New Ideas on Governance: Sharing software standards

CodeForAmerica is growing its international network through partnerships with public agencies (such as park and recreation departments), conservation nonprofits, and individual eco-activists to create common software code standards that will allow all partners to share data, build common tools, and easily expand their reach. At the same time, it will allow others to adopt the software code, too.

As much human collaboration and governance work goes into creating these shared standards as might go into a non-digital collaboration effort. The difference is that the resulting software code can be used by anyone, anywhere. This allows new parties to join an effort and expand it without the governance process having to start anew. The standards are the result of hard negotiations and compromise, just as all governance structures are. Once agreement is reached, the standards will serve as a readily accessible scaffold for rapid replication and growth. The code offers a form of governance structure. In a nod to the popular software repository, I’ve called this “governance by GitHub.” (See discussion of GitHub on page 12.)

While software standards can spread easily, they are not immune to ongoing governance debates. Who will manage and sustain them is one such debate for digital civil society. Sometimes standards are a victim of their own success. For example, bicyclist communities in many cities are often unhappy with the maps produced through partnerships between city governments and commercial agencies. Bicyclists want to develop and use alternative standards that focus on the reality of biking in big cities, which includes potholes, detours, and traffic. Of course, standards can also serve to concentrate power in the hands of those who govern them.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015.