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Question

Has any local government implemented free and/or open source software to aid in recordkeeping?

  1  
Michael Repas

In an article about Google Apps (available on the Knowledge Network here: http://icma.org/en/A..), we were told of the recent switch to using Google Apps by the Washington, DC local government in order to save money and streamline their ability to share data between employees. With this sort of ideal in mind, there seems to be another logical step in this progression: starting to use free and/or open source software in order to make record-keeping much easier, as well as to ensure the ease of sharing data between government employees. Unlike proprietary software, open source and free software is designed to enable the free transfer of your files and data to other programs if you so desire, which means fewer “required” software upgrades in order to be able to function.

If this is true, using an open source solution for your computing needs will allow you to transfer to a different open source solution if and when you are so inclined, free of charge. This seems to indicate huge possibilities in ease of records retention, as being able to access 10 year-old data will be far easier in the open source model (backwards compatibility is always a focus). Has any local government moved to free software like Google Apps, or open source software like Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org), for record-keeping purposes or just in general?


Answers

 
  1  
Philip Ashlock

I'm starting to collect case studies and links at: http://wiki.openmuni..

There are a couple of organizations working to push this forward:

http://openplans.org
http://codeforamerica.org
http://wiki.openmuni.org (documention on the subject)
http://opensourcefor..

I think most of the good case studies are probably still in europe and latin america at this point and probably largely talk about the desktop environment with linux and open office (like germany). I know some cities in north america are starting to make moves in this direction starting with new policies and procurement practices to address it (see http://wiki.openmuni..). I think the city of Edmonton is in the process of moving to OpenOffice.

Here are a few regarding open source GIS:
http://opengeo.org/p..
http://opengeo.org/publications/trimet/

Please see http://wiki.openmuni.. and contribute more there or link to them here.

 
  0  
Dan Schmick

We have, and we do. I work for a small city government in Colorado. We deploy open-source software on every desktop and for 90% of our servers. We use it for storage, backup, record keeping, and document imaging -- not to mention for web services, email, virtualization, monitoring, trouble ticket tracking, printing, and for many other purposes as well.

Our City Council voting system, audio system, video system, and document publishing system are all open-source or built from open-source components. For example, consider our Public Records System. We have documents, votes, presentations, audio, and video going back half a decade or more. You can view every vote cast by our elected representatives. Because this system is open source, it is very cost-effective to maintain and our records should never need to be purged.

http://webdocs.northglenn.org

 
  0  
Philip Ashlock

Dan, this is great to hear. Can you list the names of any of the open source projects you mention or provide links for more information? I'm interested in the voting system and just about everything else you mentioned. Thanks!

 
  0  
Dan Schmick

Sure.

We use open source software in many places in our City. A comprehensive list would likely be too large to post here (or even to remember). However, I will list the open source projects used in the public records system I linked to above:

Xen (server virtualization, www.xen.org)
Linux (server platform)
YUI (javascript toolkit, http://developer.yah..)
MySQL (database, http://www.mysql.com/)
Apache (web server, www.apache.org and perl.apache.org)
SAMBA (file server back end, samba.org)
perl (primary programming language for this project, www.perl.org)
catalyst (web application framework, http://www.catalystf..)
jack (audio server, http://jackaudio.org/)
rsync (file & document publishing, www.samba.org/rsync/)
lame (mp3 encoder, http://lame.sourceforge.net/)
mp3 split & wrap (mp3 manipulation, google mp3splt and mp3wrap (sic))
edna (audio server, http://edna.sourceforge.net/)
OpenOffice (converts presentations to web format, www.openoffice.org)
Xapian (search engine, http://xapian.org/)
Red 5 (old video server, http://osflash.org/red5)
mod_flv, mod_h264 (new streaming server, h264.code-shop.com/trac)
audacity (audio editing, http://audacity.sour..)

For our videos, we receive DVDs from a vendor who films our council meetings. We use the following open-source tools to rip, edit, and encode these videos to our web format:
- k9copy (dvd ripping, http://k9copy.sourceforge.net/)
- ffmpeg (x264 encoder, http://www.ffmpeg.org/)
- mencoder (video clip merging, www.mplayerhq.hu)
- avidemux (video editing, http://fixounet.free..)

And of course, the software tools used to develop the thing.
- emacs (editor, http://www.gnu.org/s..)
- subversion (source code management, http://subversion.tigris.org/)

There are probably others that I can't think of, but that's most of the ones used in the public records system.

 
  0  
Philip Ashlock

This is great Dan. I actually didn't mean to ask about the modular components of the projects at this granularity. I was more asking about the projects themselves. In the listing where Perl is mentioned you state that this was the language used for the project but I don't see the project itself in the list. Is there any more of a name for this project than simply "Public Records System" and is the source available for others to use? If you are interested in releasing this as a more packaged open source project, my organization (OpenPlans) and our partners are happy help.

Dan Schmick

Dan Schmick

You are correct, I forgot to mention perl.

I'd be interested in packaging it, although I think it would be quite a bit of work to get it to that state. There are components of it that might be more package-able than others: video and audio, for example.

 
  0  
Robert Goodspeed

Hi Dan,

I like your Northglenn site. I am at a large municipality that is evaluating the vendor products in this space now. One of the features they desire is the ability to create the agendas in the first place, not just archive the PDFs. A feature the vendors offer that I like from a transparency perspective is legislation tracking, with RSS and/or email for particular bills. Does your site do those, or are they features you have considered? Great work and I look forward to hear more.

Dan Schmick

Dan Schmick

Our system does provide an RSS feed (see the link at the bottom), but the feed is simply notifications of meetings for the most part. Updates to agendas are in the feed as well.

I like the idea of tracking particular legislation. Our system does not do that but I'd be interested in exploring the possibility.

 
  0  
Jack Pond
Jack Pond said

I don't think you want to create another Peter Quinn, so you will find many hesitant to public discussion on this topic. However, http://wiki.montcopa..

 
  0  
Philip Ashlock

It's been a while, but I just wanted to check in on this thread again. At Civic Commons we're trying to better catalog open source projects by and for governments - particularly cities. Over time some of these have been listed on our wiki at http://wiki.civiccom.. & http://wiki.civiccom.. but we now have a beta version of a catalog called the Civic Commons Marketplace which makes it much easier to browse and share projects: http://marketplace.c..

One thing we're trying to find are good examples of software projects that have been started by one government and then used or contributed to by other governments. Some examples of this include http://opentripplanner.com and http://www.onebusaway.org but we're looking for others so please let us know if you're aware of good examples.

@Dan Schmick - we'd love to add your project to our catalog so others can benefit from it. Even if you think it's rough around the edges, that's better than nothing and we can help make it ready for reuse

@Jack Pond - I think people are wiser and things have come a long way since the sad Peter Quinn story. Microsoft develops and supports open source software for government (http://ogdi.codeplex.com) and the White House now releases open source projects (http://civiccommons.org/2011/05/it-dashboard-six-weeks-in/)

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