In this session, the team who built the Drupal CMS behind VA.gov would like to share some of their insights into open source delivery within a large government project. To summarize, we came to see the “technical” aspects of being open source as being the easy part of delivering in the open; the hard part was creating an ecosystem to support and handle an open ethos that operated on many levels. We came to see open source delivery as concerned with creating that ecosystem, which comprises a culture and ethos, communication practices and the expectations surrounding them, approaches to risk management, and even contract and IT governance -- all of which cross organizational boundaries between vendors and the government customer. The benefits of open source can be fully realized only when practiced within that type of environment.
We’ll discuss the origins of the open source mandate for the VA.gov CMS, including roots in the federal open source policy, establishment of “default to open” as a key “play” in the digital services playbook, and the requirements for open source tech solutions within the solicitation. We’ll also describe the environment into which the team and project were onboarded, which included aspects that both supported and thwarted open collaboration. We’ll discuss some ways in the open ethos played out in that environment, including some ways in which the team initially stumbled, and the lessons we collaboratively learned as customer and vendor in how to more fully realize the benefits of defaulting to open.