CitizenLab Goes Open Source to Encourage Participation

CitizenLab’s recently announced decision to shift to an open source model will remove barriers to participation in an attempt to make the platform more accessible to all civic organizations.

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Platforms like CitizenLab offer solutions for government entities to make data-driven decisions with greater transparency. CitizenLab has expanded its reach in recent years to better serve U.S. cities, and now it is open to all civic organizations.

blog post written by co-founder and CEO Wietse Van Ransbeeck on March 30 explained the company’s decision to shift to an open source model. The use of open source software in government can provide many benefits for agencies, like the ability to tailor base code to fit a community’s specific needs. As Van Ransbeeck described in the blog, the main goals in this shift are to lower the threshold to participation and increase transparency.

“Democratic outcomes shouldn’t be left to the closed algorithms of tech companies – after all, democracy is for everyone,” said Van Ransbeeck in a video.

As Van Ransbeeck explained in the video, this shift allows the company, as well as government agencies, to move toward more equitable processes.

“This model enables smaller governments and organizations, community groups, and political parties with limited resources to use our best-in-class community engagement functionalities free of charge,” he stated.

The core functionalities of the platform are available on Github under an AGPL license, according to the blog. What this means is that anybody can reuse or replicate the code.

At this time, the open source license doesn't include technical support or training from CitizenLab, but Van Ransbeeck emphasized in his blog that he hopes it will lead to innovative uses of the platform. He also encouraged civic organizations to share completed projects that use the code.

Currently, standard and premium functionalities will be source available, meaning that the code is accessible, while the platform’s most advanced features will still require a commercial license for activation. Existing CitizenLab clients still have access to technical support and guidance from the CitizenLab team.

According to CitizenLab’s website, the open source model will benefit a wide range of organizations and groups. The company claims that an open source provider can also help foster trust in local government as more citizens demand transparency from their local governments.

CitizenLab offers a development portal for software developers and enthusiasts that provides advice on how to get the platform running as well as how to modify the platform to benefit one’s agency. The portal offers tutorials, guides, references and background.

According to Van Ransbeeck in the video, this latest decision is part of a greater shift for CitizenLab as the company moves toward an open innovation model. The intention is to involve clients and partners in the process of adding new features or integration capabilities.

“Going open source means that we’re removing some barriers to participation by giving all of these smaller institutions a chance to launch consultation projects, create stronger links with their communities and harness the power of collective intelligence,” said Van Ransbeeck in his blog.

Van Ransbeeck said CitizenLab was launched in 2015 with the purpose of making decision-making more equitable and inclusive. Since then, the company has worked with over 275 local governments and organizations in 18 countries.