Improving Access to Government through Better Use of the Web

W3C Working Draft 10 March 2009

This version:
Latest version:
José M. Alonso (W3C/CTIC)
Kevin Novak (The American Institute of Architects)
José M. Alonso (W3C/CTIC)
Oscar Azañón (Gobierno del Principado de Asturias)
Owen Ambur (Invited Expert)
Daniel Bennett (Invited Expert)
Kevin Novak (The American Institute of Architects)
John Sheridan (The National Archives)
more authors


eGovernment refers to the use of the Web or other information technologies by governing bodies (local, state, federal, multi-national) to interact with their citizenry, between departments and divisions, and between governments themselves. Recognizing that governments throughout the World need assistance and guidance in achieving the promises of electronic government through technology and the Web, this document seeks to define and call forth, but not yet solve, the variety of issues and challenges faced by governments. The use cases, documentation, and explanation are focused on the available or needed technical standards but additionally provide context to note and describe the additional challenges and issues which exist before success can be realized.

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at http://www.w3.org/TR/.

This is a First Public Working Draft of "Improving Access to Government through Better use of the Web".

This document was developed by the eGovernment Interest Group, and is a working document to which all can contribute. Please send comments about this document to public-egov-ig@w3.org (with public archive). The Interest Group will make every attempt to address any comments received by April 26 in the final document.

Publication as a Working Draft does not imply endorsement by the W3C Membership. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

This document was produced by a group operating under the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy. The group does not expect this document to become a W3C Recommendation. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

Table of Contents


Governments have strived for over a decade to provide more information and services to their constituents including the public, businesses, and other governments. Through their efforts there have been struggles given policy, resources, technology, capability, and other issues which have provided significant challenges and roadblocks to conceptualizing or achieving the desired goals and results. The explosion and development of the Web, related technologies, and practices have offered governments perhaps the best opportunity to realize their goals in providing information and services while meeting the demand for increasingly more contribution and interaction.

The idea of government use of the Web and related technologies was born in the late 1990's and culminated in early 2000 as an extension of everything “e”. At the time, the Web was in its infancy and still very much acting and facilitating a wild-wild west frontier. eCommerce, eKnowledge, B2B, B2C, eService and many other terms floated around and sought to be defined to enable and leverage the promise of the Web. Terms were publicized and communicated in the hopes of creating interest and ultimately business via this new and exciting medium. During this period, governments realized there were also opportunities internal to their organization and activities seeking the same efficiencies and approaches used by others to improve and make electronically available information and services. This concept and opportunity was dubbed electronic government or eGovernment, eGov for short.

The promise of eGovernment then and continuing now offers governments the opportunity to open their doors to citizens, helping expose the secrecy of government, opening doors to the inner workings while aiding understanding and explanation, informing and making available large quantities and types of information for use, interest, and comprehension, delivering services where and when and at times citizens and constituents need them, and creating internal and external operating efficiencies that improve the operations and interchanges within and between governments.

The promise, progress, and efforts have been stymied given the many unique needs, requirements, and challenges that governments face in collecting, managing, and making available information and services. The unique issues include policies which control, at times in specific and procedural detail, how information must be handled, who has access, and if or not it can be distributed, and if it can, when. Other issues relate to budgetary and personnel resources that prohibit innovation, ability and execution of electronic government related activities. Governments are challenged to always do more with less being mindful of spending tax income. Governments are challenged in recruiting and retaining the qualified and skilled resources needed to develop innovative applications and approaches. Governments are challenged with being able to adeptly and quickly maneuver and adjust policies and procedures to facilitate a forward direction in electronic government.

Another challenge comes from the government and its role and contribution to society. Governments have looked to, used, and implemented technologies well after technologies and related approaches have been tested and proven in private industry. Governments, who are the champions of innovation and at times the financial resource for the private sector, cannot readily adapt to being an innovator which places them far behind what is viewed as the norm and current technological environment.

