The battle over source code
Go Open 2010 – Oslo, 19-20 April
Ann Therese Lotherington
Senior Research Scientist, PhD Political Science
• Should the public sector buy proprietary
software or seek open source systems?
• What are the best strategies for system
development in this sector?
• Why is an inter-disciplinary approach
appropriate for exploring these questions?
1. What is the battle about?
• Politics of source code
• Focus on the public sector
1. Inter-disciplinary research as strategy
• Transcend the disciplines
• Crystallize questions in need of disciplinary approaches
3. ICT in two different political regimes
• From New Public Management to Digital Era Governance
• ICT as outsourced vs. core activity in public organisations
What is the battle about?
1. The increasing importance of ICT in the production of public sector
– ICT as a defining feature of society
– ICT specialists as increasingly powerful players
– Multimillion investments
– Path dependency
– Public sector as a lucrative and stable market
– Producing unquestioned norms
From the basement to the boardroom:
‘In the past the IT person was a handyman, a caretaker who worked
in the basement. By the late 1990s they were walking the corridors
and they were entering the boardroom.’
What is the battle about? (continue..)
2. Ambitious ICT policy announcing a need for stronger government
– Renewed and efficient public sector
– Policy for open standards and use of open source
3. The right and ability to control and shape the premises for future
– Who is and who should be in charge of ICT development?
– A complexity of interests within and between the two main software
development traditions: open source and closed solutions
• Initial questions:
– Should the public sector buy proprietary software or seek open source
– What are the best strategies for system development in this sector?
• The battle over source code as point of departure
– Not reduce the field through disciplinary perspectives
• The need for inter-disciplinary research
– Team of researchers from various disciplines
– Exploring problems beyond disciplinary boundaries
– Challenging but promising and applicable
• Enter the field through the ICT specialists daily work
– Inspired by socio-technical research
– Analysing practice, interests and opinions
ICT as part of two different political regimes
• Summing up:
– ICT increasingly important for public sector services
– Impossible to distinguish between ICT and the services – they are intertwined
– Control over ICT development fundamental for public sector development
– No simple answers
– Need for proper inter-disciplinary research to be able to give reasonable answers
• New Public Management
– Outsourcing/contracting non-core activities
– Increasing role of the ICT industry for public sector development
– Giant ICT systems suffering significant legacy problems
• Digital Area Governance
– Holistic approaches to policymaking
– Reintegration of services
– Extensive digitalization of administrative operations
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• Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Bastow, S. and Tinkler, J. (2006) Digital Era Governance:
IT corporations, the state and e-government Oxford, Oxford University Press.
• Halford, S. and AT. Lotherington, K. Dyb and A. Obstfelder (2010): ”Un/doing gender
with ICT?” NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, Vol. 18, No. 1,
20–37, March 2010
• Halford, S; A. Obstfelder and AT. Lotherington (2009): ‘Beyond Implementation and
Resistance: how the delivery of ICT policy is re-shaping health care.’ Policy & Politics
37/1, pp. 113-128.
• Halford, S; AT. Lotherington; A. Obstfelder and K. Dyb (2010): ‘Getting the whole
picture? New information and communication technologies in healthcare work and
organization.’ Accepted for publishing in Information, Communication and Society. Vol
• Kabel Ltd (2006) UK Public Health Care Market Report 2008/9 Kabel Ltd, London.
• Kirkpatrick, G. (2003) Critical Technology: a social theory of personal computing
• Lotherington, AT. (2009): ’Verdiskapende delingskultur’, s 202-211 i Bitten Schei og
Elisabeth Rønnevig (red.): Vilje til endring. Sosialt entreprenørskap på norsk.
Notodden: Mother Courage Forlag (ISBN 978-82-998183-0-8)
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