Week of 8 January – in Spain

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

On an invitation of the autonomous government (Junta) of Andalucía, I spent the whole week meeting with government representatives, private sector companies and academics working on ICTD  and using Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) to deliver services and information to the people. Political stability and political will has made this possible as long term policies have been able to be put in place. This has also ensured that a close partnership between the public sector, private companies and universities has been established thus creating the required ecosystem to make impact on the ground.

As the economies in the EU and the rest of the developed world are still in crisis mode, new business opportunities in so-called emerging markets are being actively sought by both national and local governments. Clearly, this was the intention of the Junta de Andalucía when it agreed to invite government representatives of 8 countries in South America, all of which are part of our regional project, International Public Software, which we have been implementing in partnership with the government of Brazil and, starting in 2012, with the government of Argentina.

Sunday

Arrived in Sevilla just after noon to enjoy great weather in spite of winter supposedly hovering in the Northern Hemisphere. Temperature ranged between 5 and 20 degrees centigrades which is more like Spring. And it was sunny too!

But not everything shines in the most populous region of Spain. Although Andalucía has made great socio-economic progress in the last 25 years or so, it is still one of the poorest regions in the country. The economy of the region is basically centered on the primary sector (agriculture, mining and fisheries) while industry is pretty small. The service sector on the other hand has been growing in recent years but it is still incipient. The government, in partnership with the private sector has created the Technological Park of Andalucía with locations in Málaga and Sevilla where our meetings took place. The economic crisis has certainly not helped and unemployment has soared to almost 30% (the national average is 20%). Provincial elections will be held in March and predictions indicate that the socialists will lose power for the first time.

Monday

Day full of meetings. From 10am to 3pm, the Economy, Innovation and Science Council (CEIC, http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/organismos/economiainnovacionyciencia.html) of the  Junta de Andalucía which has a very comprehensive approach to the use of ICTs in public administration with heavy emphasis on the use of FOSS. A series of public and autonomous enterprises have been created to support this, enterprises that in essence do not compete wit the business sector but rather work closely with it to foster implementation. Both the local government and the specialized public enterprises discuss and determine priorities and strategies and the usually outsource implementation. This is partly a considerable number of FOSS enterprises have emerged in the region and are able to compete in a market where FOSS is not only viable but also probably a preferred option in many institutions.

After lunch (which here starts at 3pm at the earliest), we headed to the Advanced Networking Center ( CGA, http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/averroes/cga) which provides technical support to K-12 schools in the whole province. At the moment it has almost 1 million users and supports over 4,000 schools. This is a very sophisticated operation that makes extensive use of FOSS saving approximately 60 million Euros a year. On the other hand, the operational costs of CGA are around 2 million Euros per year which is still much less than what is saved by not using proprietary software.

By 8pm we arrived at Emergya (http://www.emergya.es/), a leading FOSS company in the country. The company has grown from 4 persons a couple of years ago to over 80 nowadays which reflects the boom, so to speak, of FOSS in the province. The meeting ended at 10pm as we then headed to late tapas in a typical Sevilla bar.

Tuesday

A whole day meeting was planned by Extenda, Andalucía’s Agencia for Foreign Promotion (http://www.extenda.es/web/opencms/) with a focus on the private sector. SPI partners presented the situation in their countries in two separate sessions. And the meeting ended after lunch with one on one meetings between SPI representatives and private sector companies that support and develop FOSS. Evidently, Andalucía is making great efforts to expand the reach of local private sector companies to new markets specially in Latin America in a region where unemployment is close to 30%, unoficially, and local demand seems to be stagnated.

However, it was not clear to me  what type of partnership model they want to use t make this happen. This is critical as any sort of private sector promotion most probably be considered as procurement and thus subject to local competitive procurement processes. Little to no mention of other types of partnerships (mentoring, bartering of services, in-kind contributions, etc.) was made which could indicate that not enough thought  has been given to potential alternative partnership arrangements.

On their part, SPI members saw the approach by the private sector as one-sided (direct sells pitch) thus ignoring the current situation in their countries and the potential to develop win-win situations were both  sides can be on equal footing and exchange knowledge, experiences, and products and services.

I left Sevilla in the evening. Took the train to Granada, a three hour and change  trip which I used to revise our primer on mobile technologies.

Wednesday

Attended the all day GNU Solidario IWEEE meeting (http://blog.iweee.org/), a biannual gathering the focused on the use of FOSS for e-health in developing countries. UNU is now supporting the effort and is becoming an increasingly important partner for the initiative.  The meeting itself was a gathering of a diverse group of people taking about different issues and thus not limited to e-health alone. Being that as it may, some of the sessions still got quite technical. Medicins sans Frontiers had a large contingent at the meeting as they are apparently planning to start deploying some of the FOSS e-health solutions in the countries where they operate. One of the key outcomes of the meeting was the agreement to send a formal letter to the Open Government Partnership and request the inclusions of open health systems and solutions in the overall package.

