Rising to answer the call: sound public policy for Open Source questions

I’m pleased to share the news that I’ve accepted the role of US Policy Director for the Open Source Initiative (OSI), effective immediately. Under the leadership of OSI’s executive director Stefano Maffulli I’ve joined and will complement its policy and standards efforts led in Europe by long-time OSI leader Simon Phipps.

In hearing OSI’s early stories by its original board members, I learned they’d been surprised by  governments seeking their help in understanding Open Source. These public-sector agencies consulted with the OSI on how and where Open Source software might play a role in their public mission. Governmental agencies rely upon non-profits—such as the OSI, that are neutral in their financial interests and chartered to serve the public good by their very definition—to assist in shaping public policy. Today, that need is more urgent than ever.

Every smart organization takes a pause to revisit their mission and value to the public they serve. OSI’s core mission, embedded in its articles of incorporation and bylaws, is to educate about and encourage participation in Open Source software. One could be lured into a sense that Open Source has “won” and that the mission is accomplished. But as the world keeps changing, the need to educate and encourage as well as defend the Open Source Definition (OSD) is simply persistent and continuous. As technology innovation and Open Source’s crucial role in it continues to rise exponentially, the need for OSI to be an asset for policy makers has never been more critical.  

For me, coming back to Open Source policy work is close to my heart. My roots in this space go back to 2003 when the first piece of state legislation on Open Source was introduced in the State of Oregon and, as the state’s deputy CIO, I was asked to provide the governor a position for the executive branch. Part of the bill required the Department of Administrative Services to define what Open Source was (not the best idea, but it led me to the OSI). My journey took me through legislative testimony and public hearings, integrating Open Source strategy into economic development, leading a non-profit government Open Source conference for seven years, supporting education and Humanitarian Free and Open Source (HFOSS) projects and forging lasting relationships with like-minded individuals and organizations in academia, government, nonprofits and industry.  

I served on the OSI board for eight years because I believe in the critical nature—often understated—of its mission. I am deeply grateful for the warm welcome extended to me by the OSI board of directors, who I had a chance to speak with during their August meeting. The value of policy work in support of OSI’s mission is well understood.

In today’s world, complexity increases constantly and policy-making responses to economic and security matters rise as Open Source software’s role continues to play a critical role in public and societal concerns. And what of AI and Machine Learning? We anticipate continued public discourse on these new technologies and the need for an independent voice to cover the concerns of public interest where Open Source is concerned. There’s no shortage of places for things to go sideways, or to go well.

There are many ways policy decisions can impact our Open Source software ecosystem and its benefit to individuals and organizations alike. We’re formalizing a program as a resource to serve the public and take on some of the most looming questions facing policy makers today.  Stay tuned. Better yet, let me know how you think we can help.

Former OSI GM Patrick Masson and US Policy Director Deb Bryant represent at White House Roundtable US Executive Order on Federal Code Policy, 2016.


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