The host of issues cited and many more create challenges for governments considering or moving forward with electronic government.

The new ideas, applications, and promises of the so called Web 2.0 [WEB20] have only furthered and made more complex the issues and challenges that governments face in achieving the promises of electronic government. Web 2.0 and particularly social media, social networking, and the new paradigms of openness, interaction, and influence have confounded governments as to how they can take advantage of Web 2.0 and meet the demands of their constituencies. Many questions have been brought forth and with only partial answers to some. How can policies, practices, and laws be amended to allow for electronic participation? How can operations be altered to operate on and in real time to leverage the interest and desired level of participation? How can governments ensure the authority and primary nature of the information is maintained? What can and is a part of the official record of government and its activity? Can electronically derived and received comments be considered part of the official record? How are they responded to or addressed? How can governments use and incorporate new technologies within their older systems and infrastructure? Are there way to expose data from the older systems and infrastructures via the Web?

Additional issues and challenges come forth on who and what percentage of their constituencies have access to the Web, electronic tools and applications which would allow for the provision of information and service, the interaction, and the contribution. How and what must governments do to ensure the majority have access to the information and services now available from the fruits of their labor? The issue of access confounds and challenges both developed and developing countries and regions of the World. The wide adoption of mobile devices has furthered even greater complexity to the access issue. The citizens of some countries and regions (Japan, India, Latin America) have adopted mobile devices as their primary interface to the Web and are demanding more and more mobile access to government information, service, and interaction. For many in developing countries, mobile delivery and retrieval are their only opportunity and method for access given the lack of adequate telecommunications and networking infrastructures needed to connect and communicate by other means.

The further challenge and complexity of the access issue comes from cost. Computers and connection points are still economically out of range for a majority of people around the world. Cost and the lack of infrastructure limit the opportunities for many and their related governments in achieving and benefiting from the promise of electronic government.

One last challenge to document, although not in any way seeking to be conclusive of all the issues and hurdles that exist, is the understanding and definition of what the openness and transparency movement and demand is. How do or should different governments define or consider openness and transparency? How does each address the structure of government and cultural norms? Many of these questions will take considerable time to find their answers and explanations. Consensus of and on the answers are not yet clear nor do governments yet fully understand the impact and opportunity and how to operationally incorporate and accommodate.

Once the questions are answered, policies evaluated, and challenges are met, technical standards and particularly standards related to open source, data, and Web standards can aid governments and others with achieving and realizing the promise and benefits of electronic government.

Standards work across many groups, governments, and organizations continues to aid governments. Many have committed time and resources to develop XML, Authentication, and other data standards to promote and aid information to be free flowing and available. Others have sought to address and understand how to aid in developing standards for interoperability and interchange of data while others have sought to create or identify Web presentation layer, application, and browser based standards to aid governments in their efforts.

The W3C eGovernment Interest Group (eGov IG) seeks and aspires to become a critical link in assisting governments with the promise of electronic government. The Interest Group realizes that one group, government, nor organization needs to own or create everything needed to assist governments. Innovations, new opportunities, and work are occurring worldwide creating example applications, creating and vetting new standards, manipulating or customizing existing standards, and experimenting with and addressing the policy and procedural challenges seeking solutions to these and many of the other existing challenges and issues.

The eGov IG, therefore, acts as the validation and aggregation point of the representative use cases, standards, approaches, and opportunities while being the connector and enabler in the electronic government space. The IG efforts and products will be freely available and adoptable by governments worldwide. The eGovernment Interest Group stands ready to advise developed and developing countries in furthering the promise of electronic government.

The product of the initial group work and effort to date is found in this issues paper. The paper seeks to define and call forth, but not yet solve, the variety of issues and challenges faced by governments. The use cases, documentation, and explanation are focused on the available or needed technical standards but additionally provide context to note and describe the additional challenges and issues, which exist before success can be realized.


Governments are increasingly finding value in Web standards created at W3C, these standards currently enjoy broad use in eGovernment and some have been named in laws and put into practice in a variety of countries.

