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Open Source Government Code Not Just for Muggles

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, January 6 2014

It's not just "Muggles" who can benefit from open-source government code. Over the holiday break, the Ministry of Magic from the Harry Potter series got its own website based on the open-source template of GOV.UK.

The "wizard" behind the project is Andy Brown, an entrepreneur who previously worked for the UK civil service. Following his graduation with a Masters in Engineering from the University of Bath, he was accepted to the Technology in Business track of the Civil Service Fast Stream, the British Civil Service's training and development program. The Technology in Business track is the newest specialization launched in 2009, according to Brown, and its graduates work in the IT departments of government departments, such as the Ministry of Justice, and also rotate through the business areas of the IT department such as IT strategy, project & and program management, and technical assurance.

Brown started with a position at the Ministry of Justice. "While I was there I felt technology was not being used effectively due to general lack of understanding & knowledge of modern technology. This was happening in most departments of UK government apart from in one, Government Digital Service," Brown wrote in an e-mail, explaining that he personally pushed to move to the Government Digital Service after eight months. The British civil service is otherwise perhaps best known in popular culture through the Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister series. The GOV.UK platform has received a lot of praise, including winning the London Design Museum's Design of the Year Award in April.

Shortly after that move in August, Brown organized a day-long crash course to better familiarize the other participants of his Fast Stream track with modern web technologies. Among the topics he covered was the use of HTML and CSS, and he was aware through his recent move of the open source template of GOV.UK, which officially launched in October 2012. "I started making the Ministry of Magic website as a fun example of the power of open source for that day in August. 4 months later & at Christmas I decided to sit down and finish it off and launch it. I didn't really expect it to get as much interest as it did, although as a HP fan I thought it was cool," Brown wrote.

"We are the legislative body that represents all magical individuals in the UK. We are responsible for and oversee all instances of magic within the UK. We are also responsible for the protection of British muggles and maintaining the anonymity of the magical community," ministryofmagic.co states. The site introduces the ministers as described in the Harry Potter novels, and highlights the ministry's topics such as Muggle & wizarding community separation, policing the wizarding community, magical transport, and games and sports, encompassing the organization of the Quidditch World Cup, and statistics such as Muggle Wizard incident reports and a magical beast register for the U.K. The current top item on the website concerns the "ministry security breach [that] released this website to the Muggle Community," with a search on for Andy Brown as the "Muggle" responsible.

Brown wrote that he enjoyed his time at GDS, but left to accept another opportunity and is now an entrepreneur on a pre-accelerator called Entrepreneur First.

He has heard from other Harry Potter fans interested in filling out the website sections with content, but currently hasn't set up a content management system for the site. The Harry Potter fandom community has already taken note and welcomed the "magic" made possible by open source.

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