Last month I participated in the third annual CONSEGI conference in Brasília, Brazil. The first CONSEGI conference was organized in 2008, and though it was organized by and for the Brazilian government, it speaks loudly and clearly with an authentic open source voice. In that first meeting, the CONSEGI declaration stated their disappointment in the appeals by several of their ISO/IEC national bodies being dismissed by the ISO and IEC technical management boards in the Standardization of Office Open XML, and criticized the ISO/IEC for "inability to follow its own rules". The declaration called into question credibility of ISO/IEC, with the signers asserting that they will no longer consider ISO standards to be automatically valid for government use. In 2009, CONSEGI hosted the 3rd International ODF Workshop and established the Brasilia Protocol, which commits its signatories to use ODF internally, with each other, and ultimately in their electronic interaction with third parties and the public. (I was a signatory to that protocol representing Red Hat.) And so I was very excited to see what CONSEGI 2010 would set as its agenda.
The "Project Description" of CONSEGI 2010 contained this paragraph which really highlights the answer to the question "why open source?" in Brazil (or in any other Democratic government):
The citizenship vision that goes under CIT (Communication and Information Technology, aka ICT) public politics of the Federal Government has as reference the collective rights and not only the sum of the citizen individual rights.
Think about that for a moment or two...
It bears repeating that last year President Lula won the ITU's highest award on behalf of Brazil for progress in Digital Inclusion (which we in the US call "bridging the digital divide"). It is heartening to see a Democratic government thinking so clearly about its responsibility to "the public" rather than to individual interest groups. The project description (with sub-optimal translation) continues:
Besides it incorporates the participation and social control and the unsociability between the services provided and its affirmation as individual and society rights, including the success experiences of the productive corporate segment.
Considering this proposition, it was established principles that guide the IT, electronic government strategies and knowledge management at the Federal Government. Being the ones:
- Citizenship promotion as [a] priority
- Stimulate the enterprising between Free Software Companies
- Usage of the free software as a [strategic] resource
- Knowledge management as a [strategic] articulation instrument and public politics management
- Resources thinking, stimulating the sharing between the government institutions, classes associations, technology corporations or corporations interested in the CIT segment
- The adoption of common politics, rules and standards; the integration with other government levels, beside the corporate entities, research and innovation institutions
- Extension of the Free Software adoption by the Government in its 3 globes
- [and a dozen other aspirational goals]
It should be no surprise that at a policy level, Brazil has really understood the principles behind the free software and open source movements, and they really made it very easy for lots of pro-freedom people to advocate for even stronger positions. But Brazil is not taking all the glory, nor all of the credit. In the spirit of mutual cooperation and healthy competition, the conference features a "Focused Country" which they select as an exemplar who is also leading the world. Last year it was France (which was ranked #1 by the Red Hat Open Source Index), and this year it was South Korea. Being a focused country not only gave prime time speaking slots to high-level IT policy people, but also establishes joint R&D and education efforts, including reciprocal internships, scholarships, and other two-way collaboration.
South Korea established their own eGov index in 2010, and it sounds a lot like what Open Source for America is attempting to do with its report card for the US Government. South Korea humbly reported that while they are #1 in the UN Broadband survey, they are only #5 in the Red Hat Open Source Index and need to do better. And with that as a goal, I think they will!
At the CONSEGI conference I learned that Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa is an economist, and he stands with many other economists who have all concluded that open source is optimal both in terms of economic resource allocation as well as right and proper way to steward the public's resources. Ecuador was one of many countries which, by 2008, made a sharp turn toward open source as a matter of public IT policy. With several under-secretaries and deputy ministers from many Latin American countries speaking from the dias, it's pretty obvious that open source will be the defining technology of the 21st century for these emerging economies.
All of this reinforces my belief that as Brazil continues to advance its social, economic, and international agendas, open source software, technology, practice, and community will continue to play a central enabling role. As one of the BRIC economies, this helps to highlight the role that open source can play in creating not only a more successful and competitive economies, but also more just and vibrant societies as well. But it also opens the question (to be discussed in detail at the Open World Forum in Paris next month): how will open source influence the future of the BRIC countries (and other fast-growing emerging economies) and their roles in the world economy? I hope to see you there...In contrast to FISL, which just had its 11th gathering, remains an incredible grass-roots conference, with tens of thousands of users and developers coming to Porto Alegre to speak, share and learn about free and open source software.