Nevertheless, governments have some unique requirements (e.g. enforcing certain policies about information privacy) and sometimes spend considerable effort in adapting some standards to their specific needs. Having those requirements reflected in the standards produced at W3C would be beneficial for all. So there's still work to do to help the governments understand how to better use, support and participate in the development of Web standards to make their applications interoperable across bodies and countries and meet citizens' needs, demands, and goals.

The eGovernment Interest Group focuses its efforts to fill a distinct gap in the Web and technology standards space focusing on the unique and diverse needs and issues that governments throughout the developed and developing World face in enabling electronic service and information delivery and providing opportunities for discovery, interaction and participation.

The eGov IG is in its first year of existence and is through this Note, an issues paper, and future work attempting to meet and execute its charter [EGOVIG] and mission for the W3C and specifically for serving its purpose and intent to assist governments throughout the World in realizing the promise of electronic government.

The eGovernment Interest Group (eGov IG) is designed as a forum to support researchers, developers, solution providers, and users of government services that use the Web as the delivery channel. The Interest Group uses email discussions, scheduled IRC topic chats and other collaborative tools as a forum to enable broader collaboration across eGov practitioners.

The following activities are in the scope of the eGovernment Interest Group and three interest areas have been formed to achieve the Group's mission:

Usage of Web Standards

Gather information about the areas where best practice guidelines are needed: best practices will be drawn from the successes (and failures) of efforts at opening, sharing, and re-using knowledge about the use of standards and specifications by government applications that could be collected into a set of best practices with the intent of identifying productive technical paths toward better public services.

Provide input on how to ease standards compliance: use previous successful experiences in terms of broad government use (such as the Web Accessibility Initiative work) to identify ways for standard bodies to better speak in terms of government needs; for example, additional effort to package, promote, and train on best practices and existing material and tools.

Transparency and Participation

Identify ways to improve government transparency and openness: identify any gaps to be filled in creating a complete suite of standards to enable open government information and ease the goal of linkable Public Sector Information.

Identify ways to increase citizenship participation: recognize new channels, ways to get the information to the citizens where the citizens are looking for it, and make better use of tools as means to increase citizenry awareness and participation while supporting champions, i.e. acknowledge and help active citizens and public servants.

Identify ways to increase citizens and businesses use of eGovernment services: get information on benefits of Web use for government services, identify main factors that are important for people and businesses to use eGovernment services such as time and money savings, simplicity, etc. and identify ways to improve them.

Seamless Integration of Data

Identify how to advance the state-of-the-art in data integration strategies: identify ways for governments and computer science researchers to continue working together to advance the state-of-the-art in data integration and build useful, deployable proof-of-concept demos that use actual government information and demonstrate real benefit from linked data integration. These proof-of-concept tools ought to be targeted to applications that will show real improvement in areas that elected officials, government officers and citizens actually need. This area would include addressing the needs of business cases through the use of XML, SOA, and Semantic Web technologies.

Relationships and Collaborations

The eGovernment Interest Group is current working with, forming relationships, or collaborating with governments and other organizations (The World Bank, EC, OECD, OAS, ICA, CEN, OASIS) recognizing the activity and efforts throughout the World on the issues, challenges, and work required to aid governments in achieving the promise of electronic government.


Description terms are used to highlight and describe the various types of interaction points and relationships that governments have to their various constituencies. A few of the major and known terms are below:

And a newer term resulting from the demand for higher levels and opportunities of participation and interaction is Citizen to Government or C2G.

