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In a recent report commissioned by the Danish Agency for Digital Government (Digitaliseringsstyrelsen), Sachiko Muto and I examined how software reuse through Open Source Software (OSS) can be supported and realized through public policy and related support actions.

Specifically, we surveyed 16 globally dispersed and digitally mature countries in terms of their government policies, rationales, support mechanisms, means of promotion, and success stories related to software reuse focusing on OSS. Our analysis provides a comprehensive overview with individual case studies for each country, along with recommendations and actions for policy- and decisionmakers at national, regional, and local government levels, both in terms of designing policies, and support actions that can enable their implementation.

Below is a brief summary of the report. Get the full report for all insights along with the 16 case studies!

Policy design and ownership

Most surveyed countries have established policies addressing software reuse through OSS, encompassing both inbound (acquiring new software) and outbound (sharing acquired solutions) aspects. While policies vary in scope (national, regional, local, institution-specific) and level of prescriptiveness (high-level endorsement, advisory, prescriptive), they are primarily owned by central Public Sector Organizations (PSOs) responsible for digital government, transformation, and procurement. Although the emphasis is on policies concerning the public sector’s use of OSS, a subset of countries also promotes OSS uptake in the domestic technology sector (e.g., in Japan and South Korea). Below is a more detailed overview of how the policies can be differentiated.

Policy dimension

Policy type


Policy focus


Focus on the PSO's own use of or contribution to OSS.


Aimed at encouraging OSS uptake in the private sector.

Policy direction


Concerns acquisition and procurement of OSS for internal purposes.


Pertains to the release of software developed through public funds.

Type of intervention

High-level endorsement

High-level endorsements within policy documents of a more general nature encouraging the use or release of OSS.


Recommend considering, comparing, and evaluating OSS on an equal footing with proprietary alternatives in acquisition and procurement policies (inbound context) and as a mechanism for releasing and reusing software developed with public funds (outbound context).


Explicitly expresses a preference for OSS before other alternatives unless special circumstances apply in the acquisition and procurement process (inbound context), or a preference is for releasing public sector software as OSS by default, unless specific considerations, such as security or confidentiality, dictate otherwise (outbound context).

Form for definition


Defined in rule of law adopted by the national legislative body.

Government instruction

Defined in formal instructions from the national government.

Strategy documents

Defined in national or agency-specific strategies, e.g., related to digital government, transformation, or procurement.

Scope of policy

National government

Regards PSOs on the national level of government.

Regional and local government

Regards PSOs regional and/or local levels of government.


Concerns specific PSOs.

Policy goals

Government policies promoting OSS (re)use in the public sector stem from various factors, with key policy goals including:

  • Interoperability among public services and digital infrastructure, nationally and internationally.
  • Digital sovereignty by empowering PSOs to make technical decisions based on national, regional, and local laws, norms, and values.
  • Transparency in public service operations, data management, algorithm-based decisions, and interface definitions.
  • Cost efficiency through shared development and maintenance costs, reduced license fees, and increased competition in tenders.

Economic arguments feature prominently in policies, while interoperability and transparency play strong roles in specific cases. Digital sovereignty varies in prominence, and the security aspect of OSS is approached from both positive and negative perspectives.

Policy support actions

Many policy support initiatives are in place or emerging among the surveyed countries. Some initiatives have been fragile in terms of support and funding leading to dormancy in some cases while in others, the support efforts have been picked up in later years.

Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs)

The report identifies the emergence of support functions and centers of competency for OSS and software reuse, also referred to as Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs).

On the national level, national government OSPOs typically resides with the PSO(s) responsible for digital government and transformation in a country. In France, this is constituted specifically by the Free Software Unit within DINUM, while in other countries the role is more blurred on the organizational level, as with Digital Iceland in Iceland and Red.es in Spain. In the Netherlands, an Institution-centric OSPO has been set up in the Ministry for the Interior and Kingdom Relations, with an internal focus on the ministry and its related national-level PSOs.

The lower levels of government also showed to have OSPOs in place in various cases. In Spain, regional OSPOs were exemplified, among others by the regional government of Galicia. Larger municipalities were also referred to in the study, including the cities of Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, and Aarhus. Local governments, however, seldom alone have the resources or capabilities to provide the necessary support. Instead, a common approach is to pool their resources and set up association-based OSPOs where they can share knowledge and initiate, develop, and collaborate on OSS. ADDULACT in France, OS2 in Denmark, and the Dutch Association of Municipalities (VNG).

Guidelines for how to interpret and act according to policies

These OSPOs typically maintain guidelines and recommendations on how to practically implement their overarching policies. Outbound policies generally have the most detailed guidelines in terms of aspects and steps to consider or follow when releasing public sector software as OSS. These guidelines typically have two main parts: one clarifying the legal context and supporting the decision on whether a piece of software should be released as OSS or not. The second part typically focuses more on how to go about releasing the software as OSS and building a community if that is a desired goal for the software.

