Report From a Week of TYPO3 in Papua New Guinea

Categories: Community development, Community, Association, TYPO3 CMS, Education & Certification Created by Mathias Bolt Lesniak
From high-level strategy and practical technology demos for the government and private sector to meetings with diplomats. Read what happened when TYPO3 sent a delegation to Papua New Guinea for a week-long schedule of presentations and meetings.

TYPO3 Community Expansion Committee lead Daniel Homorodean from Arxia  (Romania), TYPO3 Association Board member Mathias Bolt Lesniak from toujou (Norway/New Zealand), and Stevo O’Rourke from Ocular (New Zealand), visited Papua New Guinea 11–17 June 2023.

“Got visa!!!” The message pops up on my phone and a moment later I check my email. I've got one too.

The message from Stevo arrives ten minutes after I arrive in our shared hotel room by the airport in Brisbane, Australia. Stevo is due to board his flight in Wellington, New Zealand, and must have checked his mail one last time before turning his phone off.

It's cutting it fine. Receiving the visas for Papua New Guinea now is a great relief, as we won’t be able to board tomorrow's flight without them. It’s Saturday afternoon, so someone must have been brought in to organize them especially for us.

Approach at Sunset

So: Stevo and I are ready to go to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, for a week of meetings and presentations of TYPO3. Will the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) consider our CMS for the government? After our success in Rwanda, we hope so! What will they say about our plan for a six-month knowledge-transfer program for their civil servants and local agencies?

While we approach Papua New Guinea from Australia, Daniel, our third companion and the TYPO3 Expansion Committee troupe's impresario, is heading in from the west. He's been to a trade fair in Singapore. Due to some extensive delays at his end, we'll all be touching down in Port Moresby around the same time. Luckily, he already met the DICT team at a conference in Estonia a few weeks back, and has things sorted.

Landing in Port Moresby at sunset is beautiful, especially when you arrive from the south and can enjoy the glittering water between the contours of the city's southern archipelago.

By the time we're out of the plane and through immigration and customs, the sun is gone and the night is upon us. So, too, is Daniel, who landed not long after us. We have been warned about venturing outside after dark or trying the local taxis, and today we're glad the hotel offers a free shuttle bus from the airport.

Playing Well With Open Source

The next morning, Russell Woruba picks us up at the hotel and gives us a quick tour outside of the hotel gates. He is the deputy secretary for digital government and information delivery at DICT, and it turns out we're located bang in the middle of the administrative center of Papua New Guinea. Parliament, government offices, departments, and agencies, are scattered around.

Russell soon parks the car in the DICT garage and gives us a tour of the offices. He is a devout man of high principle, who has chosen civil service as a chance to do good for his country. We soon learn that his admirable work ethic is shared by his staff and coworkers too. This is a will to do good that plays well with our open-source ethos.

Still, the need for such a conviction also illustrates one of the country's challenges. Local wages are not competitive and Papua New Guinea is experiencing an unfortunate brain drain to its big neighbor, Australia. To support the digitalization of the country, IT services are often purchased from overseas, not because it's cheaper, but because there's insufficient local expertise.

Building expertise and creating local business opportunities is one of the main reasons why we are here. Open-source not-for-profits like the TYPO3 Association thrives around independent business and sharing, not on keeping our cards tight to our chest. If more businesses, organizations, and governments use TYPO3 — or other free and open-source products — we will all benefit from the contributions of the expanded community.

Situation and Clusterization

The first two days of our visit to Papua New Guinea are far broader than talking about a website strategy around a CMS. We get an introduction to the current situation and future goals of Papua New Guinea's digitalization effort and Daniel talks about his experience with, and the benefits of, IT clusterization.

Clusterization is a concept for business sector collaboration that has been promoted by the European Union. Daniel has experience from his local IT cluster in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, that the TYPO3 Association is collaborating with.

By working together, businesses can grow together, combine their expertise, and take on larger and more complex projects. It is also a great basis for locally-led public-private partnerships and financial development.

Energetic Entrepreneurs

TYPO3 comes in as an excellent real-life example. We helped establish a public-private partnership around government websites in Rwanda, We're also introducing open-source communities as a third partner, the civil society realm, and showing the TYPO3 Association as a possible structure with the necessary governance with checks and balances.

Papua New Guinea has their own clusterization policy prepared, and we meet with the leaders of the burgeoning Port Moresby IT Cluster. Winifred Kula and Priscilla Kevin turn out to be two knowledgeable and energetic local entrepreneurs who really see the benefit collaboration can bring to the local IT scene. 

As Papua New Guinea is consolidating its digitalization strategy, they look to establish a national technology stack. We discussed the role TYPO3 could have in this stack as a support for the institutional websites.

Diesel-Powered Network Services

To provide the best possible insights and perspectives, it is important to speak with many people involved with Papua New Guinea.

The Norwegian honorary consul puts us in contact with some people working with internet services and IT infrastructure in the country. It gives a valuable perspective on some of the challenges faced by internet users and service providers alike.

