In 2014 a team from Arizona State University's Center for Policy Informatics (CPI), supported by Network member Erik Johnston and led by Network Associate Member Justin Longo, began researching how GitHub might be used in public sector organizations to facilitate open knowledge sharing and collaboration. The results of that research have now been published in the journal Canadian Public Administration (open access is available here).

GitHub is the largest web-based source code project hosting service on the Internet, principally used for distributed version control of software and website development projects. In recent years, increasing attention was being paid to the use of GitHub as a platform for document collaboration, with the possibility that it could serve to revolutionize the practice of knowledge sharing within organizations and be a mechanism for open governance.

Along with CPI colleague Tanya Kelley (now a postdoc at the University of Michigan), Longo set out to understand how GitHub was being used in public sector organizations and how it might be used in future. Longo and Kelley also published a series of three blog posts on the Brookings Institution TechTank blog (starting here) where they speculated on what tools like GitHub might mean for public sector organizations.

“The history of computer-supported collaborative work platforms is littered with really cool interfaces that failed to appeal to users. The experience to date with GitHub in Canadian governments reflects this, as far as our research shows”, Longo said in a recent blog post. “But while it’s tempting to dismiss GitHub, as it currently exists, as ill-suited as a collaboration tool to support document writing, it holds a lot of potential as a useful platform for facilitating collaboration in the public sector.”

Abstract: GitHub is a web-based digital project hosting service that facilitates collaboration. We introduce how GitHub works and assess how it has been used in the public sector in Canada based on interviews with federal government leaders and a survey of Canadian public service GitHub users. With little research to date on public sector use of GitHub, and none on its use in Canadian governments, we explore the early experience with this collaboration tool and consider the possible implications for collaboration in government.

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