In my view, the event still needs to grow more and include other actors and organizations that are working on e-health in developing countries. This however can have costs implications which the current organization probably afford on its own. A partnership strategy is thus also needed.

Thursday

The day was essentially dedicated to the SPI coordination meeting. Government representatives from 6 countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Perú were physically present. Cuba and Venezuela, that could not travel to Spain, were supposed to join via Skype but this was not feasible due to the time differences as the SPI meeting started at noon.

A key topic on the agenda was the shift of SPI coordination from Brazil to Argentina which should be finalized this month. This has both operational and substantive issues. On the operational side, the following tasks should be completed:

  • Complete 2011 APR for UNDP SPI project in Brazil and upload to DG TTF web site
  • Organize meetig between UNDP Aregntina and the Government to formalize process (started back in September when I was on mission to Buenos Aires)
  • Confirm ongoing UNDP project in Argentina to host SPI and deposit unused SPI funds
  • Complete annual work plan (AP) and project budget revision
  • Request UNDP HQ to issue ASL
  • Complete draft formal agreement between Brazil and Argentina
  • From hereon in SPI project coordination will be handled by the Argentinian SPI focal point

On the substantive side, we need:

  • Concept note and draft work plan for 2012
  • Partnership strategy to involve Andalucía and others
  • Resource mobilization strategy including potential use of South South cooperation funds the government has at its disposition
  • Expansion of SPI to other countries specially in both the Caribbean and Central America
  • Assessment of SPI status vis-a-vis CLAD -preparation for the Ministerial meeting of May

The second issue in the SPI agenda focused on the use (or lack of) of the official SPI portal (http://spi.softwarepublico.gov.br/en). The portal was recently migrated to a new platform (Drupal) and a new location. In addition,Brazil’s SPI team located within the Ministry of Planing of Brazil  has beefed up it internal technical capacity by recruiting additional expertise -also  supporting the Open Data portal recently launched in the country. The portal is not really being used by partner countries and still lacks relevant content. The new coordination has agreed to make an extra effort to change this and make the portal grow and linked it to social media sites, etc.

Licensing of public software was another critical issue. While Brazil has adopted its own license (based on GPL2) doing the same in other partner countries might be not only difficult but also expensive. The best option here is to adopt one of the existing licenses. Andalucía for example has released all of FOSS application under the EUPL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_Public_Licence) which does not support GPL3. EUPL actually aggregates several FOSS licenses under one umbrella with the aim at establishing a secure legal environment for  FOSS in  the EU. SPI countries thought EUPL could be a viable license only if the name could be change to GloPL (Global Public License). But more than a names, the issue boild down to national policies and legislation where flexibility across countries seems to be the name of the game. At any rate, this issue seems t be delaying the release of national public software into the international arena.

Improving the links of the project to more broad ICT for development of e-governance initiatives was also discussed. Given the fact that at least 4 SPI representatives are also national e-governance focal points and are in in charge of its implementing, completing this tasks should not be a difficult one. From a purely policy and political perspective, the name SPI does not do justice to the overall goals of the project. In the end, what we want is to have more effective and transparent governments where people and stakeholders can be empowered to be part and parcel of decision making process and of furnishing their own solutions to specific issues. For sure, FOSS fits this bill. In any event, linking SPI to e-governance is also related to changing the name of the project to increase its visibility and leverage.

Along the same line we find the approach towards CLAD. While CLAD has certainly been oscillating between hot and cold towards the project, the issue of transcending  the software real of the project is a valid one. In 2007, CLAD was able to get regional consensus at the Ministerial level (via ministries of public administration) on the Ibero American agreement on e-government. There is now need to build on this by making SPI a useful and necessary tool for the implementation of such agreement.

All in all,  and unlike previous meetings, SPI members were able to agree on a series of critical issues that now need close follow upby the new Argentinian coordination.

Friday

We all participated in the Open Source World Conference (http://www.opensourceworldconference.com/en). We were allocated 90 minutes for a panel focusing only on SPI. About 100 people showed up at the session which started almost 30 minutes late. In the end, there was no real room for questions. Video clip is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXrVbb9TjsY.

In the end, both Argentina and Chile signed agreements with the Junta of Andalucía to cooperate on the use of FOSS to promote e-governance initiatives. The press release is here: http://www.opensourceworldconference.com/en/node/945. Agreements with some of the companies met during the week were also in the works and will be completed based on country demands, etc.

Cheers, Raúl