IGF 2021 WS #269 Inclusive Governance: Models of Open Source Participation

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (13:50 UTC)
Conference Room 6

Organizer 1: Mala Kumar, GitHub
Organizer 2: Peter Cihon, GitHub
Organizer 3: Dušan Milovanović, World Health Organization

Speaker 1: Samson Goddy, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Kriti Mittal, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Dušan Milovanović, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 4: Sayeed Choudhury, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Mala Kumar, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Mala Kumar, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Peter Cihon, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Technical Internet governance: How can the technical governance of the Internet (e.g. the development of standards and protocols, and the management of critical resources) take into account the needs and views of all stakeholders?

Additional Policy Questions Information: What new organizational and participatory models might be tried to strengthen the capacities of various stakeholders to follow technological developments and engage in Internet governance discussions in response to them?

This session will address opportunities in new organizational structures to make participation in, and use of, open source software more inclusive. Open source is a technical commons that has become prevalent as foundational software infrastructure of the internet. Open source software communities are typically structured so that anyone may participate in the collaborative building of software. However, inclusive participation is far from guaranteed. The session will feature a panel discussion with stakeholders from civil society, academia, the public, and private sectors. The panel and audience Q&A will focus on organizational models and community building initiatives that offer lessons on how to ensure that open source as a form of technical internet governance can better account for the needs and views of all stakeholders.



Targets: The session aims to share insights and strengthen global networks to improve inclusive participation in open source software. This supports international cooperation goals on technology and innovation for sustainable development across sectors and stakeholder groups (17.6, 17.8, 17.9, 17.16, 17.17). In effect, increased open source capacity contributes to infrastructure to support development (9.1, 9.a), enhance technological capabilities of and access in developing countries (9.5, 9.c). The best practices from WHO’s model can support stakeholders in strengthening their digital capacity to manage global health risks (3.d).


Open source software is a critical part of internet governance. It is ubiquitous, powering infrastructure--from servers, to browsers, to applications--that implements the standards that drive the open and interoperable internet in practice. In order to have their voices heard as this implementing software is developed, stakeholders need to have technical capacity to participate in development and to use open source software. This capacity ranges from an individual’s knowledge, to community support, to organizational and financial resources. Precisely because development is decentralized and capacity is not monolithic, global inclusive participation in open source remains a pressing challenge.

This session’s panel discussion will feature speakers from the UN, academia, civil society, and the private sector and will explore several organizational models for improving participation in open source that are being used by these stakeholders. Panelists will discuss their experiences implementing these models and share best practices for others in the IGF community to emulate in order to foster greater inclusion in the open source ecosystem.

One model is the Open Source Program Office (OSPO). An OSPO houses legal, policy, technology, and other expertise within an organization to facilitate participation in the creation and use of open source software. Although the OSPO model was originally pioneered in the private sector, today it is increasingly used by other stakeholders as a way for organizations to more effectively engage the open source software developer communities on which they depend. These OSPOs sitting in academic or public-sector organizations facilitate broader access to the decentralized open source ecosystem so that a wider variety of contributors can focus to help build better tools for the public good of a broader range of community.

The panel will feature two prominent examples with the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University. The WHO is currently establishing an OSPO to expand its engagement with open source across its ICT projects in numerous countries with numerous collaborators including the public and private sector, academia, non-governmental and other international organisations. JHU was the first university in the United States to launch an OSPO. In addition to its use of the model, JHU participates in collaborations with other OSPOs and is developing a playbook to help other organizations adopt OSPOs themselves.

