IT POLICIES FOR DEVELOPMENT: ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF FREE LIBRE OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE INITIATIVES OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA

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IT POLICIES FOR DEVELOPMENT: ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF FREE LIBRE OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE INITIATIVES OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA

Abstract

In recent years the two concepts of economic development and technological advancement have become entwined so that they have, in many cases, come to mean the same thing. For countries seeking economic development through engagement with the Information Economy, policies supporting technological development claim privileged positions in national agendas. Often supporting this belief is the view that the most direct route to technological advancement is through full participation in the global information economy. However, for developing nations, full participation in this global information economy is at times impossible due to the need for attaining the levels of technological advances of developed countries. Few developing nations have resources to create internal information economies, which support national information products, software, hardware, and services.

This dissertation examines one of the exceptions, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which, because of high revenues from oil exports, finds itself in the unique position of possessing the economic ability to support the mandatory adoption of Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) in the nations' public administration.

This study seeks to understand how Venezuela's approach to development has contributed to the crafting and implementation of its FLOSS policies. An expanded version of Gallivan's (2001) framework of the contingent authority innovation adoption is the method for responding to the overall research question:

How have non-traditional social and economic approaches to development influenced the creation of Venezuela's FLOSS migration policy and its subsequent implementation?

The conclusions of this study indicate that the FLOSS migration process of Venezuela fuses the agenda of social inclusion, sovereignty, and freedom that the government pursues with the availability of a “free”[1] technology. The government promotes “endogenous development,” or development taking into account national capacities and expectations. The adoption of FLOSS follows this notion by training overlooked sectors of the population and nurturing private initiatives that do not follow traditional business models.

The present project specifically contributes to the literature that examines information and communication technology policies and its impact on developing countries. In addition, the theoretical expansion of Gallivan's framework can be used for other governmental technological adoptions where ideology and politics play critical roles.

Finally, this study also provides recommendations for Venezuela's FLOSS migration process that may be useful for other countries planning to commit to similar enterprises.

Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION

Science and technology are concepts that have been associated with a country’s comparative advantages and its potential for development. The application of scientific knowledge in practical artifacts or technology, within a country, is also considered a way to measure the degree of a country’s development. The fact that scientific and technological enterprises are activities that are present in most wealthy nations easily establishes a link (without specifying the character of this connection) between the development of a country and its scientific and technological activities  (Avgerou, 2003).

Scientific and technological activities always have been a privilege of elite groups. From a global perspective, developed countries continue investing in research and developing products and services that flood markets with low prices and high technology, and products from developing countries cannot compete. Besides, the investing-profitreinvesting cycle results in even greater returns when technology and science are the subjects receiving the investment (see Warsh, 2006). Therefore, this situation increases the technological, scientific, and economic gap between developed and developing countries.

During the last 15 years, the world has seen an increasing and fast evolution of information and communication technologies (ICT); with developed countries leading the knowledge-generation activities. Within this revolution, countries such Ireland have found paths to economic development and are case study subjects for researchers  (see Trauth, 2001). In addition, ICT has permeated to most of human activities, including education, health, and any form of tangible or intangible goods production. Countries' governments have discovered the need for investing in ICT because of the potential economic returns and the importance of these technologies for other human endeavors. The discussion has moved from the debate of benefits for a country's socio-economic wealth to why not all governmental ICT investments have successful outcomes (Walsham & Sundeep, 2006).

The expansion of ICT also has brought a new philosophy for the sharing of knowledge. Software developers began sharing their codes, looking to improve them and earning a reputation. New licensing forms allowed keeping these codes open, and a whole culture of openness emerged. The Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement has been able to create products that compete, and in some cases surmount, those of corporations (Watson, 2009). Governments are aware of the success of FLOSS, so the idea of using this type of software in governmental settings has been advancing.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela[1] in 2004 passed legislation making mandatory the use of FLOSS in all offices of the national public administration. This kind of policy is usually considered purely  technological in orientation, and even a continuation of a technologically deterministic approach. Even though Venezuelan FLOSS policies use a discourse that includes elements beyond the economic perspective, the country adopts a more social approach to development. The government of Venezuela employs terms related to social and technological gaps, sovereignty, and independence.

This research seeks to identify the nature of the Venezuela's FLOSS policies by providing an analysis of their critical elements and their relation with country's development definition. These elements include the origin of the policies, the evolution of them, and the results obtained. The evaluative aspect of this work is less extensive than its strategicanalysis part. In addition, the contribution of this research is to identify those practices that employees of Venezuela's public administration have found effective and that could be replicated.