Trends and Modalities of the Web and the User

The Web is currently processing and addressing several trends and activities that are requiring evolution of tools, thoughts, and strategies. Four key trend areas must be accounted for and noted in strategies and directions being discussed, developed, and implemented:

The World is now global. Localization is still critically important, however, all content and interaction crosses continents and oceans despite the original intent or focus. It is no longer easy to say one or an organization can focus only on a particular geographic area. All must recognize that the content, actions, and communications are available, being reviewed, watched, and potentially used by others around the globe. This global reach has furthered the concept of communities where people all over the world or even specific geographic regions can meet, interact, share, and consume information and service. People want to be connected and in ways that are tailored and customizable to how and where they want to meet, interact, share, and consume. This “on demand and customized” desire for information, service, and interaction, requires the adoption and recognition that all or most must be available via mobile devices and applications recognizing that in today's hyper busy and demanding world, the concept of “on the go” becomes a necessary part of daily life and operation. The activity, connectivity, and growth of the information and service on the Web has caused the amount of information available to grow exponentially requiring more complex and faster ways to access, mine, categorize, and deliver information.

These new demands and requirements are currently pushing technological limits and are resulting in very complex systems comprised of many different parts and interactions both on a user and systems level. Therefore, the strategies must be able to account for the dynamism that is occurring today and ensure that tomorrow's demands, requirements, and trends can be easily met in a global audience construct.

These four key trends and the recognition that the Web is both a localized and global space must result in governments thinking and defining their role in the context of modalities.

Within the key trends there are three modalities that exist for governments' use of the Web:

These modalities can be loosely characterized as provide, engage and enable. The extent to which a government chooses to fulfill any or all of these roles on the Web is a socio-political question, tightly connected to levels of public funding and the more general development of public services.

When characterizing governments' current use of the Web a number of general observations can be made. Whilst increasingly cognizant of the opportunities afforded by social media, typically governments are still operating a broadcasting paradigm. Web sites are a vehicle for mass communication and for the delivery of transactional services. In this environment statistics showing the scale of usage are celebrated as indicators of success in themselves. The structure of a government Web estate is often organizationally driven. This is problematic as the structures of government continually change, resulting in significant disruption to the presentation of government on the Web. Government departments can be surprisingly transient entities. Transposed to namespaces and URIs this is quick sand on which to build an essential information infrastructure using the Web.

To give an example of the consequences of this churn, governments have difficulty maintaining persistent URIs even to documents. Increasing volumes of official reports and documents are published on the Web alone making the long term availability of those resources an important issue. In this context 'link rot' is not just an inconvenience of the user, it undermines public accountability as documents cease to be available.

Firmly in the provide mode many governments have devised a channels strategy for their Web estate. This has been developed primarily from a communications perspective. What is more generally absent is a data strategy from a Web engineering perspective. It is rare in government to think about Web site development as the engineering of basic information infrastructure.

Underlying these issues is one of particular interest to the W3C as a technology standards organization, not just about adoption and usage of its standards, but about the understanding of them. As a supplier and provenance source of information on the Web, governments have an important role to play. There is potential for significant social and commercial innovation using public sector information made available using the Web.

The reality is that not many officials responsible for commissioning or managing government Web sites are familiar with the basic principles of the Web‚ for example Architecture of the World Wide Web [WEBARCH]. Unfortunately, lacking a government context and being aimed at a more expert audience, the W3C guidelines and specifications are almost impenetrable to many Web decision makers in government.

eGovernment Issues

Electronic Government brings forth a host of issues and challenges for any government embarking upon the effort and the promise. Electronic Government also presents many challenges to the technical community and others who are creating, developing, and making available tools and technologies that can assist governments. The eGov IG recognizes the complexity of the environment and the host of issues that need to be addressed and vetted with, ultimately, solutions and assistance documented and published.

The following topics are those the eGov IG believe to be the most pressing for governments in the context of the current constituency demands and the trends related to Web 2.0. transparency, and participation. Future work of the eGov IG will begin to structure, prioritize, and address many of the other issues impacting electronic government while continuing to mature those found below.

Participation and Engagement

What Is Participation and Engagement?

In an increasing number of countries the level of domestic broadband access has reached and surpassed critical mass. The Web is the first port of call for information and advice - from breaking news to fact finding about an illness. Increasingly human relationships are being created and sustained on the web through social networking sites. Large numbers of people are using social media tools to keep in touch with their friends and colleagues. These are important trends that are opening new opportunities for governments and citizens to interact. Increasingly the default means for government to communicate its message and to provide public services is using the Web.


