Adoption of open source software (OSS) for Uganda: A social construction perspective

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Abstract

Drawing from the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) perspective (Pinch & Bijker, 1986), this exploratory study will examine the multiple perspectives of the various stakeholders in the proposed formulation of a new legal framework for Uganda to adopt Open Source Software (OSS) as alternative to proprietary software AND as a means of propelling the country into the information society.

Purpose of the Study

This exploratory study will investigate and describe the issues and stakeholders involved in the formulation of an information policy for Uganda that prescribes the adoption and use of Open Source Software (OSS). It will be the first empirically-based study on this topic, and the results will have the potential to inform the Ugandan legislature and government policy initiatives regarding the utility of OSS compared with proprietary software to enable Uganda to bridge the digital gap and propel itself into the global information economy. The components of the study include: 1) description and discussion of OSS use in other developing countries; 2) examination of the various Ugandan stakeholders and their interests in challenging the use of proprietary software and their advocacy for OSS; 3) identification of challenges and opportunities for an information policy that mandates the use of OSS in Uganda.

Background and Significance of the Study

Reijswoud and Topi (2003) and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) (2005) published reports on the adoption of OSS for Africa as an alternative to proprietary software. Reijswoud and Topi argued that adoption of OSS would be cost-effective for African countries. The CIPESA report, a toolkit for policy-makers and practitioners, provides models for adoption of OSS but is short of empirical evidence from the countries it covers. Both reports however, do not address sufficiently the political, cultural, economic idiosyncrasies of countries, values and aspirations around which policy formulation and legislation coalesce.

A wide body of literature exists on the advantages and disadvantages of adopting OSS. This study, however, focuses specifically on the case study of information policy formation in Uganda. For example, one proclaimed advantage of OSS is that is free to download and use. However there are associated costs (e.g., knowledge and skill required to use the software, customization of the OSS for use in a specific locale, ongoing maintenance and support, etc.) that must be accounted for. This study will provide data about these costs and requirements in Uganda, and help policy makers determine if a relatively poor country such as Uganda can afford the use of OSS as a policy mandate. It may be the case that even if OSS is “free” at one level, it comes with a cost that some of the poorest countries in the world found in Africa may not afford. The study will also highlight the requisite information about OSS for Uganda's policy makers to inform decisions on appropriate national information policies related to OSS and proprietary software decisions.

Since only one country in Africa, South Africa (Frost & Sullivan, 2007), has adopted an OSS policy, this study will, besides making a contribution to the information science literature, provide an alternative framework for other African and developing countries that seek to adopt OSS as an alternative to proprietary software.

Theoretical Framework

This study draws upon two concepts from the theory of Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) (Pinch & Bijker, 1986): 1) interpretive flexibility, and 2) relevant social groups, to examine and understand the multiple, and potentially conflicting, perspectives and interests of the various stakeholders who may participate in the formulation of Ugandan information policy. According to Pinch and Bijker (1986), interpretive flexibility suggests that technology designs are open processes that can produce different outcomes depending on the social circumstances of development. The concept of relevant social groups suggests that members of a social group manifest similar perceptions about a particular technology and tend to push their group interests to either adopt or reject a particular technological artifact. The multiple perspectives from different stakeholders will enhance the potential of this study to draw conclusions that will help policy makers understand the nuances about both OSS and proprietary software in order to adopt an appropriate information policy for Uganda.

Research Questions

The study will be guided by the following research questions:

  • 1Who are the primary stakeholders and what are their complementary and competing interests in supporting an information policy that would mandate the use of OSS in Uganda?
  • 2Who are the key Ugandan policymakers and what are their information needs in formulating an OSS information policy?
  • 3If the information policy goal is to enable Uganda to join the information society and reap the benefits of the global knowledge economy, what are the appropriate comparative analyses of OSS and proprietary software to inform the formulation of the policy?
  • 1What recommendations can be offered to policymakers to assist in the formulation of an OSS information policy?

The study will provide answers to these questions through a research design that collects and analyzes appropriate data.

Research Approach and Strategy

The research design is based on a qualitative research approach and uses the emerging information policy in Uganda as a case study. Data will be collected primarily in Kampala, Uganda. A qualitative research approach is justified because it is a productive way of generating descriptive data to create a thorough understanding about phenomena previously not studied (Yin, 1984). Three primary data collection and analysis strategies will be pursued:

  • (1)Semi-structured interviews with key participants in the information policy environment including: government bureaucrats, policy makers, business leaders, academicians, software vendors, developers, users, and students;
  • (2)Focus groups with subsets of the above key participants; and
  • (3)Collection and analysis of public and/or limited access documents and reports relevant to the policy making activities in Uganda.

Purposeful sampling of representatives of the key participants will be used to identify knowledgeable participants who can provide critical information and assist in developing thorough understanding of stakeholder interests and their perceptions about OSS and proprietary software to be considered in the policy formulation. Appropriate qualitative data analysis techniques will be used. Triangulation of the data and results from analyses of the three sources of data will help render a high degree of confidence in the study results.

Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to the University of North Texas College of Information.

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