Ecosystem development through funding and community building have an important role to complement specific organizational structures like the OSPO. The panel will feature two additional models from Omidyar Network India and Open Source Community Africa. Omidyar Network India (ONI) invests in Open Digital Ecosystems i.e. open and secure digital platforms that enable a community of actors to unlock transformative solutions for society based on robust governance. ONI has invested in supporting the build of national open data infrastructure in collaboration with the Government of India, a modular open source ID platform that provides technology for digital identity to developing countries, and a data exchange for improved urban governance, amongst other investments in ‘Good Tech’. In addition to open digital infrastructure, ONI supports research and multi-stakeholder collaboration on governance and community engagement, with the objective of ensuring these population scale technologies are both beneficial for society as well as responsible, in safeguarding individuals’ rights. Central to these efforts is open source capacity building in India: ONI has funded research on the state of the national open source community and is exploring a Free and Open Source Software Centre of Excellence which will provide institutional support to open source communities by convening capital, resources and networks, and catalyzing community infrastructure. Open Source Community Africa offers another model of community building, bringing together developers in chapter organizations and a collective festival to build a pan-Africa community dedicated to increasing credible contributions to open source from the continent. By investing in community building and individual skills at the national and continental scale, these initiatives provide additional models for fostering inclusion in technical internet governance.

The panel discussion will be introduced and moderated by Mala Kumar, Director of Tech for Social Good at GitHub, the global software collaboration platform home to more than 65 million developers. In introducing the topic, she will present research on the opportunities and barriers for participation and use of open source among civil society and in the broader social sector. Panelists will then share their experiences to inform best practices so that open source as a form of technical internet governance can better account for the needs and views of all stakeholders.

Panelists include - Dušan Milovanović, Solutions Architect for Public Health Intelligence at the World Health Organization - Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management at Johns Hopkins University. - Kriti Mittal, Entrepreneur in Residence at Omidyar Network India - Samson Goddy, Co-founder of Open Source Community Africa

Proposed agenda: - 35 minutes - moderated panel discussion - 20 minutes - open Q&A with the audience - 5 minutes - concluding remarks from each speaker

Expected Outcomes

This session will educate panelists and the audience alike on best practices for increasing inclusive participation in the development and use of open source software. Addressing this topic at this venue is an important outcome itself, as this layer of technical internet governance is not a common theme of discussion at IGF. The moderator will seek to draw out lessons and best practices from the panelists’ diverse initiatives and to engage in Q&A with the audience in order to support further capacity building efforts. This format will enable mutual learning from IGF and open source stakeholders that can inform the ongoing initiatives discussed in the session as well as future efforts. After the event, the organizers will publish a blog that summarizes the best practices revealed, and lessons learned in order to share them with a wider audience.

The session will be held online only. The moderator will encourage wide and accessible attendee participation by inviting (and compiling) questions via chat while the panelists are speaking and subsequently welcoming verbal Q&A from the audience.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: In introducing the topic of the session, the moderator will use slides with written text to aid those in the audience that may not be native English speakers. Panelists will be similarly invited to use slides for their introductory remarks. To facilitate discussion, the moderator will use the platform to invite audience input both through spoken questions and typed chat. We aim to increase participation by having the different organizations running the session promote it in advance on their social media accounts, and inviting the speakers to do the same.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Although panelists focus on different types of open source participation–technical, governance, community–their initiatives share a goal of supporting greater inclusion in open source software.Although panelists focus on different types of open source participation–technical, governance, community–their initiatives share a goal of supporting greater inclusion in open source software.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Cross-sectoral expertise is needed to expand the initiatives presented in the session: Open Source Community Africa, Omidyar India’s Open Digital Ecosystems, and WHO’s new Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

The session explored three cases of efforts to expand participation in the creation and use of open source software (OSS). Mala Kumar, Director of Tech for Social Good at GitHub, moderated the discussion and introduced the panel with some definitional remarks. She recognized that the participation challenges that face OSS also confront internet governance. OSS in the social sector poses additional challenges, as it is different than OSS more broadly: funding tends to be for new projects as opposed to sustain old ones, it tends to focus on stand-alone applications with graphical interfaces, as opposed to infrastructural tech, and perceptions of it vary around the world. Across the board, inclusive design is key: OSS tools are too often built in developed countries to be deployed in developing and least developed countries.

