Collaborative World Shaping: Why Open-Source Tech Matters in a For-Impact Future

“Governments, business and civil society can’t alone address the multifold challenges we have on the global agenda. We need collaboration.”

  • Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum

By Eric Boucher

How many lives could be saved if there was a way to vastly cut down inefficiency and through bureaucracy, by problem solving at a global scale? Could technology help us reach more individuals in need more meaningfully, substantially helping people affected by disasters – in less time?

The technology is already out there – but not enough people know about it.

In 2017, Hurricane Irma—the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean—made landfall; with widespread, “catastrophic” damage, disaster relief organizations were overwhelmed. “A lot of traditional means of crisis response are very top down, and they didn’t really kick in — we saw headlines about how the Red Cross didn’t show up to shelters,” said Greg Bloom, a community organizer and civic hacker who knew he had to step in to assist.

“It was just not clear what the plan was for very anticipatable crises, so on the spot we created place where people could process options and information,” said Bloom.

Within 24 hours, 100 people from Florida and around the country went to work compiling information on shelters making resources accessible to the public; after a week, nearly 700volunteer hackers were using tools and code created for Harvey relief to do everything from coordinating rescues to food supply.

Maybe the best part of it is that the resources that the team created are still out there – open and available to be put to good use again by anyone willing to work on solutions.

Open-source is more than simply “published code” – open-source development is about acknowledging that many people face the same challenges, and that those people are stronger together to overcome them.

OpenMRSis a collaborative open source project “by and for the entire planet” to support the delivery of health care in developing countries. Growing from the critical need to scale up the treatment of HIVin Africa, since 2014, it has brought together hundreds of volunteer coders, becoming a critical piece of health management systems in the developing world.

Being open-source enabled OpenMRS to create a robust yet transparent system – easy to set up worldwide. It is intended as a platform that many organizations can adopt and modify – avoiding the need to develop a system from scratch.

In previous unimaginable ways, open source technology makes possible collaboration on urgent issues by partners across continents. It has the potential to significantly lower costs and wait times for (sometimes desperately needed) assistance – all by more efficiently utilizing the community, and building tools that are adaptable.

Sadly, many impact organizations end up developing with contractors without the same principle of openness. Leading to higher costs and creating expensive dependencies for the future of the project.

While nonprofits have been lagging in adopting and utilizing technology to its full potential, open-source provides a unique opportunity of overcoming this challenge.

As modern societies face a barrage of potential catastrophes – from natural disasters escalating in intensity due to climate change, to increases in extreme inequality – this kind of international, collaborative problem-solving can save the world.

Eric Boucher is CEO, Oviohub.

Illustration: Oviohub

 

RESOURCES

We believe that open-source should be the de-facto way of development in the social impact sector. It provides organization leveraging technology with added bonuses: Collaboration,Maintainability, Cost, Transparency, Scale.

Sahana foundation – open-source tools for disaster response – https://sahanafoundation.org/

HUMANITARIAN OPENSTREETMAP TEAM (HOT)

Free, up-to-date maps are a critical resource when relief organizations are responding to disasters or political crises. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) creates and provides those maps.   Collaborative Maps for Humanitarian Aid Reaching those in need through maps: When major disaster strikes anywhere in the world, HOT rallies a huge network of volunteers to create, online, the maps that enable responders to reach those in need. Putting the world’s vulnerable people and

Collaboration
Last year, in the wake of hurricane Irma, developers came together to bring up tools to help people in need – https://github.com/Irma-Response. The Irma Response team’s two principal fruits were IrmaShelters.org, a live page showing the status and needs of shelters across the state, and a chatbot that users could text to get up-to-date information on shelters if they couldn’t access the Internet.

Not only were volunteers able to collaborate at scale, with more than 700 contributors, but the solution that they created is still out there. Ready to be put to good use again, in the unfortunate but likely event of a new catastrophe.

Social organizations can and must take advantage of open-source development in their fight to make the world a better place.

In the new digital age, information technology has made sharing information and collaborating across borders possible. More than ever before, people come together to build great things.

Maintainability
OpenMRS, a collaborative open source project to develop software to support the delivery of health care in developing countries, was created in 2014. Bringing together hundreds of volunteer coders over the years, it has become a critical piece of health management systems in the developing world. Being open-source enabled OpenMRS to create a robust yet transparent system, easy to setup by coders worldwide.