Leveraging an external community for knowledge sharing and support provision

An important source of knowledge and support for the PSOs and OSPOs comes from the broader communities within the public sector, and across the broader OSS ecosystem. The BlueHats network in France is one prime example of a cross-sector community of individuals and organizations focused on the adoption and development of OSS in the public sector. Related to BlueHats, the Free Software Unit (i.e., the national government OSPO) at DINUM also facilitates a Free Software council, with experts and actors from across the public sector and larger OSS ecosystem. The board’s role is to provide advice on topics of concern within the intersection of OSS and digital transformation of the public sector

The case of Blue Hats exemplifies the importance and value of leveraging an external community to help support the implementation of OSS policies. The NOSAD network in Sweden provides another example of how public servants can interact and share knowledge amongst each other and together with the larger OSS ecosystem. The network facilitates regular meetups, operates communication channels, and an online knowledge base with resources to enable reuse and collaboration of OSS and open data. The Netherlands has adopted another network structure for knowledge sharing through their OSPO network which brings PSOs with internal OSPOs.

Software catalogues as means for promoting reuse

Several countries maintain software catalogues covering software developed and/or used by PSOs. In Spain, the use of the national catalogue is mandated by law, requiring all PSOs to publish acquired applications to enable reuse by other PSOs. The catalogue is however restricted to PSOs and is not limited to OSS. In contrast, the French counterpart code.gouve.fr is publicly open and explicitly focuses on OSS used and/or developed by French PSOs. The catalogue is maintained by the national government OSPO constituted by the Free Software Unit inside DINUM. All OSS listed in the catalogue have adopted the public-code.yml metadata standard for public sector OSS projects, which facilitates findability and adoption.

A less formal but generally recognized example is offentligkod.se in Sweden, a software catalogue listing OSS used and/or developed by Swedish PSOs. The catalogue was initiated by the Swedish PSO-centered knowledge-sharing network NOSAD. All reports are contributed on a volunteer basis either by the PSOs directly or the vendors providing services based on the OSS.

Success stories

There are several success stories of public sector OSS projects, such as X-Road, Signalen, and gvSIG, demonstrating the potential and opportunities for (re)use and collaborative development of OSS. The highlighted projects exemplify the common practice of hosting projects in independent organizations where the PSOs are either members or owners.

These joint organizations help pool resources and collaborate on planning, procurement, development, and maintenance of the project(s). More capable PSOs, such as larger cities and municipalities, typically play a leading role in the development and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the projects.


Based on our findings and identified practice, we offer recommendations for public sector organisations at national, regional, and local government levels. These recommendations aim to provide actionable insights for policymakers and decision-makers in Denmark and other countries seeking to leverage software reuse through OSS in their digital transformations. Briefly summarized, these include:

Policy for software reuse through OSS:
  • Investigate and consider how software reuse, specifically through OSS as an instrument, can be used for improving interoperability, digital sovereignty, transparency, and cost efficiency.
  • Establish an inbound policy detailing how software reuse through OSS is to be considered in the acquisition process of a new software solution.
  • Establish an outbound policy detailing how software reuse may be enabled through the sharing of acquired software solutions, either internally within government or publicly as OSS.
  • Establish an external-focused policy detailing how software reuse and collaborative development through OSS may be promoted or enabled within national industry.
Implementation and support:
  • Establish national government OSPOs to ensure effective implementation of any policy on software reuse and OSS per the defined policy goals.
  • PSOs should identify, set up, and leverage administrative and legal bodies as neutral arenas and stewards to pool resources, host, and collaborate on joint OSS projects and enable software reuse.
  • Municipalities, cities, and regions with the capabilities and resources should take on a leading role and drive the development and other PSOs on the local level in leveraging OSS in their digital transformation.
  • PSOs across the public sector should be provided support in defining how software reuse and OSS may be leveraged in their own policies for digital transformation, in line with the national policies, and establish OSPOs to execute on these.
  • Initiate and facilitate common networks across the public sector to promote knowledge-sharing and new collaborations.
  • Establish guidelines related to inbound policies, detailing when and how OSS should be considered in the acquisition and development of new software solutions.
  • Establish guidelines related to outbound policies, detailing when and how software developed through public funds can be released as OSS.
  • Invest in specialised training and education programs focused on OSS to enhance workforce capabilities nationally across the public sector and vendor ecosystems.
  • Create a catalogue of public sector software to promote and enable reuse within the public sector.
  • Create a national software repository for hosting and collaborative development of public sector OSS projects.
  • Engage in the national and international OSS ecosystem through key organizations, networks, and communities.

Looking forward: Need for new and revised indicators and indexes

However, a forward-looking approach to planning, steering, and following up on goals and practices for enabling software reuse through OSS is lacking. While current indicators for digital maturity touch on the topic to varying degrees, none delve into detailed steps for enabling software reuse or potential policy goals.

We strongly recommend the development of such metrics, both among countries leveraging OSS in their digital transformations and among organizations maintaining indicators for digital maturity. These metrics can serve as a guiding framework for countries seeking to mature and evolve digitally, with the recommendations of this report forming part of their foundation.