Why Caution Your Blast keeps XGovFormBuilder open source
Why has Caution Your Blast Ltd (CYB) decided to keep our XGovFormBuilder open source? It’s a good question, and one I’d like to answer in some detail.
As CYB’s Full Stack Developer, I suppose I fell into the role of Lead Maintainer of XGovFormBuilder, on top of my job delivering services at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
For the most part, at CYB we’ve worked on XGovFormBuilder in an FCDO capacity, building a range of high quality end-to-end online services. The success of the services have proved beyond doubt that the XGovFormBuilder:
makes delivering otherwise fiscally unfeasible services possible
As government services are obligated to publish the code openly, these services should be, where possible, made available to the public to view and innovate on (they are funded by the taxpayer, after all). Yet there is no obligation for government departments to run open source projects, since they take a lot of work, time and effort to run, which is not feasible on top of delivering their services.
But we believe that keeping XGovFormBuilder open source has benefits for the wider digital community. By doing so, we can:
share examples of XGovFormBuilder usage on the dedicated Slack workspace
encourage contributors and users to think about the wider community by sharing ideas and knowledge
ensure CYB is able to share our technical expertise and experience in government, freeing up teams to think about problems specific to their services
ultimately create better services that make the most of taxpayer’s money
The community aspect of open source code is what makes it so special. The open source community will fiercely defend the philosophy demonstrated in this GitHub discussion, where a user calls to block Russian access to GitHub. That is to say, thousands of developers agree that Open Source Software means free and open to everyone to use however they like.
In my role as Lead Maintainer for XGovFormBuilder, I ensure all code contributions move the project in the right direction and don’t encourage vendor “lock-in”; I apply security updates and continually revisit the code to simplify it, further reducing barriers to entry, while trying to understand the varied usage and connect up the community. Although it takes much of my time to help people get set up or answer support queries, it means that others are invested in and using this project.
When I do get feature requests, I try to probe the need and make a call on whether or not it would be suitable for the open source repository and the wider community. Many of these feature requests come from a user need that their team has identified. Although XGovFormBuilder may not have a dedicated “in-house” team of user researchers, designers and engineers, we’re still able to benefit from their work. The community is continually feeding back into the project, whether they realise it or not.
From what I understand, DEFRA’s original code for XGovFormBuilder was part derived from GOV.UK Forms’ spiritual predecessor, GOV.UK Submit. At the very least, the form schemas look too similar to be a coincidence! Over a year ago, GDS began their (re)discovery into a form building platform for central government. As part of that, they reached out to existing form building tools, to try to understand the previously mentioned user needs, as well as the time and money savings the community has made. Better still, some engineers from GDS made some contributions back to XGovFormBuilder as they spiked into existing tech.
Recently, I’ve seen the launch of services from the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as well as the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) SaaS platform built on top of XGovFormBuilder. Every so often, I get enquiries from teams across government. Even if they don’t end up using it, or don’t contribute back to the main repository, their collaboration and interest is a testament to how important it is to have a form builder with a rich feature set.
AY CYB, we are delighted with the progress that XGovFormBuilder is making. What better way of making an impact is there than being used across central, local and even international governments? That is truly using digital as a force for good.
Caution Your Blast is looking for passionate developers, user researchers and designers to join its team at an incredibly exciting time for the company. If you think our organisation and the role matches your skills, experience, and interests, send your CV along with a few paragraphs outlining why you’d like to take on the role to firstname.lastname@example.org.