Monday, June 01, 2009

My Gov 2.0 Proposal

Conference: Gov 2.0

Title: Lessons from SchoolTool: Leveraging Local Innovation into Global Collaboration

Challengingly short description: For almost a decade, from Capetown to Arlington, Virginia, the SchoolTool project has explored the intersection of K-12 school administration, open source software development and philanthropy. We've had a few misses, but have hit upon some successful prototypes of local/global collaboration, including CanDo, an application developed by teachers and students at the Arlington Career Center.


Schools can and have innovated to meet their administrative data requirements. What they cannot do on their own is turn these innovations into national or global scale open source projects. They need help. Here's the formula that emerged from creating CanDo:

  • The core project must be initiated and funded by schools for their own needs. They must be capable of executing the project on their own.
  • The role of philanthropy or higher levels of government is to provide additional resources to support elevating the project from a local project to a full open source development effort.
  • The project must be built on a 100% open source software stack. Ideally a platform with a well-established and professional development community, accessible to the school's developers.
  • Developers must be trained in (if necessary) and held to standard open source development practices from the beginning of the project, including maintaining a public code repository and bug tracker.
  • Be as Agile as possible.
  • Extra funding must be available for development sprints and other opportunities to directly connect local developers with the broader development community, in part to ensure that the project is designed in line with the standards and practices of the community.
  • Packaging, release management, documentation, and code maintenance are all expensive. Schools can't do it on their own.
  • Ongoing management of open source development is too expensive for schools, and projects owned by businesses in the K-12 market have not fostered community involvement. You need a non-profit neutral maintainer with a separate funding stream.

In short, bootstrapping an open source project is not "free," but the potential leverage to national or global makes it a valuable investment for philanthropy or government.

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