Did you know that only 32% of the population of Papua New Guinea has access to the Internet, but the number of active users may be as low as 12%? It is not just caused by a lack of infrastructure. Internet access is prohibitively expensive, and unreliable electricity makes generator fuel a considerable added cost.

This was an important illustration to us. Dealing with slow internet connections also means web site performance and data optimization has to be a focus of any website project. The data also shows that much of the country accesses websites on their mobile devices.

Benefits of Open Source

After breakfast, and a visit to the EU delegation, we return to the DICT offices. DICT has invited people from their staff, the IT cluster, and universities to a meal and a presentation of our website standardization model. In other words, it is time to get into specifics about open source and TYPO3.

I start by talking about the basic concepts of open source, and the distinct features of free and open source software (FOSS). The open source ideals of good governance, democracy, and peaceful collaboration, are also vital to a healthy society. The idea that open source is not only software, but a philosophy of values that every government should support.

Next up, Stevo's presentation is very well received. He introduces the core functionality of TYPO3 from an editor and site administrator's perspective. Using illustrative videos, he brings to life the intuitive structural representation and drag-and-drop functionality of the Page Tree, digital asset management and image handling, the quality-assurance possibilities inherent in workspaces, and more.

Finally, I present an outline of the TYPO3 project’s history and governance structure, before heading into a more schematic walk-through of the core features and strategic choices that makes TYPO3 so unique. I present the impressive stats of the University of Vienna's large TYPO3 installation, before ending with our security focus and predictable long-term release and support cycles.

Commissions, Embassies, and Delegations

The afternoon program is packed too full to allow the three of us to do everything together. To gather more knowledge of Papua New Guinea and expand our contact network, Stevo and I go to the New Zealand High Commission, while Daniel visits the EU-PNG Business Council.

Visiting places such as the high commissions, embassies, and delegations are an important part of TYPO3 outreach. It establishes official lines of contact that may prove useful later on. It also gives us an opportunity to present our philosophy and practice. How open-source software functions is not well-known everywhere.

The way we do things is far from the competition of standard business. Free and open source initiatives like the TYPO3 Association are unique in supporting business through not-for-profit and sharing. At the same time, we can create a connection between business development and development cooperation (aka. development aid). This makes us one of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assisting infrastructure projects in countries like Papua New Guinea. Just that we work with information and communication technology, not agriculture, primary education, or clean drinking water.

Big Presentation Day

It’s Thursday, and time for the biggest presentation of the week. 50 people are invited to our hotel's event space for a full run-through of DICT's strategy and choices, a presentation of the local IT cluster, our website standardization, and TYPO3 as a best-practice CMS platform.

We meet representatives from government departments and agencies, regional administration, universities, and the private sector.

I enjoy presenting to larger audiences, and it is great to see that all of the presentations garner a lot of interest and engagement from the audience. We end the event with a popular question-and-answer session.

Docker and DDEV on the King’s Birthday

What we didn't know when we arrived, is that Friday, our last day, is a public holiday in Papua New Guinea, for the King's Birthday. (Stevo and I already celebrated the same public holiday in New Zealand on the Monday of the previous week.)

Holiday or not, the DICT team shows up undeterred. I introduce them to TYPO3 from a more technical side, and install TYPO3 locally, using Docker and DDEV. I also go through the basics of Composer, the TYPO3 Bootstrap Package, and coding best-practices.

After questions and one-to-one conversations, we are invited on a drive to the mountains outside of Port Moresby. We happily agree! Apart from taxi rides back and forth to our meetings, our only experience outside the hotel compound has been the 80-meter walk between our hotel and the DICT office.

It was wonderful to get out of the city and see the countryside. We followed a road meandering up the side of a breathtaking, narrow river valley. In the end, we reached the beginning of the famous Kokoda Track, a 96 km rugged trek across the Owen Stanley Ranges. It has historic importance as the scene of World War II battles between Australian and Japanese forces in 1942.

Departure and Delays

Stevo and I catch an early breakfast on Saturday before taking the hotel shuttle to the airport. Daniel gets to sleep in, as he is staying behind another day to catch a flight home to Romania via Manila and Istanbul. Winifred and Priscilla have invited him to a guided tour of Port Moresby Nature Park.

Air travel has its downsides. It turns out that we could have relaxed in bed for a few more hours. The flight is delayed. Three hours waiting means Stevo will miss his connection to Wellington. (He doesn't know yet, but he'll spend the night on a bench at Melbourne airport.) I imagine myself lucky, as I have already planned a night in Brisbane, but I'll get a nine-hour delay and a short night in Auckland before I arrive back in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

Looking Back at Success

In the end, the trip was a success.TYPO3 has proven that we and our partners can send delegations for week-long presentations that encompass both high-level strategy and practical technology demos for both government and private sector. DICT is working on incorporating TYPO3 in their tech stack and planning their first projects.

Additional contributors for this article
  • Reviewer : Daniel Homorodean
  • Copy Editor : Felicity Brand