Talking about the Foundation for Public Code can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. We’ve collected pitches we already use so it’s easier to practice.
See our value propositions for each Foundation for Public Code user group for more detailed arguments if you anticipate a longer discussion.
These are pitches we already use.
For developers, tech people and open source enthusiasts:
- “You know the Free Software Foundation Europe’s (FSFE) Public Money, Public Code campaign? We’re helping public organizations actually do it.”
- “We are an open source foundation - like the Eclipse Foundation or the Linux Foundation - but then for public organizations. Public organizations are quite different so they need a different approach, but they can still benefit from that type of collaboration or trying to figure out how that works.”
For people with government experience or interest:
- “We’re helping public organizations that develop their own software to collaborate and share it with other public organizations so that the public doesn’t need to duplicate the work.”
- “We envision a future where software, as part of government, is taken as seriously as policy is now. Thus being open becomes really crucial. That comes with the added advantage that you can then be critical with each others’ open software and you can work together to make everyone’s software better.”
- “Every government is going through digital transformation. But there are way more governments in the world that are going through digital transformations than there are technologists that understand that or programmers that want to help with that. We need to be able to work together - it’s either we work together or we give the keys to companies that’ll sell us things, and then they’ll keep us in their grid. So we need to learn how to work together. As the Foundation for Public Code, we are trying to build that collaboration at scale.”
- “We help public organizations work together in order to go through digital transformation in a way they control and they are able to deal with. However, it’s in none of their mandates to help others, yet real collaboration doesn’t ever happen if you don’t help each other. The Foundation for Public Code adds a player to that field so everyone can help each other by helping themselves.”
For the general public, assuming no prior technology or government experience:
- “Today, municipalities and government agencies have small pieces of software to provide services, and every municipality has their own. But rather than contracting to consulting companies to build their version, municipalities could pool together and make an open source one. Then each municipality only has to customise it to what they need. We help municipalities work together.”
- “We help cities build and maintain public purpose, open source software together.”
For cocktail party audiences, assuming no interest at all:
- “I work for a non-governmental organization that helps cities use open source software.”
Tips when starting a conversation
Always tailor your explanation to the interests and background knowledge of the person you’re speaking with. For example, ‘avoiding vendor lock-in’ and ‘avoiding duplicating work’ are actually the same argument - just aimed at different audiences.
If you know someone has background with an organization, you can use it as a metaphor. For example:
- “We’re like MediaWiki Stakeholders’ Group, but for open source software for public organizations.”
- “We’re like the Apache Foundation, but for codebases that only make sense for government.”
‘Open source’ is controversial
We have different perspectives on open source:
- Don’t use ‘open source’ if you don’t know your interlocutor knows about it - say ‘collaborate and share’.
- Deliberately use ‘open source’ to filter people based on their technological knowledge level.
- ‘Open source’ really resonates with activists - open source is hands-on democracy in action.
We should reflect our founding principles in our pitches.
Avoid: “we think or we believe” [open source is better]. Instead, describe what we do: “we help municipalities” [share collaborative software].
Check whether the person you’re speaking with knows about:
- open source
- civil servants (who aren’t frontline service providers like trash collectors or politically elected, like mayors)
- public code
You’ll probably need to explain these concepts first.
What is the experience of government of the person you’re speaking with?
- do they trust their governments?
- what are their expectations of government efficiency and ethics?
- do they believe that vendors only get contracts through corruption?
When talking to someone who doesn’t trust government officials’ ethics or efficiency, explain that making things open reduces opportunities for corruption. For example, Slovakian law requires mandatory publication of certain types of government contracts. To encourage compliance, these contracts only become legally binding the day after publication.
Follow up questions
These are follow up questions we’ve received, and answers staff have given.
What’s currently happening with the Foundation?
We’re in the middle of changing our legal form to become a global umbrella organization with local chapters. We will no longer have public organizations as association members because this was too difficult for most interested organizations; instead, we plan to work with public organizations as partners.
Our mission, expertise and core activities (codebase stewardship, capability building in public organizations) have not changed. Exactly what each local chapter will focus on will depend on local needs and opportunities, as will their funding model. We already have a North America chapter, and plan one in Europe.
We hope the transition will be complete by the end of 2023. We’d love your advice on how we can make this successful.
Are you a lobbying org? Are you the same as the FSFE?
- No. We work with the organizations that have already decided to use open source. We’re non-partisan and can’t lobby, as per our founding principles and non-profit status.
- No. There are plenty of other organizations (like FSFE) that focus on persuading organizations that haven’t decided to use open source to do so. That isn’t part of our mission.
How are you funded?
- The runway was provided by a philanthropic grant, with the goal that the members of the association (which must be wholly publicly owned, like cities, provinces or states) pool the money and decide which codebases we should work on. In the long term, we thought we would be funded by a combination of member dues and philanthropic gifts.
- After we complete the transition to a global international organization with local chapters, we expect our funds will come from a combination of structural funding by provincial, national or supranational governments (to multiply our stewardship work with our partners), grants from structural philanthropic sources, and individual philanthropic gifts.
Is now the right time and place? What about incumbent vendors?
- We’ll have to see, but the idea is that we’ll work with the vendors to get them more work as more public organizations start using the same codebase.
Why are you an association when you’re called a Foundation?
- In the open source world, organizations that take care of the commons are called ‘foundations’.
- Foundations can be bought out and subverted by corporate interests, but this form of association cannot be.
- The Foundation for Public Code is registered as an association because this structure was the best fit for our goals under Dutch law.
As a reminder, our goals are:
- to stay focused on public interest
- to make it hard for a corporate interest to dominate the Foundation for Public Code (so we can’t ‘sell out’)
Read more about why we’re an association named a foundation.
To get more comfortable with these different pitches, we propose a game.
- Create a card for each pitch and audience type (listed below).
- Shuffle the decks.
- Have someone draw a pitch and an audience.
- Practice giving the pitch!
- Optional: have other players give feedback or score the pitch.
A more advanced version could include:
- opening topics to segue from
- interloctor’s country of origin
- interlocutor’s private motivation (for example money, security, democracy, public relations, being collaborative, seeking partners, seeking sales or leads for their company)
These are the audiences we’ve spoken to about the Foundation for Public Code:
- managers at a public organization
- general policy experts or civil servants
- developers at a public organization
- digital or tech people who work for a public organization
- general developers and other digital or tech people
- open source enthusiasts
- ‘open’ enthusiasts
- vendors to government
- politicians and politicians’ assistants or special political advisors (SPADs)
- the general public