The Web provides a transformative platform for the public sphere, the process of social communication where opinions are expressed, synthesized and coalesced. There are many types of public spheres operating across many different platforms, including the traditional mass media of television, radio and newspapers. The Web is transformative simply because it allows anyone to be a publisher. This changes the power relationships in the public sphere in profound ways. It affords political leaders new routes to power, crowd sourcing both finance and campaign teams. It affords citizens new ways to have their say. Both marginalized or extreme voices can now be heard making the public sphere increasingly rich and diverse. In turn this changes the nature of politics, news and journalism and how they contribute to the public sphere. What is clear is that people's use of the Web is shifting the relationship between the citizen and the state. The nature of these changes varies by culture and system of government but the impact is being felt everywhere.

The growth of political blog [BLOG] illustrates the Web's use for conversations about the direction of public policy. Outside of traditional political processes, campaign Web sites provide the means for people to group together to press for political change. This may be through lobbying or by seeking elected office or from new forms of campaign such as crowd sourcing a flash mob. This is about using the web for participation, to shape, direct or change public policy.

Both politicians and political parties are increasingly using social networking tools as part of their political campaigning, the most striking example being the Obama campaign in the United States. Supporters who have grown up with a candidate engaging in a two-way dialogue during the campaign feel they have a strong stake in what that candidate does once they have been elected. For example, there is evidence with the Obama administration that supporters are insisting on maintaining the dialogue from the campaign into office, “Holding Obama-Biden Administration Accountable” [OB-ACC]. This is the introduction of a new type of check and balance into the political system, what some, such as William Dutton, call the fifth estate [FIFTH-ESTATE]. We see the phenomenon elsewhere where online communities seek to enforce a degree of accountability. Social network Facebook's response to pressure over changes to the service's terms and conditions, which led to a return to the original [FB-TOS] is an example of such community power.

Others are using the disintermediation of traditional media to push forwards transparency and democratic accountability. On the premise that in order to participate effectively in the political process you need access to information about what is happening, organizations like MySociety [MYSOCIETY] in the UK and the Sunlight Foundation [SUNLIGHT] in the United States have developed innovative services that open up information from legislative and governmental decision making processes.

David Weinberger, one of the co-authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto [CLUETRAIN], observes that, “there is an inverse relationship between control and trust”. If true that has profound implications for government. Governments may seek to trade a loss of control through greater transparency an openness in return for an anticipated increase in public trust. The Obama administration's memo on Transparency and Open Government [OB-MEMO] could be seen in that light.


A government is a complex entity, consisting of many institutions that grow and develop over time. People engage in conversations. Sometimes they do so representing an institution. For government, the use of the web for online engagement means individual public servants engaging in online conversations, in an official capacity.

Just as the web enables anyone to be a publisher, for government it raises the possibility of any public servant becoming a communicator and a representative. Increasing numbers of public servants are blogging about their work or discussing work related issues using micro-blogging [MBLOG] tools. These activities are directed at engagement rather than effecting political change.

The use of the Web for engagement is significant in that it opens up new ways to talk to government but these conversations are complex because the boundaries between participation and engagement are sometimes blurred. Some contributors to a topic in an online discussion forum may be participating, putting political points into the public sphere, whilst public servants may simultaneously be engaging - openly gathering and presenting evidence or discussing policy options. It is the role of the contributor that determines whether they are participating or engaging, when such discussions take place.

There are a number of different types of web enabled engagement:

What Public Policy Outcomes Are Related to Participation and Engagement?

Governments generally operate in five spheres: social policy, economic policy, security policy, regulatory and legal policy and international relations. Some issues, such as the credit crunch or climate change cut across these boundaries, requiring economic, social and regulatory action in a coordinated multilateral way. People are using the web to facilitate their participation in each of these policy areas - all are matters of public discourse and political debate.

