Frits has been working for a long time as a community manager.
Having a unique question helps in creating a community. You have an answer: it helps if the question is unique. Watch out with the words you’re using, though, it is easy to use jargon that few people understand.
What is a community? A group of people with a common goal or purpose. Though what people think it is can differ. If you look at a glass from the top, it looks like a circle. From the side the same glass looks rectangular. It is still the same glass. People can look for very different things in the same community.
Membership of a community might be free (money). But definitively not free in your time. So pick your memberships wisely. And keep this in mind when trying to start a community yourself: don’t start big, but small. See what works, see what doesn’t work.
Incremental changes and improvements can help you grow your community. But don’t ignore the positive effect of those changes on your current members: changes and improvements can help keep them engaged. When a community doesn’t change, it can get stale for your old-time members.
You can look at hobby sport teams for community examples. You have regular trainings, you have regular matches. You also have chores that need doing (like refereeing or manning the cafetaria). And you need a board to steer and manage it all. They have nothing to do with the actual sport “content”, but mostly with the more organisation side of things.
A thing that changes in society as a whole and also in communities; less hierarchy, more network. We’re still used to hierarchies, they’re all around us. Networks have advantages of their own. When you cooperate, you no longer need the proverbial “sheep with five legs” or in your organisation.
So: less “command and control” and more “connect and collaborate”.
Some tips for building communities:
Just do it.
Focus on what unites you.
Make sure you have a unique question.
Have a diverse team.
Look outside your community to gain more context.
Time is the new money.
Organise the management.
“Shift happens”: adapt or stop.
Open source in the public sector is mostly mission-driven cooperation. Cooperation is the key. Smaller municipalities have to provide the same services as big municipalities but often don’t have the capacity: so cooperation.
Open source: you start with “an” open source project. Hopefully something useful gets build and put on github. The initial customer loves it and other municipalities take notice and are interested. That is where it often goes wrong: adapting open source in a different organisation is hard and often doesn’t work. The scaling doesn’t work.
Having a good idea and an initial open source project and some funding for initial product development: that’s in the project’s initial “happy days”. Next up is the project’s “death valley” where scaling-up, introducing it in other organisations and funding ongoing maintenance costs is hard. Only when you’re through that “death valley” do you get to a happy long-term vital project.
For scaling, you need support and management. Community management, software maintenance. You need a community of users.
He works for the combined Dutch municipalities (“VNG”) and tries to get this community aspect working. Often money is involved: maintenance has to be guaranteed by multiple market parties, for instance. You have to involve the market. The VNG can help provide a legal framework for cooperation.
The requirements for sustainable open source cooperation:
As government, you need to provice commercial-style/enterpreneur-style leadership, which is not inherently natural.
Sustainable financing. You need financing up front, but more importantly for the long-term maintenance.
Scaling is important for a sustainable, long-lived, trustworthy project.
Strategic cooperation. You can only scale an initiative when you have good, solid cooperation with multiple partners.
The cooperation needs to be managed and organised. A bit like a paid maintainer, paid collectively by a apartment building’s tennants. You need a “mission leader”.
“Profit for purpose”, a mission-driven cooperation model.
There was a question “moving to open source means a potentially difficult migration, how do you handle that?” Yes, there’s a migration. But if you now have commercial software, you probably need to contract for new software in a public tender in a few years anyway with the risk, also, of migration. With open source software, you can stick to “your” open source software, so you never need to migrate again!
“Just do it”. Be enterpreneurial about it.
They work for one of the Dutch electrical energy transport companies (“alliander”). They use open source for managing congestion on the network. As a company, they aim at using open source GIS to diversify strategically.
They noticed they needed to make a mindset shift. They needed to think in a different way. Visiting events like foss4gnl and the world-wide foss4g conference helps.
For GIS, interoperability is important. They have multiple web clients, several custom phone apps for the field workers, etcetera. Ideally with single sign on to limit the amount of times you have to log in. “Cloud first” is a management term floating around, which was also good for looking at the IT landscape anew.
Now they have arcgis/esri. Migration has to be done incrementally. They started with geoserver, deployed in AWS in a kubernetes cluster. The data is stored in a postgis database, which they’re slowly starting to fill based on the existing esri data.
Limiting the amount of logins: they want to do that with an “API gateway”. A single point where all the API’s seem to live, which transfers the requests to the various backend servers. Only: this totally doesn’t work with ESRI. One of the reasons they want to move.
Question: “by running on AWS aren’t you swapping ESRI for Amazon, also a big USA commercial firm?” No, by using containerisation and kubernetes, they can theoratically move everything over to another provider like azure.
Tip: if you need to provide access to certain restricted data, you can now easily simply start a new geoserver instance with its own access. You don’t use a single big instance anymore. Paradigm shift.
At his university, there’s research on house building projects. There’s the public Dutch database of all buildings (“BAG”). Buildings can have statuses like “being build” and “being planned” and “in use” and so, but those statuses aren’t always reliable.
ST_ClusterDBSCAN helps them to cluster buildings per year per
category and for cluster size. Clustering is super fast this way. The
geometries can then be combined.
Afterwards they can combine nearby clusters of new houses over the years: simply look which new clusters are next to the clusters of the year before. This way, you can follow bigger housing projects throughout the years. (And do analysis on them, of course, he showed some nice examples).
My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.
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