GitHub and the public sector: a promising mix
Last April, a US citizen proposed a change in a government document hosted on GitHub. Despite the banality of the change (a spelling correction), the government agency inaugurated, by accepting it, a new era of citizen participation.
GIT AND GITHUB IN A NUTSHELL
Git is a change tracking system created by Linus Torval (the creator of Linux). It allows several people to work at the same time on the same files, typically computer source codes.
GitHub is a file hosting service using the Git system, used by millions of programmers around the world.
GitHub received an investment of 100 million in 2012.
GERMAN LAWS ON GITHUB
The German government has been publishing federal laws on Github for some time. One of the goals of this initiative is to collect citizen proposals. By proposing a change in a text (called a pull request on Github), a citizen participates in the development of amendments to the law. Obviously, only the changes voted by the parliament will then be accepted, but the fact that a citizen can make a suggestion so easily constitutes a small revolution.
German parliament homepage on GitHub
The aim of the parliament is now to host all German laws on GitHub.
The Government Digital Service, the UK government's web department, is using GitHub even more radically. All site content is published and edited directly on Github. A bit like we would do for software, it is a script that allows you to generate the entire website periodically, from the text on Github.
Of course, the Government Digital Service openly gives full details of the technologies it employs, with the aim of inspiring other government agencies.
The White House is also present on GitHub. One can, for example, download the source code of the application "Petitions" which supports the We the people website, which has been in the news a lot lately.
In Canada, the most popular project on Github is the Web Experience Toolkit (WET). In 2012, the Treasury Board of Canada published the project. The directory brings together various reusable and ready-to-use components for designing and updating websites. According to this Wired article, the project would have more than thirty contributors from government agencies.
AND IN QUEBEC?
According to my research, Quebec open data initiatives are currently limited to the dissemination of data. Rather than using Github, we generally turn to an in-house website to distribute the data.
Beyond open data, systems like Github allow citizens to contribute more concretely to public sector initiatives. Correct an error in a document, propose changes, fix bugs in computer code, the possibilities are great. NASA, the White House and the British and German governments have taken the first steps that will hopefully lead to similar initiatives in Quebec and Canada.