Evaluation of the Brazilian Public Software Portal
IntroductionThe main aim of our research into Brazilian Public Software was to analyze the possibilities perceived to result from the information society at its present stage, as characterized by practices and relations established according to shared knowledge based production. The social network under scrutiny is made up of a variety of actors involved in a complex network of relationships in a governmental virtual space created for the purpose of developing public software in Brazil. It represents a pioneer initiative, the only one of its kind recorded in the world so far. The research object is the Brazilian Public Software Portal, a virtual space created in 2007 under the coordination of the Secretariat of Logistics and Information Technology of the Brazilian Government´s Ministry of Planning.
The main purpose of the Portal is to foster the development of a “collaborative environment that not only reduces the government´s costs but also enables the development of technological artifacts” (Santanna, 2007). According to Santanna, “the concept of free source code utilization – that must sustain modern societies – is central to the Brazilian Software Public Portal. The Brazilian Public Administration needed an environment in which diverse social actors would be able to share their computer solutions already tested and approved in order to avoid, among other factors, the overlapping of costs with others that are similar to the ones that already exist” (Santanna, 2007).
Contemporary authors such as Castells, Benkler and Simon underline the importance of shared knowledge based production to the economic development of this historical period. The Informational and Technological Revolution – in progress since the end of the twentieth century – has transformed traditional relationships, values and practices in scientific, technological, political, cultural and especially in economic domains. This historical period is characterized by an increase in the importance of intangible goods – such as information and knowledge – for the macroeconomic context of contemporary societies. Software solutions, in this epoch, are some of the main artifacts involved in the process (Meffe, 2008).
Benkler developed the concept of “commons based peer production” to designate the new way of production based on peer group collaboration, such as the one experimented by social actors in the Brazilian Public Software Portal. It represents a new means of wealth generation, where an open community cooperates, spontaneously, uncoordinated and voluntarily to produce informational goods. This model is different from the one observed in traditional organizations which have a rigid administrative functioning system based on hierarchies and in the production of goods with the main intention of selling them on in the marketplace. The shared production creates new economic relations and patterns (Simon & Vieira, 2008; Benkler, 2007). Free and public software have a central role in this process since they make information production and storage possible according to the commons logic.
The Public Software Concept and the PortalOur research aims to analyze the social network involved with producing and disseminating public software in the Portal. Public software is developed with public resources by a governmental entity or partners with common interests. Brazilian Public Software represents a new concept built out of the free software concept. It is a public product for general use in a shared production space available for the entire society. The Public Software Portal fosters a shared knowledge economy since supply and demand are gathered in the same collaborative virtual space. It is directed not only at social actors interested in establishing economic and commercial relations but also at the community in a wide-ranging way. Producers of software and users with other interests can also participate.
The Portal helps generate employment and income by facilitating contact between those seeking computer solutions, and those supplying them. It also establishes a complex system of economic, political and social relationships involving various spheres of society. Software, in this context, is not only a product, but also an artifact through which its creators provide possibilities for new forms of production. The actors in this scenario are simultaneously producers and consumers. They are what Tapscott & Williams describe as the “prosumers” (Tapscott & Williams, 2007).
The Brazilian Public Software Portal EvaluationThe research in progress applies theoretical principles of the Social Network Analysis (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Socio-technical networks - permeating all fields of knowledge production - are the objects of study. The networks of interest here are those made up of actors involved with public software production: scientists, technologists, managers, governmental agents and civil society members in general. The unit of analysis is the relationship established between them. From the analysis of networks it is possible to elaborate maps and typologies of social structures. Knowing the features of individual and group typologies in the Brazilian Public Software Portal is one of the main aims of this research. Its overall goal is to know the social, economic and political implications of the use of Brazilian Public Software and the consequences on the country´s development. The research evaluates the governmental program by defining the characteristics of individual and collective actors in the Portal´s network of shared knowledge production. It is then possible to define management and quality indicators that are essential to the consolidation and dissemination of the program.
Information technology indicators are developed to understand the reality of Brazil and its advances and limitations regarding the education and preparation of the population to participate in the present information society. The theoretical reference for the development of these indicators is the concept of techno-informational capital (Freitas, 2004). This type of capital arises nowadays as a result of the constant need for specific knowledge to control and manage machines that are part of any individual´s life in contemporary society. The techno-informational capital concept considers various elements as essential conditions for digital inclusion. These conditions are the material apparatus, the educational and cultural background that contributes to the foundation of tacit knowledge and the theoretical, methodological and technical knowledge necessary to access all available opportunities or possibilities . The individual´s insertion in the information society happens when these conditions are satisfied.
The research analyzes the social network that characterizes the Brazilian Public Software Portal or the “public software production ecosystem”. Interviews were carried out with the highest profile actors in the free and public software production field in Brazil. A questionnaire was also created. This will be available online for three months on the Portal so that all 29,000 of its users will have access to it.
