12.2 Concluding remarks

This thesis have explored FLOSS, HISP, Ethiopia and developing countries. I have explored how FLOSS are and can benefit HISP, and I have explored how FLOSS are benefiting and can benefit Ethiopia in particular, and developing countries in general. This thesis has given a general introduction to FLOSS and HISP. I have presented one case study conducted in Ethiopia, where I worked as a DHIS translator. This case study was used to investigate FLOSS and Ethiopia, and HISP and the Tigray health bureau. I conducted another case study as part of the DHIS 2 project. This case study was used to explore FLOSS and HISP.

This are exiting times for FLOSS. The practice of source sharing and distributed voluntary development has risen from obscurity in the last few years. FLOSS offers an opportunity for technological marginalised countries to benefit from a lot of freely available information, both in source code form and in English (and to a lesser extend other languages). The source code opens up the black box of software in ICTs, and gives developing countries the opportunity to translate the software into the local context.

In the Ethiopian region of Tigray we used the freedom offered by FLOSS to translate DHIS 1.3 into the local context of Tigray. We would be unable to perform our job in Tigray if we did not have access to the source code. In Tigray the social aspects of IS development was the most important. The challenges we met was both technical and social in nature, but the social aspects was most important. Most of the time was spent on negotiating with the health bureau, conducting training and trying to get the different departments to talk together. As the only foreigner on the team I meet additional cultural and language challenges. I concentrated most on the technical aspects of configuring DHIS 1.3 to the local context of Tigray.

The awareness of FLOSS is low in Ethiopia compared to more technically advanced developing countries. For the few individuals in Ethiopia who have their own PC there are no clear advantage in using FLOSS. Cheap pirated versions of proprietary software are readily available. For the education sector and the general government sector, like the health system, FLOSS has a more clear advantage. Ethiopia have signed the TRIPS agreement, which require Ethiopia to ratify intellectual property right laws. This give the Ethiopian government an economical incentive to use FLOSS. Independence from software vendors by promoting open standards, less vulnerability to viruses and the possibility of fostering home grown computer industries are more important than the direct monetary savings. For Ethiopia to benefit from and contribute to FLOSS local capacity have to be fostered through the education sector. Some minor institutional support for FLOSS are in the process of being built in Ethiopia through efossnet.org.

The DHIS software has since its inception been licensed with a FLOSS license. However, the software was not developed using distributed voluntary development. The development was done by one team in South Africa. Due to technical limitations of the platform DHIS was developed on, distributed development was difficult. To overcome the limitations inherent to the platform DHIS was developed on, it was decided to start the DHIS 2 project. DHIS 2 is a total reimplementation of DHIS based on Java and Java frameworks. The single most important advantage of DHIS 2, is the possibility it offer for doing distributed voluntary development. Through participating in the DHIS 2 project I learned more about participating in a FLOSS project, and I learned more about HISP. To facilitate distributed development it is important with modular well documented code, good development documentation and an active virtual community. To facilitate the creation of modules which can be distributed independent of the DHIS core it is important with extensibility. Not all modules of DHIS are equally relevant in all contexts. How extensible DHIS 2 is and will become remains to be seen.

This thesis has been conducted within a social informatics perspective which recognise the importance of the social and technical context in which an IS is applied. Technology cannot be seen to have a predetermined effect on the social system in which the technology is applied. The social system is often changed by the technology in an unanticipated way, and the technology itself is also changed by the social system. Important to the understanding of how social system are changed and replicated over time and space is the grand theory of structuring theory.