Pay for Pull – What We Learned So Far

DevExchangeBy Loren Mullane, Community Engagement, BCDevExchange

A few weeks ago we setup an experiment to test a new procurement model.

Called ‘Pay for Pull,’ this new model is all about learning how we can deliver on a key value proposition of the BCDevExchange – making it easier for the province’s tech sector to work with government organizations in British Columbia.  ‘Pay for Pull’ is one experiment to explore new ways we could attract developers to work on public sector tech challenges.

But experimenting with procurement is not our only focus. The BCDevExchange wants to encourage public sector organizations to become reference customers for local tech companies who can then take their product to the international market.

We also want to share public sector APIs, data, and code that entrepreneurs can use. Read on to learn about Knomos, a Vancouver-based startup that is a great example of an entrepreneur building a business using public sector digital resources.

‘Pay for Pull’ – Starting Small

In the experiment, the government’s Citizen Engagement team posted 3 specific software development needs as issues on GitHub, one of the most used websites for software development and collaboration. All 3 issues needed code to improve people’s experience when participating in an online public consultation. Each issue offered a fixed payment of $1,000 for the best code submitted.

The Citizen Engagement team’s websites use WordPress, a popular open source software, so we figured many developers would have the skills to do the work.

What Happened

We had some important questions; would developers work with government in this way? Would they submit high quality code? Would they see this as an easier way to work with government?

It’s early days, but the initial results are promising.

With only minor publicity about the test, developers engaged. They told us what they liked and where process improvements could be made and asked good technical questions to understand what needed to be done.

Better yet, they responded with quality code. For one of the issues, the Citizen Engagement team merged a pull request with solid code that met the acceptance criteria. A day later, the developer was paid $1,000 via PayPal. We have also just merged a second pull request, and payment is forthcoming.

Pull requests have also been received for the last issue.

What We Heard

We also learned that some developers are concerned ‘Pay for Pull,’ could entice multiple developers to work on the same issue, with only one ultimately being successful.

While developers retain the intellectual property rights to the code they submit, we respect this very real concern – no one wants a duplication of effort.

In response to this concern, we simply asked developers to let everyone know they were working on an issue by posting in the comment section of the issue. Our thinking was that other developers would be less likely to work on the same issue, if they knew someone else was already working on it.

As the test progresses, we will learn what we can about any potential challenges and continue to actively listen and respond to community feedback.

What’s Next?

The experiment continues. On March 2, 2016, we launched a new Pay for Pull opportunity from the innovators at the Queen’s Printer of British Columbia, who are responsible for the BC Laws API, a data feed for all provincial laws and regulations.

Published under a permissive license, the BC Laws API is free for anyone to use, including for commercial purposes. It has been a vital raw ingredient for Knomos, a legal research startup that was recently announced as one of 10 tech companies in North America selected for the accelerator, Microsoft Ventures.

Knomos is an example of another value proposition of the BCDevExchange – sharing government’s digital resources to seed business opportunities for B.C. tech entrepreneurs. Knomos is a testament to what is possible when government shares digital resources with entrepreneurs who see market opportunity.

We could not be more excited to have the BC Laws team as our next Pay for Pull opportunity. They have been an inspiration for us since the beginning.  The aim of the BCDevExchange is to make the story of collaboration between the BC Laws API team and Knomos more commonplace.

Scaling Up

If we can prove that it’s possible to conduct transactions this way, likely the next experiment is to take what worked, to try larger-scale transactions.

We’re asking ourselves how we could bundle multiple issues together for higher value transactions, and set up a way to qualify developers for larger amounts of work.

As always, we invite your feedback on this blog and the experiment. Let us know what you think.

4 responses to “Pay for Pull – What We Learned So Far

  1. Rex

    In regards to asking “developers to let everyone know they were working on an issue,” another way to to support this idea is perhaps letting developers build a profile page on the BCDevExchange website and then automatically list all the issues that they are working on their profile page. Posting a comment on the issues page on GitHub already looks a bit overwhelming. Finally, on the BCDevExchange website, you could highlight “popular issues being working on” and then “new issues” that doesn’t have any developers working on them yet. GitHub is great for open-collaboration code development, but a little clunky as a communication tool.

    1. Mullane,

      Hi Rex,

      Thanks for the feedback and ideas. We are exploring a few other communication tools that plug into GitHub.

      The BCDevExchange Team

  2. Bruce

    Following up on “The BCDevExchange wants to encourage public sector organizations to become reference customers for local tech companies who can then take their product to the international market.”
    As it has been a few months, have many public sector organizations become reference customers for our local BC tech companies?

    What is the process to follow-up on this to get reference customers for local tech firms?

    1. Mullane,

      Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for contacting us. Yes, we are encouraging public sector organizations to engage with tech firms who can then take the resulting product to market.

      A local tech firm AirSenze built an app using DriveBC’s Open511 road event API which travellers can use to plan their trips on provincial highways. Based in Vancouver, Knomos built a visual legal research tool that maps the law using the BC Laws API, a data feed of all the Province’s laws and regulations. Both APIs are available through the BC Developers’ Exchange.

      The BCDevExchange is also experimenting with a new procurement model called ‘Code With Us’ (formerly Pay for Pull). Developers who create code for a ‘Code With Us’ retain the intellectual property for this code, so they can use if for other customers.

      We also hosted a number of Discovery Days, where public sector organizations shared their business needs with entrepreneurs. Those Discovery Days have led to continued engagement, including as you know with the Vancouver based firm PlaceSpeak.

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