Newport News, Virginia Goes Open Source

Recently, the Newport News, Virginia Open eGov system was released. Using the Plone content management system, the system is designed for governments to install, out of the box, a website which also includes specialized departmental infrastructure. Newport News has also made the system available under the GPL; it can be found here.

I found this quotation from their Lessons Learned document interesting: “The adoption of new technology is an iterative process of innovation and learning…” While they did not use the actual term, it seems that the team which developed Open eGov utilized an agile approach to software development. Agile development does not mean a harem scarem approach to development; the team said that they spent a significant amount of time conducting research on best practices and content management systems before undergoing the customization necessary to launch Open eGov.

We are interested to see if this product gains traction. It is part of the PloneGov project, which, while claiming members in 20 countries, does not have an apparent member list, or much reach. I think that if the Newport News staff wants to extend their reach for the product, theyll need to answer some questions:

  • How can they increase citizen participation in these sites? I see surveys, but there is no way to comment
  • How to spread the word about the availability of this product? The product is, from appearances, targeted at local governments.
  • Is the Plone/Python/Zope package the best one to facilitate widespread adoption? The community of developers is much smaller than of other developers. Naturally, Scott Stults, our resident Plone and Python expert, believes its the right answer and could be seen dancing with joy when shown the Newport News announcement.
  • Why not put the project into a system that allows user contribution to it? How a developer contributes to the Open eGov project is not particularly clear. Perhaps this is an intentional result of the lack of desire to be the gatekeepers of others contributed code.

Seeing Open eGov is certainly, to us, a positive development. Now, well see what happens next. Building a great open source platform is just one part of the puzzle; developing a vibrant open source community is another kettle of fish.

Thanks to our friend James Walker at EzGov Europe for pointing this article out to me!