Venezuela's migration to FLOSS is a unique case in which the introduced new technology has an associated philosophy that shares ground with the dominant political ideology of the country. In addition, the country has an important source of income due to the oil sector, a heavily bureaucratic public administration, and a politically polarized population. Under these circumstances this research tries to present an objective analysis of Venezuelan FLOSS policies and their contribution to the generation of new ideas for ICT policy makers worldwide.

 

1.1 Justification

Prior research related to Free Libre Open Source has focused on managerial aspects, and research questions were formulated to examine the reasons that drive developers to engage in FLOSS projects and the method for creating successful projects in the apparent chaos of an open community  (Crowston, Annabi, & Howison, 2003; Crowston, Annabi, Howison, & Masango, 2004; Schuster, 2005; Stefano, Manenti, & Parisi, 2005). A new line of research now attends to the political and economic consequences of the introduction of FLOSS systems in the market  (Economides & Katsamakas, 2006; Goldman & Gabriel, 2005). A particular niche of this research activities is the focus on the idea of introducing FLOSS in governmental institutions  (Câmara & Fonseca, 2007; Gehring, 2006).

Governmental projects related to FLOSS do not have a history extensive enough to allow evaluation of their results. Local governments and municipalities in Europe (i.e. Extremadura, Spain) have tested, with success, introduction of  FLOSS in their public offices  (see Vaca, 2005), but national level cases are novel. According to the CSIS, by 2008 ,10 national FLOSS policies were mandatory in character worldwide (J. A. Lewis, 2008). From all those cases, Venezuela's case is the only one in which the policy has a legislative character and a national scope.

No research exists that analyzes, at a national level, mandatory FLOSS introduction. To this extent, this study aims to contribute to the literature of national ICT policies by taking a top-bottom approach to the crafting and implementation of Venezuela's mandatory FLOSS migration. The blending of political determinism with the philosophy of FLOSS development in the Venezuela provides a rich area for study.

The idea of ICT for developing countries has been extensively discussed in the literature. Although controversy surrounds the degree of effectiveness of these policies, tacit agreement remains that ICT plays an important role at any stage of development. Even the UN has included ICT availability as one of its Millennium Development Goals to, “[M] ake available the benefits of new technologies−especially information and communication technologies”  (UN, 2009). The analysis of a case in which the economic and social aspects receive the same consideration, when creating an ICT policy, will increase understanding of the potential of this form of technology for developing countries.

1.2 Research Questions

Undertaking a research project that studies a policy that has a national reach is a challenging endeavor. Venezuela introduced its FLOSS policies in 2004, but the inertial character of national public administration has slowed implementation of the policy. Therefore, a merely evaluative account of the phenomenon is not recommended. The aim of this research is to undertake an analysis of the contextual, diagnostic, and strategic aspects of Venezuela's FLOSS policies. The contextual aspect is related to identifying the form and nature of the policy. The diagnostic aspect refers to those causes and reasons that shaped and continue to shape policies' implementations. Finally, the strategic element relates to identifying new theories and approaches that policies' implementations have brought  (Richie & Spencer, 1994). The overall research question of this study is:

RQ0: How have non-traditional social and economic approaches to development influenced the creation of Venezuela's FLOSS migration policy and its subsequent implementation?

The sub-questions that lead this study are focus on the contextual, diagnostic, and strategic elements described before, respectively:

RQ1: How has Venezuela's approach to development shaped the creation and implementation of it’s FLOSS policies?

RQ2: How have Venezuela's FLOSS policies been implemented?

RQ3: How do Venezuela's FLOSS policies differ from traditional approaches to ICT  development policies?

In addition to answering the previous research questions, this study seeks to provide recommendations for Venezuela's FLOSS migration. Recommendations are not suitable for all other countries. Economic, social, and political factors influencing public FLOSS adoption are different for each nation. However, perhaps the recommendations are somewhat useful for guiding policymaking activities related to the adoption of this form of technology.

1.3 Broader Impacts on Society

This study contributes to the ongoing discussion of the role of technology in the development of a country. The case of FLOSS adoption in Venezuela’s public administration is of remarkable importance for the debate. The technological artifact, FLOSS, has association with a particular set of ideas distant from merely economic interests. The country, Venezuela, has embraced a socialist ideology with notions of development that also go beyond economic aspects. The combination of these two elements provides new approaches for the debate involving technology and development. The conclusions of this study will be of interest to policy research communities, especially for those communities interested on information and communication technologies policies in developing countries. Given the recent governmental interest in FLOSS, the insights of this study will assist the development of new avenues of research.

Finally governments' officials seeking to adopt of a particular technology may also find value in the theoretical models described in this study and the insights drawn from the Venezuelan experience.

[1] I will use Venezuela thereafter.

IT POLICIES FOR DEVELOPMENT: ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF FREE LIBRE OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE INITIATIVES OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA

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