The partial results of the data gathered so far demonstrate the success of the government´s initiative. This statement is based on some significant facts. Some of these can be identified by analyzing the history of CACIC – the first Brazilian public software. This software solution inventory was developed by a government agency (Dataprev) in 2005 and launched in the 6th Free Software International Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, using the second version of the GPL license in Portuguese (Peterle, Meffe, Castro, Bretas & Santanna, 2005).
At the start of its implementation, the CACIC software was aimed at satisfying internal demands of the Brazilian government. Gradually, the artifact started to respond to and fulfill needs of other actors and entities that were not necessarily in the governmental sphere. This fact led the researchers to conclude that the software was fulfilling a limited demand on the part of Brazilian society. A short period of time after the software solution was released, a significant network of users and developers was built.
Furthermore, another interesting data item came to light: the fact that the CACIC software was available in a public and collaborative environment intensified its use. At that moment, there were already free and open tools as well as proprietary tools offering the same possibilities, some of them more mature and stable in the market than CACIC. Even so, this software was quickly adopted by various entities and companies. Its rapid distribution resulted in a service providers´ network being established in all the twenty-seven states of Brazil. Society at large began progressively to assume a dynamic role in the process of software development, not only participating in its construction, but also reaping many kinds of benefits – not just economic ones – as a result of the shared knowledge based production.
By the end of 2006, a year and a half after CACIC´s launch, no tool had been replaced, implying that users were satisfied with the software. Two other characteristics were noted. An impressive number of users did not want to make changes to the available documentation, and service providers were willing to participate in the software migration to a new version. Results such as these confirm one of the main hypotheses of the research: the technological artifacts available in the Portal fill a market gap, and result in an increase in production, competitiveness, innovation and in quality of computer solutions. In 2006 it was already possible to identify a production network that had formed in the Portal, bringing together market offerings and demands in a unique forum, and promoting new contracts among the different players.
A significant fact observed nowadays is that new users are constantly forming associations cvia the Brazilian Public Software Portal. In October of 2008 there were 29.000 registered users. Over a period of two months, three thousand new users joined, giving an average registration of 1,500 new users per month. Even though the Portal is well-subscribed with formal users, some limiting factors have been detected. When the researchers set out to calculate the number of effective contributors in the shared knowledge production process, the conclusion was that participation was not as high as had been hoped, and did not include all the formal users. One of the reasons for this is the fact that many actors in this social network do not have enough accumulated techno-informational capital to enable them to participate. This scenario leads us to the conclusion that initiatives promoting digital inclusion need to be associated with other governmental programs such as the one discussed in this work.
ConclusionThe successful experience of the Brazilian Public Software Portal suggests that a new technological reference is being generated. With this initiative, Brazil offers an original model for the country´s development. Instead of acting as a developing economy – in which “the process of technical change is restricted to the assimilation and improvements of innovations produced in developed economies” (Rezende & Tafner, 2005: 46) – Brazil offers, in this case, an original model that produces “authentic competitiveness” in the world market based on new political and technological features. This means the Brazilian initiative of developing public software has the “capability of maintaining or increasing Brazil´s participation in the international market in the long term, promoting economic development and improving the quality of life of its population” (Rezende & Tafner, 2005: 46).
With the data gathered so far it is possible to observe a tendency confirming the hypotheses offered at the beginning of the research. The most important one refers to the relationship between the use of the Portal and the significant benefits and advantages to Brazilian society. The virtual space congregates, simultaneously, actors offering and demanding products and services. Basic elements for defining a model for the economic development of intangible goods can be derived from an examination of this space's characteristics.
The practices established in the Portal tend to generate alternative sources of income to actors that were once disconnected or weakly connected to their groups of interest. The virtual space offers an opportunity for the association of actors with common goals. The actors are integrated into a social network in a variety of more or less strictly delimited ties. This intensity will determine an individual's potential social and digital inclusion.
Another important conclusion is that public software is not only adopted to reduce costs, but also to increase quality and agility in the process of problem solving. When an impressive number of actors work collaboratively to develop a technological artifact, a significant amount of time is saved and its use, any changes made to it, the way it is copied, its modification and distribution are all optimized.
Knowledge production in a collaborative ecosystem leads to better results in a shorter amount of time than the knowledge production that takes place in a non-collaborative environment. It is also important to highlight that the results of this shared production are appropriated by the entire society. Thus, the Brazilian Public Software Portal integrates their participants in a new model of technological knowledge production, contributing significantly to the social and economic development of Brazil.
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 CACIC – or “Computational Automatic Shaping and Information Collector” – is a software solution that provides a precise map of the computer park of organizations and collects information regarding the environment, such as its number of computers and its distribution inside a company or another entity.