FLOSS and NGOs: A Compilation of Resources and Community Events

Link: Non-Profit Use of Open Source | Doc Searls' IT Garage.

Taran mentions the NOSI Open Source Primer, written by Michelle Murrain, Aspiration's board member. There has been a plethora of resources lately on free and open source software (f/oss) and NGOs; a brief compilation of the most noteworthy is below. There are also a number of organizations, both here and internationally, that are beginning to form a lively ecosystem of development, support, and community for f/oss and NGOs. These include certainly NOSI, Tactical Tech, us here at Aspiration, the LINC Project, Bridges.org, Mahiti.org, Commons Group and Community Bandwidth.

Here are some of the noteworthy resources on f/oss that we have been involved in or that have come across my radar.

Several are compiled here at what is the very beginning of an Open Source Almanac that first saw the day at the Advocacy Developer Convergence. It needs some love soon.

Phillip Smith, our colleague in Toronto at Community Bandwidth has released a very interesting article called "What Not-for-Profit Organizations Need to Know about Free Software.

Mark Surman started it all with the The Commons Group's Choosing Open Source: A Guide for Civil Society Organizations. Developed by Commons and the APC, this guide provides civil society organizations with both an introduction to open source and a framework for finding software that will meet their needs. Designed to be accessible and helpful to non-profit managers and others responsible for high level technology decisions.

There is, of course, the NOSI Guide, as aforementioned. The Nonprofit Open Source Initiative's (NOSI) Choosing and Using Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits describes what open source software is and what impact this type of software may have on the nonprofit sector.

It includes:

  • several case-studies of nonprofits of various sizes that are using open source software,
  • a process for evaluating whether or not open source software is right for an organization,
APC and Itrain Online have a comprehensive and growing resource for civil society organizations on f/oss, though not all resources here are listed there. Altogether, however, it is a superb compilation of articles and resources on f/oss for NGOs. The Open Source Guide for eRiders(technology consultants for non profits) is the work of yet another colleague, Teresa Crawford. This guide is for eRiders who would like to start implementing open source software projects with NGO's. The guide is also a place for eRiders that are implementing Open Source projects to submit resources and information that they've found helpful.


The Politics of Open Source Adoption, NGO's in the Developing World. Our friend and colleague Biealla Coleman just wrote this article, giving an overview of this growing movement and doing some fine story telling about why there is suddenly so much energy.  Cameo appearances of friends and co-workers.

The LINC Project at the Welfare Law Center(Dirk and Amanda in NYC) have put out a Guide To Choosing an Operating System that gives a very solid framework. LINC tested and compiled assessments of these operating systems: GNU/Linux distributions: Debian NP (now Ubuntu), Redhat, Mandrake, Slackware and Suse; Mac OS X: Panther, Jaguar; Microsoft Windows: 98SE, 2000, 2003 and XP. Target audience for all that LINC does is small, grassroots organizations, specifically social justice groups.

The October 2004 issue of I4D Online features an extensive set of articles on free and open source software in the context of development and civil society organizations in developing countries. Articles include an overview of free and open source software (foss) and why it is relevant for civil society organizations, as well as reports from Souteast Asia, Africa, and South America.The series provides an excellent overview of issues and trends in free and open source software in the context of international development by some of our most esteemed colleagues in the field. Bridges.org has these two reports out: Straight from the Source: A short essay based on interviews with software developers at AfricaSource, a workshop held in Okahandja, Namibia in March 2004 that was facilitated by Aspiration and hosted by Tactical Tech and other partners. The essay summarises the views of the AfricaSource participants on the obstacles facing the FOSS community in Africa.

Bridges also put out this "Guide to Free IT." The authors say that "this document is meant to orientate you in the realm of free software, and provide the current version of programs that will suit most of your needs, including word processing, email programs, and instant messaging. This document is about free Windows-based programs. We also encourage organisations and individuals to learn about free operating systems that are alternatives to Windows, such as Linux and FreeBSD, in order to make informed choices. The IOSN network (under the leadership of Asia Source hero Sunil) has developed an amazing set of primers and guides for civil society organizations, including An introductory end-user guide published by the UNDP on switching to Linux (using Fedora Linux as a case study.)  All of the primers are top-notch and have direct applicability to NGOs.

Community Building, Peer Networks and Events

In this ecology, we believe there is a critical need for community building and peer networks. To that end, we and others are throwing lots of events that do just that.

Most notable there are the Source camps (Summer, Africa, and, most recently,  Asia Source) and Penguin Days.

The Source Camps are hosted by Tactical Tech and local partners such as Mahiti.org for Asia Source, for example; and are facilitated Aspiration co-director Allen Gunn.

Penguin Days, day-long events in cities all over the place in the Western Hemisphere (from London, Toronto, Chicago, New York to the San Francisco/Bay Area).  Penguin Days explore open source software in plain language, build networks among nonprofits technology users, and help socially-minded 'geeks' find ways to support nonprofit organizations. The goal of Penguin Days is to make open-source software available to non-profit organizations who are in need of specific, often expensive or inflexible programs to manage volunteers, fundraise, or mobilize constituents. They challenge software developers to provide flexible and appropriate open source software for nonprofits. They also empower nonprofits to better communicate their needs and be active partners in the use of open source technology.

We love to see Penguin Days in other places and have developed the ‘Guide to Running You Own Penguin Day’ to spread the meme and share the joy. Give us a shout.

We recently held a f/loss usability  sprint to bring together usability experts, nonprofrofit technology users, and open source developers together to work on the usability of specific projects such as CivicSpace, for example.  The first in a series, the F/LOSS Usability Sprints address what is a maor barrier to adoption of f/loss among civil society organizations: the lack of good usability.  We are also interested in the issue of documentation (the lack thereof as another significant adoption barrier for NGOs) and localization of free and open source software for nonprofits.