In practice, the importance of the Web as a tool for engagement has come most to the fore in the social policy arena - not least because this covers the issues that most directly impinge on individuals' lives. There are wide variations between states in how social policy is delivered - in some countries the state is the direct provider of services such as health, in others such services are delivered almost entirely by the third and private sector. Attitudes and expectations from public services are changing in part because of the experience people have from using online services and governments have already started to evaluate the impact, benefits and challenges of these new ways of interaction [SOCMED-FED].

There are three areas of public policy outcome where online engagement can play an important role.

Enabling Citizen Choice and Improving Public Services

Encouraging citizens to discuss their impressions and experience of the public services they use, potentially star rating those services, can facilitates citizen choice and introduces a new incentive mechanism for improving public services. For example, if parents are given a choice about which state school to send their child to, they can make their selection based on the views of parents with children already at that school.

In the UK, the government has launched an online service called "NHS Choices" [NHSC], which supports citizens to make a healthcare provider choice from amongst various public healthcare providers. Those using the services are encouraged to rate and comment on their experiences using a particular provider. This is an example of government providing a forum for citizen to citizen interaction, with a view to supporting choice and raises quality of provision. A similar but independently service is provided by Patient Opinion [PATIENTO].

Providing Advice and Support to Citizens to Achieve Public Policy Outcomes

Citizens are helping each other in discussion forums in ways that achieve public service outcomes. At the time of writing, many countries are in or about to enter a recession. This is the first global economic crisis to happen in an era of widespread availability of the internet and the use of social media tools. After prolonged periods of relatively high and stable levels of employment a significant number of people, many of them highly qualified and skilled, will find themselves out of work, perhaps for a prolonged period of time.

Governments are announcing various initiatives to help families cope with the change in the economic climate, for example promising protection against foreclosure. There is evidence that people are confused and fearful. It is reasonable to anticipate that they will turn to online communities for help, advice and support. In these forums public servants can add value by giving advice and guidance about what support from the government is available or how the system is supposed to work. This advice is instantly available, not only to the intended recipient but also the wider community.

The incentive for government is to provide support that helps to achieve wider public policy objectives, particularly in areas of social policy. Other examples of relevant online communities for engagement by public servants include parents providing support to each other with raising their children, talking about childcare problems, illnesses or behavioral issues, through to college students discussing issues to do with their studies, financing their education or seeking work.

Changing Behaviours and Establishing New Social Norms

Many of the issues confronting governments today for example changing the pattern of energy consumption to combat climate change involve large numbers of people changing their behaviour in some way. To achieve this, new social norms need to be fostered and established. It is insufficient simply to provide information about the impact of individual's choices, that information needs to be contextualized and humanized in the context of dialogues with people, that encourage and support the development of new social norms.

What Are the Main Benefits to Using the Web for Participation and Engagement?

People trust those places and services that they themselves control or have the impression of controlling. Engaging with people where they are means interacting on their terms. Provided this is done authentically anecdotal evidence suggests that people welcome the involvement of public servants in many different online community environments. This presents a more human face to government institutions, which is more approachable, more credible and more likely to be listened to and valued.

Interestingly, those communities that governments would most like to engage with and support, because of their alignment with public policy objectives (such as parenting support groups) seem those most open to engagement by public servants and welcoming of the opportunity to directly engage. For example, members of NetMums [NETMUMS] in the UK welcomed the chance to help shape aspects of governments policy for children and families and have pressed for advisors on benefits and tax to interact in the discussion forums.

In the policy arena, engaging in discussion about policy options has resulted in some remarkably mature and considered input. Instead of going through a traditional consultation exercise, the Power of Information Task Force in the UK issued its report "in beta" [POIT] and allowed people to comment on it on a paragraph by paragraph basis. Hundreds of comments were posted including points of clarification from public servants. Open public discussions took place on all key topics and some important new ideas were introduced and developed through those discussions. The collaborative development of policy through public conversations involving public servants and others around a shared evidence base should lead to better public policy.