Samson Goddy, Co-founder of Open Source Community Africa, shared his experience scaling the community organization to define and lead on OSS in Africa. He has found that many OSS projects are Western-centric, and that language supporting as many languages as possible—Africa has more than 2,000 distinct languages—is a significant challenge for their goal of diverse participation. Open Source Community Africa operates on a city chapter program to bring OSS to municipalities and have the movement resonate locally. Samson started it in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, before expanding to Lagos and more broadly.

Kriti Mittal, Entrepreneur in Residence at Omidyar India, described her work on Open Digital Ecosystems, to promote government-citizen platforms. India has seen a paradigm shift towards open tech, with an embrace of digital infrastructure that is modular, open source, and uses open APIs. Yet, this approach brings risks as well: regulation is still emerging and data protection is a priority. Omidyar places greatest emphasis on non-technical layers of the infrastructure, focusing primarily on governance and community. She posed some difficult questions they face:

  • Should there mandatorily be a public body that acts as the institutional home of the digital platform?
  • How do we prevent the exclusion of people who are on the other side of the digital divide?
  • How do we protect citizen’s data while encouraging open innovation?

Communities are key: they help build and main trust. They help localize and fit the specific context, while promoting transparency and accountability. Community pressure, for example, led the Government of India to open source its contact tracing and vaccine programs—which enabled scrutiny on privacy issues in the code and led to contributions to improve them.

Dušan Milovanović, Solutions Architect for Public Health Intelligence at the World Health Organization (WHO), described the evolution of WHO’s global health information sharing efforts, starting after the 2015 ebola outbreak. WHO has made an effort to gather more information in addition to official statistics, including on animal and environmental factors, to realize “public health intelligence.” During the pandemic, they’ve embraced a collaborative approach that seeks to synthetize information before it become official data. The infrastructure that powers this collaborative intelligence approach relies on open source software. A new Open Source Program Office is being created in WHO to support these projects internally and externally worldwide. Dušan described WHO’s working principles on collaborative intelligence:

  1. Ethical Design to promote privacy, security, and ethical use of technology and data.
  2. Equity to work for the benefit of all populations and invite participation.
  3. Fostering exportation and innovation.
  4. Multiplicity: collaboration and reuse of systems.
  5. Interdependence: a one health approach that includes humans, the environment, animals, and world health data.
  6. Openness: promote the use and creation of open source technology, platforms, and tools for the public, to maximize citizen science.

Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management at Johns Hopkins University, was unable to attend the panel.

Questions from the audience sought more explanation on the non-technical aspects of open source from the panelists.

  • Kriti described the governance and community layers in her framework. She drew from the State of FOSS in India report to describe some current challenges and opportunities in these layers: organizational capacity is lacking and is in need of government incentives and encouragement from the private sector; FOSS-led technical education is currently limited; there’s not enough commitment from mainstream IT companies in India and the government to embrace and purchase OSS; there’s a need to localize and translate into Indic languages.
  • Samson described a need to build awareness among young people that OSS is something that they can join to build the pipeline of talent from Africa. There’s a need to tailor global programs to fit Africa. One friend has created a list of OSS projects “Made in Nigeria” as a good example here.

Additional audience questions focused on concerns about digital threats in OSS and ethical concerns on WHO’s using open data for sensitive biological information. Dušan described WHO’s approach to include security and software assessment in the scope of his work. WHO is careful to respect confidentiality requirements, using architected solutions to expose types of information without exposing individual values. In general, there is a need to expose analytical approaches to critique and make assumptions explicit, to validate approaches on, for example, how COVID risk is assigned using assumptions on transmission.

In concluding remarks that focus on current needs, Samson Goddy described efforts to get government support from the African Union and welcomed financial support to expand Open Source Community Africa, as currently one main event raises funding that supports the regional communities. Kriti Mittal described an early stage project to build an open source center of excellence in India, and would welcome the opportunity to learn from those who have set up OSS communities in the developing country context.

A review of the session hashtag on social media found an independent summary of the session available here https://dig.watch/events/igf2021/inclusive-governance-models-of-open-so… as well as one published by GitHub https://github.blog/2021-12-13-github-at-the-un-internet-governance-for…