Background: an introduction to the Foundation for Public Code


  1. Public code serves the public interest
  2. Helping public open source projects become successful
  3. Sustainable codebase stewardship
  4. Join us

In the 21st century, software can be considered vital public infrastructure. From municipal parking services to public school administration, from databases in the cloud to smartphone apps for citizens, software has become fundamental to how public organizations function.

Service delivery and governance already depend on software. In the future, even more aspects of city administration will be enabled by software (for example, regional traffic management systems coordinating self-driving vehicles).

Public code serves the public interest

Throughout public administrations, digital services now execute (and modify) policies that became legal code through democratic procedures. Software code has started to equal legal code, but without the corresponding democratic accountability.

Software that runs our society today is often hidden in proprietary codebases, producing data not owned by the public, and licensed at ever-increasing cost from outside companies.

In contrast to this growing proliferation of ‘black box’ services, we define public code as both civic code (like policy or regulation) and computer source code (like software and algorithms) executed in a public context, by humans or machines. Because public code serves the public interest, we believe it should be open, legible, accountable, accessible and sustainable.

Building open, modular, portable public code gives cities more control and greater opportunity to reflect local values in their software development and implementation.

Helping public open source projects become successful

Cities are more interested in open software than ever before. But when they want to implement open solutions, they then struggle to:

  • discover existing open software that they can adopt
  • build open software flexible enough for future reuse
  • support successful co-development of their software by other public organizations
  • attract a community of developers to maintain software they build

The most successful open source projects have many collaborators, which brings down costs and diffuses risk. Despite the benefits, no single public organization has the responsibility to support others in using open public code.

However public organizations have recognized that by pooling resources they can enable this for everyone.

We created the Foundation for Public Code to help open source projects for public organizations become successful, build sustainable communities around them and create a thriving public open source ecosystem.

Sustainable codebase stewardship

The Foundation for Public Code specializes in ecosystem level codebase stewardship of both software and civic code (policy), enabling collaboration and re-use at scale.

Codebase stewardship consists of:

  • quality auditing of source code
  • managing codebase governance
  • nurturing developer communities
  • strengthening marketing and product management to increase reusability
  • helping public organizations and their vendors understand how they can best use public code with their existing systems

We created the Standard for Public Code to set the bar for public code quality - it provides concrete standards and best practice for how to make public code reusable, maintainable, findable and procurable.

Join us

Founded in 2019, we’re growing our movement every day! Tell us how you’ll fit in to our community.