Collaboratively developed policy is more likely to be consensual and less open to partisan attack or misrepresentation in the mass media.

How Can Participation and Engagement Be Achieved?

Access of Public Servants to Web Sites that Citizens Are Using

Public servants need to be given access to the Web sites that citizens are using in order for them to be able to engage. The “lock-down” culture that exists in many government IT departments often restricts access to the more interactive Web sites for security reasons. This badly hampers the effective engagement with online communities by public servants.

Clear and Simple Rules for Public Servants

Governments need to set clear and simple rules for public servants to follow so they can be confident about engaging online without risking their career.

Training, Support and Cultural Change

There needs to be training and support for public servants in the use of appropriate tools and techniques to use the web to engage, particularly for the development of public policy. Engaging with online communities over the development of public policy will involve significant culture change in government. To achieve it will require clear leadership at senior levels. As the use of the web for engagement is so new in government there are few people with both the practical knowledge and the seniority and experience to provide this leadership.

Allow Comments on Policy Documents

Policy documents need to be presented in formats which allows for comment and discussion in a granular way. Fragments within such documents need to be directly addressable. In consultation documents for example, the relationship between the questions for discussion and the proposals to which those questions refer need to be made explicit. The RDFa [RDFA-PRIMER] based ArgotConsultation [ARGOTC] which was developed for the UK government is an example of the type of technology required for publishing consultation documents in ways that enable engagement.

What Are the Main Issues and Limitations with Using the Web for Participation and Engagement?

Representation Boundaries

The boundaries are shifting between public and private, personal and professional. This blurring of distinctions between individuals and their roles gives rise to particular set of problems for public servants because governments operate in a political environment. When an official posts a message to a W3C email list or a social media group are they doing so as an individual, or as a representative of the institution for which they work? Services such as micro-blogs, that mix personal and professional messages exacerbate this dilemma.

Do the participants of such communities expect to find public officials in their community? Is this the state as friend, or is it an overbearing intrusion into people's lives? How should public officials themselves engage - anonymously, with a pseudonym or authentically as themselves? How can others be sure the advice being given, for example about a tax matter, has come from a public servant? The provenance not just of the information, but also of people, starts to really matter.


If a government department establishes a feed for new information using a micro-blog tool, and people chose to consume that information by following that channel, does the service provider "follow" in return? What does it mean to be followed by a user named "@legislation" or "@parliament"? Should the service provider only "follow" if they are willing to engage as well as broadcast? Neither citizen nor service provider are clear about what community norms should apply.

Ownership and Use of Third Party Services

Whilst free for citizens to use, many of the social networking services that people are using and around which online communities are developing, have been created on a commercial basis. It may be that an inappropriate reliance on third party services develops. By participating in an online community is the government endorsing it in some way? Does the implied endorsement stretch to the availability of the service, data protection issues (which may be sensitive if the service may be provided from a different jurisdiction) or security?

Who owns the social networks and in whose interests are they being operated? If key public services are provided using social networking services (e.g. advice to parents, tax guidance), to what extent should government seek to control the services upon which it relies? The terms and conditions of the service are clearly vitally important.

Inclusive Access to Information

How are the interests of those not on the internet protected? What about the rights of those with physical impairments? Many third party social networking and community Web sites do not adhere to the high standards of accessibility that government Web sites are required to attain, in many countries by law.

Authoritative Sources

How does the government protect the authority of its information while allowing the conversations and communities to grow and flourish?

Interoperability and Data Portability

Generally it is in governments' interests to support interoperable systems based on open standards, yet many social networks have been designed to be “walled gardens”, locking people in to their service as much as they possibly can. Should governments participate in Web sites that lock people in, not allowing users to move their data to another provider? How would such a stance relate to competition policy? With walled gardens the citizen has the inconvenience of multiple user accounts and login details as does the public servant. Can this be overcome, for example by the wider use of technologies such as OpenID [OPENID] or OAuth [OAUTH]?

