Union & Government Birds of a Feather



March 05, 2009

One of the things is common in technology conferences these days is side gatherings that are informally called to discuss certain issues.  They are generally referred to as Birds of a Feather Gathering.  Today I participated in two sessions (discussing nonprofits & CiviCRM) and initiated two (focusing on governments & unions).  All were quite interesting and a good opportunity to talk with people passionate about a sector they are involved in.

In both sessions there were nearly 15 people involved.  Considering the multiple presentations and discussion sessions that were available at that time I was very happy to see this type of turnout.  Both sessions there were active discussions that could have gone on for much longer.

So in the government talk it was impressive to hear about all of the new projects and initiatives that were going on in government. Certainly with Obama there is a new drive towards open source, their Rebuilding America site is a good example of that. One consultant reported that just earlier in the day two .gov websites had been thrown her way.  Others discussed the adoption of Alfresco for file management and integration issues with Drupal as a great solution for organizations.  MediaWiki was also brought up as a very popular PHP/MySQL tool that is being actively used by the diplomatic community, the intelligence community & even the State department.

There was general agreement about the prudence of adopting open source for government departments.  Unfortunately many people also reported that there is an incentive for government departments to choose a more expensive option to ensure that their budgets do not shrink in the next fiscal year.  We benefited from having participants from the academic world as well as from outside of North America. 

The union discussion was also very productive as we talked about our experiences with the labour movement's adoption of open source and the both technical, political and philosophical importance of a broader adoption of open source within unions.  Although we were in Washington, DC, walking past large unions buildings like IBEW and SEIU, there were no unions represented present at the conference at that time.  We almost came down with NUPGE's web developer, as they have just launched a nice new Drupal site.

Everyone agreed that there are huge cultural challenges with the integration of open source technology within the labour community.  However, there was hope that in these difficult economic times that there may be a greater opportunity to try new ideas, particularly if there is already an existing precedent for using them elsewhere. 

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.