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Why Open Source

Open source solutions consist of software and technologies with licenses that allow for access to source codes, the creation of derived works, unrestricted use, and free redistribution. The applications for open source software touch on a range of disciplines⎯from computer science to information systems, economics, and law. Across the globe, open source solutions are having a profound effect on society as a whole as a result of their inherent capability for democratizing technology and innovation.[1]


The rise of open source solutions holds potential for answering a wide range of existing needs. Many of these needs exist as a direct result of the digital divide. The term digital divide refers to, “inequality in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and inequality in the ability to derive benefit from ICTs both between and within countries...those without access to ICTs share some common characteristics including low income, low educational attainment, low literacy, and high unemployment.”[2] A lack of open source solutions keeps the digital divide wide open⎯and in turn hinders progress in developing countries and marginalized communities. The effects of this are most notable in key areas such as education, healthcare, and economic well-being. 


From an educational standpoint, restricted access to solutions relegates learning to a select few. Experts state that this lack of education can be understood as a failure to master key skills for thriving in a modern economy and society such as literacy, acquisition of factual information, cognitive skills, and socialization.[3]


Healthcare also suffers from a lack of open source solutions. Because the developing world lacks healthcare infrastructures and resources, the populations in these areas consistently face health crises that threaten the lives of millions of individuals. Restricted solutions mean that developing countries are likely to lack the systems necessary to enact care efforts that can be rapidly scaled to accommodate a high volume of patients.[4]


Furthermore, a lack of open source solutions translates to slowed economic development within marginalized communities. Experts have noted that in order for individuals to participate in the knowledge economy, they must have the ability to develop technology-based skills and actively create via ICTs.[5] When such technologies are not available to users within a community, the community will consistently fail to flourish economically.


Methodology


Experts posit that, “building openness into policies and technologies will result in greater opportunities for developing countries to transform into equitable and sustainable knowledge societies.”[6] As open source solutions become more available to developing countries and marginalized communities, we see communities accessing training environments that enable creativity and increase the earning capacities of participants.[7] Open source solutions are also becoming an increasingly viable method of addressing key issues across a wide range of sectors. Notable areas where effects are felt include healthcare and education.


Research into the integration of open source ICTs in healthcare practices within developing countries resulted in highly positive findings regarding patient perspectives on the usefulness and ease of use of such systems. Furthermore, 100% of users expressed the belief that the system served to increase the reliability of data and that such systems should be utilized on a larger scale.[8] Other research highlighted several key benefits directly resulting from the addition of open source software applications within medical practices in developing countries such as, “the ability to get laboratory results to remote clinics in a timely fashion, the ability to track drug supplies and expected drug usage...the [reduction of] medical errors and improve[ment of] quality of care…[and] improvement of clinical management by physicians and other healthcare workers.”[9]


Academic institutions and other learning entities also strongly benefit from open source solutions. Open source solutions lower the costs associated with education and thus serve to eradicate key barriers between students and learning. Expert research into the benefits of open source education solutions demonstrate that open source tools:


make possible a leveling of access to knowledge and information around the world, as well as provide the potential for dramatic transformations of education practice. Students everywhere, enrolled or not, have free access to content and interactive instruction, as well as to networks of people with similar interests, enabling them to collaborate in the construction of knowledge and to learn at their own pace. The act of modifying an [open source resource] to meet language, cultural, or readiness requirements increases useful access and may be a creative learning endeavor. Open high-quality content and instruction can set standards of practice and, because of their quality, transparency, and availability, help improve the practice of teaching and learning throughout the world.[10]


Given the potential of open source methods for solving problems and meeting needs, iFOSSF strives to seek out such needs with the goal of developing and deploying open source solutions that directly address them. In so doing, our work empowers the communities we serve with the tools and resources necessary to solve problems and develop healthy, vibrant, thriving societies.


[1] Androutsellis-Theotokis, Stephanos. “Open Source Software: A Survey from 10,000 Feet.” Foundations and Trends® in Technology, Information and Operations Management 4, no. 3-4 (2010): 187–347. https://doi.org/10.1561/0200000026.

[2] White, D. Steven, Angappa Gunasekaran, Timothy P. Shea, and Godwin C. Ariguzo. “Mapping the Global Digital Divide.” Mapping the Global Digital Divide. North Dartmouth, MA. Accessed September 12, 2019. http://interactivemedia.bradley.edu/ell/nmt/08/Mapping the Global Digital Divide.pdf.

[3] Pritchett, Lant. “Towards a New Consensus for Addressing the Global Challenge for the Lack of Education.” Towards a New Consensus for Addressing the Global Challenge for the Lack of Education, June 7, 2004. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.894.3332&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

[4] Fraser, Hamish, Paul Biondich, Deshen Moodley, Sharon Choi, Burke Mamlin, and Peter Szolovits. “Implementing Electronic Medical Record Systems in Developing Countries.” Informatics in Primary Care 13, no. 2 (January 2005): 83–95. https://doi.org/10.14236/jhi.v13i2.585.

[5] Haaland, Rishab. “Licence Fees and GDP per Capita: The Case for Open Source in Developing Countries (Originally Published in December 2003).” First Monday 8, no. 12 (May 7, 2004). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v0i0.1783.

[6] Smith, Matthew, and Laurent Elder. “Open ICT Ecosystems Transforming the Developing World.” Information Technologies and International Development 6, no. 1 (2010): 65–71.

[7] Haaland, Rishab. “Licence Fees and GDP per Capita: The Case for Open Source in Developing Countries (Originally Published in December 2003).” First Monday 8, no. 12 (May 7, 2004). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v0i0.1783.

[8] Bagayoko, Cheick-Oumar, Jean-Charles Dufour, Saad Chaacho, Omar Bouhaddou, and Marius Fieschi. “Open Source Challenges for Hospital Information System (HIS) in Developing Countries: a Pilot Project in Mali.” BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 10, no. 1 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6947-10-22.

[9] Fraser, Hamish, Paul Biondich, Deshen Moodley, Sharon Choi, Burke Mamlin, and Peter Szolovits. “Implementing Electronic Medical Record Systems in Developing Countries.” Informatics in Primary Care 13, no. 2 (January 2005): 83–95. https://doi.org/10.14236/jhi.v13i2.585.

[10] Smith, Marshall S. “Opening Education.” Science 323 (January 2, 2009): 89–93. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1168018.