Being open-source means greater transparency on how the CitizenLab platform works, which in turn increases trust. It also opens the door to the development of custom plugins, which will enable seamless integration with your own systems and third party tools as of the second half of 2021.

In order to lower barriers to participation, the core engagement functionalities included in our Essential plan are open-source as from the end of March 2021, enabling organizations to deploy the code on their own platforms and run their own basic participation projects. This essentials open-source license does not include any training, technical support, or advice from the CitizenLab team who will remain entirely focused on our paying clients, both Essential, Standard and Premium. Also, CitizenLab does not host nor maintain any open-source platforms.

Advanced functionalities included in our Standard and Premium plans (such as Workshops, Mapping, and automated reporting), dit not become open-source, but are merely source-available. This means that source code will become visible to everyone, but a commercial license will still be required to activate and use these features.


1. Why open-source?

The short answer is: because we prioritize purpose maximization over profit maximization. Our decision was based on three main factors:

  • The importance for digital democracy: The primary motive to go open-source starts from our mission to democratize policy-making by involving more citizens into the processes. As one of the leading Civic Tech companies in Europe, we have a responsibility to show the way when it comes to open democracy. We strongly believe that open source can increase transparency, strengthen trust and help spread the use of consultation platforms. We cannot credibly preach transparency and openness from the governments we work with, if we do not practice it ourselves and if the infrastructure is closed-source.

  • Paradigm shift from closed to open: We have also noticed that the demand for open-source is growing amongst local governments, especially in some of our historical European markets such as France and the Netherlands where online engagement is deeply rooted. The move to open-source enables us to collaborate with governments on high-impact projects and provide adequate tools for online deliberation at a regional or national scale.

  • Maximization of impact & scale: When optimizing for our social impact, measured by the number of citizens making their voice heard through CitizenLab, being open-source can help us accelerate on this mission. Open-source platforms will help increase our reach and increase the volume of participation projects on a global scale.


2. What are we opening exactly?

We currently have three pricing levels: "Essential", "Standard", and "Premium". We're going to open up the functionalities of each level differently.

  • Essential plan: fully open-source

Our current Essential plan supports a limited number of projects and is fully open-source. However, contrary to our paid Essential plan, this essentials open-source license won't include any maintenance, support, trainings, guidance, or technical assistance from the CitizenLab team. Organizations who deploy the essential version of our platform using the open-source code won't have access to our technical support service, they won't receive any trainings, and they won't have a dedicated Government Success Manager to support them along the way with their participation expertise.

The open-source license is based on an AGPL license. This means that the code for these features will be made fully accessible and replicable, enabling organizations to deploy the platform on their own servers, to make changes to the code and to power basic community engagement projects. The only limitation imposed by the AGPL license is that users who make changes to the code will have to share these changes publicly.

The code will soon be available on our GitHub page.

  • Standard and Premium plans: only source-available

Our Standard and Premium plans will only be source-available, which means that the code is accessible, but not replicable. The code will be openly viewable on our GitHub page, but those organizations wishing to make use of the functionalities will still have to purchase a license at the current costs, and can't host it themselves.

The benefit of going source-available is that it gives a greater sense of transparency (enabling everyone to understand how the CitizenLab platforms works), and enables for better integrations with your own systems and third party tools.

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Workshops: staying closed-source for now

Some of our premium features, like automated analysis and workshops, are staying closed-source for now. We are planning to make these features source-available in the future, but there is no clear timeline just yet.


3. What's the benefit for our clients?

Our move to open-source and source-availability doesn't really change anything for our clients. The platform isn't going to change and the pricing models also remain unchanged. The move to open source is beneficial for our clients in several ways:

  • it increases transparency on how the platform works, which creates a stronger trust in the participation process.

  • it opens the door to increased collaboration between citizens and governments.

  • it makes custom plugins and integrations much easier, which means that it will be easier for clients to integrate the platform with their own or third party tools.

Those organizations who decide to make use of our free essentials open-source license do not only miss out on Standard and Premium product features, they also miss out on the training, technical support, hosting solution, participation expertise and the frequent platform updates that we provide. CitizenLab will not host nor maintain any open-source platforms.


Any questions or remarks? Don't hesitate to get in touch via support@citizenlab.co!

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