Blog for Public Code

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We support the Sustainable Development Goals

Two weeks ago marked five years since the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During Global Goals Week, our president Ben Cerveny participated in a panel Open Sourcing our Way to the SDGs, discussing just how open source, especially in the public sector, will help us achieve the goals.

This prompted us to act on something that we’d planned to do for a long time: updating our Values and Impact with a dedicated section for the SDGs. This blog post aims to explain how our tools and activities contribute to reaching the SDG targets.

How public code supports the SDGs

As a reminder, we define ‘public code’ as open source software developed by public organizations, together with the policy and guidance needed for reuse. The most important public code powers public services that citizens and businesses rely on daily. These digital services are arguably fundamental infrastructure in the 21st century.

Our work to enable a flourishing ecosystem of public code directly supports SDGs 9, 11, 16 and 17.

orange and blue graphic listing Sustainable Development Goals 9, 11, 16 and 17

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

The Foundation for Public Code supports goal 9 by enabling new collaborations between public and private parties.

For example, earlier this year we organized and co-facilitated a market consultation for OpenZaak, one of the codebases we are supporting. The market consultation convened municipalities and IT-vendors to discuss future needs of both public and private parties and identify potential problems.

By doing this, they are building effective partnerships (SDG 17.17) and laying the groundwork for OpenZaak to become a sustainable, resilient and inclusive (digital) infrastructure (SDG 9.1) for Dutch municipalities. During the market consultation, the OpenZaak community decided that public and private organizations should always steer codebase development together and wrote this into the codebase’s foundational documentation. Since the market consultation, municipalities and vendors have set-up a governance structure together to further develop and re-use OpenZaak. On a monthly basis they meet to manage the responsibility of developing and implementing the needs of the community - making for an effective and holistic partnership (SDG 17.17).

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The Foundation for Public Code supports goal 11 by enabling sustainable collaboration on digital transformation at scale.

Increasingly, urbanization is planned and managed using digital tools. Using open tools to do so, helps lay the groundwork for making urbanization participatory and inclusive. This builds trust with civil society and encourages further collaboration in the urbanization process.

About a year ago we started working with Signalen, a system that enables residents to file a variety of nuisance reports, which are then automatically triaged and routed to the correct handling department within the municipality. The system has already been hugely successful in Amsterdam, and we are now helping a community of interested Dutch municipalities make Signalen reusable.

Signalen’s success can contribute to SDG 11.3: “By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

The Foundation for Public Code contributes to achieving goal 16 by increasing transparency, quality public service delivery and participation.

An important but often forgotten part of access to information is how policy is implemented. Developing public code projects in the open (publishing all code and accompanying documentation), allows the public to see how policy choices that are implemented through digital service provision work in practice. This helps the public understand how this affects their lives, for example algorithms shaped by public policy.

A small practical example of this is work we’ve done with the OpenZaak and Signalen codebases. We are helping them move their conversations to open platforms - to GitHub when needed, or to a mailing list where anyone can join or read the archive. This makes it possible for anyone to see what is happening (SDG 16.6) and also participate if they have something to contribute (SDG 16.7).

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals

The Foundation for Public Code supports goal 17 by building networks and making tools available.

Partnerships are the core of what we do. Our concept of codebase stewardship is centered on partnerships. Collaboration and participation by the many is key for sound digital public infrastructure. The Foundation for Public Code is a ‘commons’ organization. One of our greatest values lies in bringing entities together that do not traditionally collaborate, and supporting these with their concrete public code needs.

In the future

As an ever-increasing number of domains targeted by the Sustainable Development Goals undergo digital transformation, codebase stewardship work such as our own becomes increasingly linked to sustainability overall. Making sure that all SDG initiatives that develop digital tooling take into account the long-term support, iterative improvement, and maintenance of open code should be core to the overall mission of both the Foundation for Public Code and the SDG ecosystem.

We commit to highlighting how we’re supporting the SDGs in all our major projects in the future, because none of our work is independent or inseparable. We take the Sustainable Development Goals seriously, and believe that awareness of them is in itself important.