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PloneGov: a successful project internationalization

by xavier last modified 2009-06-30 11:04

PloneGov is an innovative collaborative e-government initiative. The project is open to any collaboration from any country. After 1-year existence, it already reaches 20 countries in 4 continents. This article investigates why over 100 public organizations including towns, cities, regions and parliaments from as many countries are working together to share software and best practices.

Based on a case study by the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR), an initiative of the European Commission's IDABC project.



Back in history, CommunesPlone  went beyond the borders of the Belgian Walloon region, the first Belgian Flemish town became involved with PloneGov in mid-2006, as well as two French municipalities. At this point, Xavier Heymans pushed for an internationalisation of the project and contacted Zea members SMEs in different countries.

The key event for international collaboration came at the end of May 2007. At the First Plone e-Government Workshop, which took place in Brussels on May 30 and June 1 2007, public sector workers and SMEs from many countries got together to find out what kind of software already existed, what collaborations are possible, and how to avoid duplicating effort. These experts represented eGovernment projects from a number of countries including Switzerland, Spain, France, Argentina, Ireland and The Netherlands.

"Through this cooperation, everybody can re-use existing code, and put their effort into developing new applications. There are big economics of scale for all of them", says Heymans. For example, the Swiss group was building a meeting management tool as well, but the Belgian application proved more advanced. On the other hand, a Swiss tool for managing electronic documents is more mature than what CommunesPlone has for this purpose. Swiss and Belgian programmers have gotten together to improve and integrate both tools in a "sprint", a short, intense meeting of a few days. (Such sprints are typical for the Plone community's way of working.)


Managing different cultures

But aren't the administrative processes different in every country, so that it is hard to re-use an application from another state? Heymans: "That's what everybody thinks. But once you look into it, it's really not that difficult. When the Swiss saw PloneGov's town meeting application, it was just what they needed. The French changed a few words — they have a different name for the town assembly — but the process is about the same."

He emphasizes that the advantages of re-use are far greater than possible difficulties: "There are many possibilities for collaboration. In some cases you have to adapt the tool to fit the processes in another country, but at least you have a working application as a starting point."

Naturally, public administrations in different countries also work in different languages. Though administrations from French-speaking regions and countries (Wallonia, France, French Speaking Switzerland) currently make up a significant share of PloneGov's members, other languages are also present. Translations are done by the body that wants to re-use a particular application. When, for example, an English-speaking public body in South Africa wants to make use of a program that was originally written in the French-speaking part of Belgium, it needs to translate the user interface. Again, the application might not be a perfect fit from the beginning, but it will usually offer a convenient starting point for local adaptations.

Moreover, Plone is available in 40 languages. The CMS was designed from the ground up for multilingual content management. It handles Chinese, Japanese, and even right-to-left languages as Arabic and Hebrew with ease.


Marketing and Management

Zea Partners, a network of SMEs working with Plone and Zope, is coordinating PloneGov. It handles the strategic and international aspects of PloneGov, as well as marketing and communications. Zea Partners' network of SMEs has been key to the international growth of the PloneGov project.

He agrees with Joël Lambillotte that the international growth of the PloneGov network is driven by SMEs working with Plone. "The public sector's mission is local government. It's not in their mission to develop collaboration with other countries. Through the Zea Partners network, we reach 15 countries in four continents", says Heymans.

By participating in the PloneGov project, SMEs can more easily reach the market. "We get a lot of interest from SMEs. They see a huge business opportunity here", says Heymans. Thus PloneGov momentum keeps growing as the project attracts more and more actors from actors from the public sector as well as innovative SMEs.