Social innovation with open source software: User engagement and development challenges in India

Punita Bhatt, Ali J. Ahmad*, Muhammad Azam Roomi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A diverse range of innovative solutions based on Free-and-Open-Source Software (FOSS) have been developed for marginalized communities in developing countries. It has been suggested that such small-scale and home-grown solutions (e.g. mobile phone apps), usually championed by social enterprises (SEs), are more likely to introduce pro-poor change than infrastructure heavy ICT initiatives designed by state and other international actors. In the Indian context, FOSS-based social innovations (SIs) introduced by SEs are helping poor communities tackle previously thought-to-be unresolvable socio-economic problems. An interesting question, therefore, would be: in what ways is the SE model and approach uniquely equipped to develop FOSS-based SIs that deliver pro-poor change? The empirical component of the research attempts to shed light on this question by uncovering the nuts and bolts of the development methodology deployed by an SE during the coding and launch of an FOSS-based SI. Findings highlight the significant role of the founder's social vision; the challenges of accurately capturing and translating to software developers the nature and nuance of social problems; and, the incumbent issues in putting together a methodology that creates active user engagement throughout the software development process, overcoming difficult barriers such as language and culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-39
Number of pages12
Early online date21 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Developing country
  • Free software
  • ICT
  • India
  • Open source software
  • Social change
  • Social innovation
  • Technology policy


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