[German]The German city of Dortmund is moving in the direction of open source. On March 25, 2021, the city council decided to use open source software in the administration in the future. In addition, software developed by the administration or commissioned for development is to be made available to the general public. This is an exciting story, as there are many calls for the administration to move away from dependence on proprietary software such as Microsoft 365 and towards open source.

Decision in favor of open source software

On March 25, 2021, there was a decision by the city council to use open source software in the administration in the future. In addition, software developed by the administration or commissioned for development is to be made available to the general public. The council’s key resolutions are:

  • Use open source software where possible and
  • Software developed or commissioned for development by the administration to be made available to the general public.

This changes the allocation practice of the city of Dortmund. In the future, the administration must justify for each proprietary software use why no open source software can be used.

Initiative Do-FOSS pushes the matter forward

The broad approval of this decision for open source software and thus for the digital sovereignty of the city and its citizens is due to the efforts of the Intitative Do-FOSS, the Open Source Business Alliance is pleased to announce. The managing director of Do-FOSS, Christian Nähle, says in this interview about this decision:

We developed Do-FOSS as an initiative in 2013. We have always been driven by the desire for digitization that is close to democracy and complies with the rule of law. To achieve this, digitization requires the basic building block of open source. Do-FOSS stands for “Free and Open Source Software”. The “Do” refers to Dortmund. Our civil society initiative consists of around ten people who are committed to the dissemination and use of Free Software. We are in partnership with various organizations, such as the Free Soft ware Foundation Europe (FSFE) and the OSB Alliance.

To promote the use of Free Software in public administration, Do-FOSS uses a variety of different ways to address and implement Free Software. Among other things, Do-FOOS is working with the city of Dortmund to promote the use of Free Software through the city’s digitization strategy.

In the early days of Do-FOSS, the members initially envisioned writing a letter to the mayor in which the members would describe the findings regarding the profitable features of Free Software and convince the mayor argumentatively. However, it quickly became clear to the members that the mayor is merely the overall head of a very large authority and that he must rely on others to make his decisions.

Therefore, the members of Do-FOSS started small. They sought contact with the official data protection officer, as well as with the staff representatives. They obtained assessments from the city’s IT department and asked around in other administrations. In other words, they did a lot of informing and drilling. Then these assessments were compared with the expertise of the Do-FOSS members and existing contradictions in the Dortmund administration were pointed out.

The organizers then addressed political committees with letters and asked for a dialogue in a democratic way. Taking these paths did not bring any quick success. According to Nähle, contact with various actors in urban society requires time and space for discussion. In the municipal elections last September, all the candidates for the mayor were finally in favor of open source.

Christian Nähle says that the biggest challenge is certainly to learn from each other. The framework conditions in the agile software world are completely different from those in the static administrative world. It is important to understand the framework conditions of both worlds and to have the honest desire to understand even rather dull topics such as public procurement law. In administrations, he said, there are still insufficient tools implemented to deal with open source products.

How does the clerk in the public procurement office know which licenses qualify as free software licenses? What forum do the protagonists in the public sector have to collaborate on intermunicipal software projects? According to Nähle, this requires a new infrastructure. That is why the city of Dortmund, among others, is supporting the establishment of a free software repository for the public sector on the initiative of the OSB Alliance. For the Do-FOSS it has always been important to develop further, but also not to forget to always pick up people where they are.

Christian Nähle comments: The city of Dortmund has politically adopted Free Software as the standard for its administration. The decision establishes the primacy of open source software and thus reverses the burden of proof for the use of proprietary software. If the administration wants to use proprietary software in the future, it must justify why open source software cannot be used. This initially means a turning point for the way in which the use of software by the city administration must be discussed and presented.

This means that specialist procedures, for example, have a starting advantage if they are offered as open source. However, the people of Do-FOSS still have to answer how they want to break up existing vendor lock-ins. To this end, the initiators of Do-FOSS are currently working with the city of Dortmund to develop elements for a digitization strategy. They are also planning a municipal open government conference in Dortmund that will focus on free software for public services. Exact planning, however, depends on the Corona development. What is certain is that the initiators in Dortmund are not alone in their need for digital sovereignty. That is why the initiators
with a wide variety of agencies. Currently, the Do-FOSS people are working intensively with the Kommunale Gemeinschaftsstelle (KGSt) and the German Association of Cities on a special report for municipalities on digital sovereignty.

Now that Dortmund is politically claiming primacy for software, the focus will be on practice. Do-FOSS will work with the city to describe and execute its entry into the exit from the proprietary age. To this end, further questions now need to be answered. How can we increase the degree of freedom in our intangible infrastructure? How can we strategically deal with vendor lock-in? Answering these questions will have to be accomplished under enormous time pressure.

The world will become more unsettled. For this, says Do-FOSS CEO Nähle, we will very soon need infrastructure that is more resilient and socio-ecologically friendly than it has been up to now. For that reason alone, the future is not proprietary, but open source. To this Nähle says: We will shape the open source future in Dortmund and extend a hand to all those who also want a future with open source – including science and business. In the area of smart city, we are already avoiding the old proprietary mistakes and are focusing on a free smart city.