biggest policy questions about what keeps them up at night and what gives them hope for a future where the Open Source community plays a more active role in shaping public policy.

How we got here

This high mark, or more aptly described as an acceleration, started with the COVID-19 pandemic. Open Source already had mainstream acceptance, but its potential for rapid innovation and collaboration in the public interest gained steam.

The pandemic, however, didn’t stop other new, strong currents in software that require public attention. Governmental and other policy stakeholders discovered the need to parse complex topics like cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence, engaging in critical policy conversations for which few were adequately prepared. The need for action was clear, but the lack of understanding of these new challenges posed a major obstacle.

Software, especially Open Source software, is now essential to addressing these societal challenges. There’s been a surge of interest, time investment and resources to involve new stakeholders who were previously unrepresented in these crucial discussions. Europe’s Cyber Resilience Act (CRA), while acknowledging the value of Open Source, has also introduced extraordinary obstacles to global modern software development and is nearing implementation. In the US, the White House and the Federal Government are soliciting public input on securing and sustaining Open Source software as critical infrastructure.

This was also the year that organizations like the Apereo Foundation, Apache Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, FreeBSD Foundation, Python Foundation, Matrix Foundation, Python Foundation and others embarked on initial explorations of engaging in public policy.

This isn’t the first time some of these organizations, or ones like them, have been involved in policy work. The OSI has resourced policy work in Europe for several years. Open-adjacent organizations like Creative Commons and Wikipedia have long recognized both the potential and the responsibility of engaging with public policy. However, this is the first year we’ve seen an entire group of policy practitioners emerge, many of whom are learning on the job, while all of us are learning from each other.

Hope to see you at All Things Open and stay tuned for the rest of the series.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash


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