Urban Fold

Clean Air, Open Code

Chris Steins's picture
California Air Resources BoardI was interested to find this interview with Bill Welt, the Chief Information Officer of theCalifornia Air Resources Board (ARB), discussing with ARB is increasingly building models and applications using Open Source software. The interview appears on the Mad Penguin website.

(FOSS is an acronym for Free and Open Source Software, which is generally synonymous with Open Sourcxe.)

"On the face of it, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) is not setting the world on fire with its well-documented adoption of free open source software. It is using FOSS primarily in the back office, just like so many other governmental agencies and businesses. But if you dig just a little deeper, as shown in this Mad Penguin(TM) interview of the ARB staffers responsible for moving ARB toward a more FOSSy future, you can see that the seeds of more profound change gradually developing. "

It's always interesting to see other planning organizations making a switch to Open Source, so I was particularly intrigued by the statement about why ARB has decided to use Open Source software:

Mad Penguin: Why is ARB using open source software?

Bill Welty: If you are looking for a word or a phrase that is a backdrop for ARB's success with open source software, it would have to be that ARB runs on collaboration as a philosophy of governance. From the Chairman's office all the way to the support staff, it's a very flat organizational structure. The rule- making process, as well as the IT program, is all based on collaboration. In light of the collaborative nature of our organization, it was a very natural thing to go to the Internet for software and to put our faith in those open source products we adopted. It did not strike us that this was a wild leap, because collaboration is part of our culture.

Narcisco Gonzalez: My biggest fear is that you get locked in with the proprietary solutions. We do a lot of research here. We collect, compile and process a lot of data, and we report it. That's really what we do. That's our business. We generate regulations to control air pollution, and the whole process of developing regulations is open. We need to keep that information available to the public we regulate. We don't want to require a group we regulate to have to buy proprietary software to read how we developed the regulations.

I'd guess that California's Air Resources Board would be one of the larger boards in the country. I wonder if air resource organizations from smaller states will be equally as adventurous. On the other hand, once California ARB develops a platform of open source software for the Air Resources industry, I suppose it will be easier for anyone else to make the switch also.

Thanks to .
Chris Steins is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Planetizen.


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