OpenMRS (OpenMRS – Open source Health IT by and for the entire planet, starting with the developing world.) grew out of the critical need to scale up the treatment of HIVin Africa but from the start was conceived as a general-purpose electronic medical recordsystem that could support the full range of medical treatments. It is founded on the principles of openness and sharing of ideas, software and strategies for deployment and use. It is intended as a platform that many organizations can adopt and modify avoiding the need to develop a system from scratch. Its start, expansion and adaptability show how open-source can foster collaboration and scalability of impact.

Lower costs

Open-source has the potential to significantly lower the costs by activating the open-source community and putting more emphasis on maintainability. Being an open-source project helped OpenMRS evolve into a software that does not depend one entity or person. Sadly, many impact organizations end up developing with contractors without the same principle of openness. Leading to higher costs and creating expensive dependencies for the future of the project.

By efficiently utilizing the community and building tools that are adaptable, not only was the OpenMRS team able to build a tool worth millions of dollars in development work, but they are also lowering the costs for other organizations leveraging their technology.

Efficiency

UNICEF, through its Innovation arm, is also embracing open-source, putting it at the center of its strategy to develop tools internally, but also to select companies to help with the UNICEF Innovation Fund.

UNICEF’s approach to innovation are based on their Innovation Principles, which highlight the importance of designing with the end-user, understanding local ecosystems, designing for scale, and using open source technology and open data. Their added focus on openness and collaboration allowed their team to discover new areas of technology partnership with other UN agencies, including UNHCR, and international organizations. UNICEF developed and launched and open-source platform RapidPro (here). Developed with scalability and openness in mind, RapidPro has already been used in 51 countries for very different applications, from flooding alerts to health sanitation monitoring.

Scalability

A problem being solved in one place is very likely to also exist elsewhere all around the world. Developing technology solutions with openness and collaboration at the center of the process, makes it possible to scale solutions faster and envision fluid transfer of knowledge.

Open-source development is about acknowledging that many people face the same challenges, and that those people are stronger together to overcome them; its developers understand and embrace the power of collaboration. At its heart, the social impact space has the same willingness to solve issues and scale its impact. While nonprofits have been lagging in adopting and utilizing technology to its full potential, open-source provides a unique opportunity of overcoming this challenge.

As highlighted by the $7.5B acquisition of GitHub, Microsoft, and the tech industry, realise the power of open-source software and software collaboration at scale.

We believe that open-source should be the de-facto way to create code for-impact.

IN BRIEF, HERE IS WHY THIS IS CRITICAL TO THE IMPACT SECTOR:

  • Collaboration– Open-source is more than simply “published code”. Thinking about a project in an open and collaborative way actually enables and attracts outside contributions. When successful this is a real force multiplier that helps get more work done faster and cheaper.
  • Maintainability / Longevity– This mindset and effort leads to projects with easier onboarding, that are modular by design and more maintainable. Many nonprofits building software for social good quickly find that their applications have lagged behind the needs of users. But if making changes is easier, so is getting help. Open-source helps lower your dependency to a specific vendor or contractor, reducing your costs in the long run.
  • Lower costs
  • Transparency & Efficiency– New technology has made the whole world accessible and discoverable. This is also true for technology projects, but only if they can be found. By focusing on open-source, we hope to increase collaboration and mutualisation, avoiding duplication of efforts.
  • Scale– By developing open-source solutions, you are inviting people from all around the globe to help you develop an impactful solution, but also adapt and use-it, wherever they are.

This is why we invite social entrepreneurs and nonprofits all around the globe to leverage the power of technology by developing open-source solutions to our modern world challenges.

As an additional incentive, we are starting OvioHub, to help social impact organization to find the skills they need and accelerate their use of technology. (Learn more)

Interested in starting a new open-source project or get help on an existing one? OvioHub Fall project submission period is still open – Submit a project!

READS

http://technical-volunteer-playbook.herokuapp.com/whyopensource.html

Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software

Open Source Software Is Philanthropy

https://opensource.com/life/15/12/why-open-source

https://benetech.org/hacking-for-social-good/

https://github.com/freeCodeCamp/how-to-contribute-to-open-source

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