Public Sector Linux

September 10, 2009 at 9:40 am 1 comment

By Peter Baeck

When describing innovation, various authors often use Linux as the prime example on how open source systems are innovations in them selves as well as catalysts for new innovations. But what makes Linux so fantastic, and can the ideas behind it be exported to other areas? Before setting out on this little Linux research adventure I knew that Linux was free and developed by its users rather than by a software developer such as windows by Microsoft. This is in itself fantastic, but what does it mean? 

First of all one should look at what value of Linux is. In his book WE-THINK Charlie Leadbeater describes how the version of Linux released in 2005 had 229 million lines in its source code. Developing this would have taken 60,000 person years, and would have cost as much as $8 billion. As Leadbeater points out, this becomes even more impressing when looking at Windows XP developed and released by Microsoft in 2002 which had 40 million lines in its source code.

So Linux is complex and is the product of a huge amount human resources. But can it be used, or is it just a program designed for the programmers and no one else. The fact that Google servers are running customized versions of Linux should answer that question.

So yes, Linux is a fantastic innovation. But can the concept behind it be exported to areas such as eldercare, health and crime. I think it could. What Linux basically does is create a simple platform for a group of passionate people with a particular interest, and let them freely develop this interest. But there is potential for this to happen within the public sector. As Scott Anthony, author of The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times points out in an interview with Businessweek:

 ‘It isn’t like innovation doesn’t happen in the public sector all the time. But without any mechanism to transfer knowledge, small successes stay small.’ 

So what is needed is better platforms where both users and professionals who share interests in a specific public sector field can freely exchange knowledge, test and develop ideas.

One example on how this can be done is the Innovation Learning Network, where people with relation to healthcare in the U.S gather to share and develop ideas on all aspects of health care. In an interview with The New York Times, Director of Innovation Learning Network, Chris McCarthy, describes the benefits of the network.

One of the first large-scale initiatives to arise from the network is KP MedRite, an effort at Kaiser Permanente’s 32 hospitals to ensure that nurses are not interrupted while dispensing medications. Other member health care systems have already begun to introduce the program at their sites. By using the group’s knowledge and experience, Kaiser Permanente accomplished in less than a year what would have required roughly two years to do without the network.

 The task ahead for the public sector must be to try and develop these platforms so that the different institutions never get caught in one way of doing things, but constantly develop and challenge existing concepts.

More on how to do this and expanding netowrks in my next blog.


Entry filed under: Innovation Policy, Innovation Worldwide, Research.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. alecpatton  |  September 11, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Just to offer another example, the Brazilian government moved almost entirely to open-source software in 2004 – among other things, this has meant that they can provide software to just about anyone they want without paying licensing fees. So, for example, when the ministry of culture funds an arts project in a remote area, they can ask the artists to document their working process on digital video, and edit a video – the government needs to pay for the camera, but they provide open-source film editing software, and the only cost is the CD it’s burned onto. There’s an article about what the ministry of culture is doing here:

    Also, here’s an article about open source software in Brazilian education:


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