Coding on screen

Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Open, accessible and transparent

berlinopensource.de is a new platform that has been launched by Technologiestiftung Berlin (Berlin Technology Foundation, TSB) with the support of the Senate of Berlin. The website presents IT projects run by the Berlin administration and TSB that use open source software – and makes the codes available under a free licence. berlinopensource.de aims to improve transparency within the public IT landscape while making the latter more participative. 

Berlin’s trees need water – especially in summertime when they suffer from the dry weather. "Gieß den Kiez“, which translates to “Water the ‘Hood”, is here to help: initiated by Technologiestiftung Berlin (Berlin Technology Foundation, TSB), the website uses an interactive map to localise around 625,000 trees in Berlin. The application helps Berliners find out more about the age and types of the trees in their neighbourhood and displays the current “water level”. People who adopt and water individual trees can highlight them on the map.  

“Gieß den Kiez” is just one of currently eleven projects listed on the  berlinopensource.de website, which was launched only a few weeks ago. Other projects include the "Shared Mobility Flows“ website, which displays rental bike routes in Berlin, as well as the interactive  "Kita-Suche“ map, which lists every nursery school in Berlin (hence the name, which translates to ‘Find a nursery school’). Another site worth mentioning – particularly in summer – is "Berliner Badestellen“ , which provides an overview of Berlin’s bathing spots (the name literally translates to “Berlin’s bathing spots”) – with information on the city’s water quality updated daily. These applications all have one thing in common: they are all open source projects developed by the state of Berlin – or with its support. 

Benefits for citizens, companies and public administration

Generally speaking, the use of open source software is of great benefit to public administration: making source codes available can greatly simplify the ongoing maintenance and development of the software, while simultaneously ensuring that the public sector is not dependent on individual manufacturers: any service provider can work on developing open source codes – including administrative staff themselves. At the same time, the transparency open source software provides increases security, as this makes it easier to identify errors and security gaps in the code, as Benjamin Seibel confirms. “It becomes much easier for administrations to cooperate with third parties as a whole if their own software infrastructure is open, interoperable and well-documented, which should simply be the standard in the public sector. As administrations have no interests of profit of their own, there is absolutely no reason why the software they commission or develop shouldn’t be open source. Quite the contrary: the fact that open source software is so easy to re-use and develop means tremendous savings potential, as administrations can share the code and maintain it together.” 

In addition, technologically versed citizens can use open source to find out in more detail which processes the administration has digitalised and what happens to the processed data, for example. “That’s one thing we were able to observe quite nicely in the discussion around the ‘Corona Warn’ app, which is also an open source project,” says Seibel. “The code served as a basis for many people to join the discussion, provide notes on security and suggest improvements.” 

Companies also benefit from the use of open source software in public administration, as an increase in transparency significantly lowers barriers to entering the market – another argument in favour of berlinopensource.de. “To date, the market in the field of digitalising public administration is a bit obscure. Only a few providers really know which software is being used at all and how it works. Now companies can access berlinopensource.de for more details, which can help them tailor quotes to meet specific needs, for example. This is a huge opportunity, especially for smaller, local IT companies and GovTech start-ups.”

Berlin’s platform for open source projects could soon set a precedent in other cities and municipalities. “We would love to see other places follow our example, as open source has the potential to help cities share learnings and develop software projects together,” says IT expert Seibel. However, to date there are no plans to launch a cross-city data base, “Although that would be a fascinating project.” A short while ago, the new  "Leipzig gießt“ application was launched, which loosely translates to “Watering Leipzig” and is based on the Berlin source code used for ”Gieß den Kiez – something that is sure to please both the trees and citizens of the Saxon city now that summer has finally arrived. (vdo)