Archiving Challenges

If public policy is being developed in distributed collaborative ways, what are the public records and archival implications? How can the development of policy created through participative web based tools be captured for posterity? The existing mechanisms for archiving “records of decisions” are poorly suited for the capture of distributed and fragmented information created on the web.


How can a government set clear measures and metrics to gage the success of fairly new and innovative practices and projects?

Open Government Data

What is Open Government Data?

Public organizations produce, archive and distribute a wealth of information (e.g. legal, financial, bibliographic) in their daily operations. This Public Sector Information (PSI) is subject to certain laws and regulations (e.g. stating how/when it must be published or how it's licensed) that vary from country to country. Traditionally, PSI has been published in different ways and formats, from the early paper days to the early Web days in which information was being published online in whatever format was more convenient for the government organization in charge of publishing it and according to the normative at that time.

Unfortunately, much PSI was and is still being published using proprietary formats or in ways that make it not accessible to all the interested parties, such as a disabled person that cannot access the content on a Web page, a person using a mobile device or an old computer, or someone using a computer without a required proprietary software.

Flourishing of Web applications and services using other types of information on the Web that are provided in open raw formats, as well as adapters built by third parties to reuse existing PSI on the Web, show that there is demand and potential in publishing PSI offering unobstructed access to the raw information.

For the purposes of this Note, Government Data is the same as PSI, while Open Government Data means the publication of PSI in open raw formats and ways that make it accessible to all and allow reuse, such as the creation of data mashups (mashups defined as merging data from two or more different applications or data sources and producing comparative views of the combined information).

A set of open government data principles [OGD-PRINCIPLES] developed by a group of Open Government Data advocates includes: "Open [government] data promotes increased civil discourse, improved public welfare, and a more efficient use of public resources." and in order to publish Open Government Data, there are three fundamental steps that need to be taken: identify the data that one controls, represent that data in a way that people can use, and expose the data to the wider world. [JEN-OGD]

What Data?

Whether is a health statistics, geospatial or legal information or some other kind of PSI, it's out of the scope of this Note to debate what datasets should be published, mainly because this is a policy issue, governed in several countries by laws such as the Freedom of Information Acts (FOIAs) that state what information should be published, when and how.

Nonetheless, some of the examples and use cases discuss about specific data sets that could be of interest with the intention of giving some hints on how the return on investment of those policies can be improved when publishing Open Government Data.

What Public Policy Outcomes are Related to Open Government Data?

What are the Main Benefits of Publishing Open Government Data?

The great majority of PSI on the Web is still mainly found in two shapes:

Taking this last scenario into account when designing a data publication strategy, some potential benefits of publishing Open Government Data are described below.

Multiple views, not just one

When government information is made available through portals, e.g. the so called one-stop shops, the government intends to build the consumer's view in order to provide the information in the most usable way. Even when the PSI is provided by means of an API, the methods to access it are often restricting the view that a given consumer can have or need of that information.

Providing Open Government Data allows the consumer to use the information in the most appropriate way to achieve the intended goal. Some authors argue that it would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing Web sites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility. [GOV-INV].


Open information boosts everyone’s ability to reuse the information, including:

When the information is made available through the Web using the appropriate open standards it can be used again and again in new, unanticipated and imaginative ways that can greatly enhance the value of the data by its reuse and combination with increased automation and enhanced interoperability. As the Many Minds Principle [MANY-MINDS] reads: the coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else.

A few third sector organizations have already taken government information and provided views into joined data sources to meet public needs or other objectives which show the potential these mashups could have. Well known examples are FixMyStreet [FIXMYSTREET], where UK residents can report problems in their neighborhood (like graffiti or potholes on the road), and the numerous mashups providing useful views and all sorts of data about the work of the representatives such as TheyWorkForYou [TWFY-UK] in the UK, its New Zealand counterpart [TWFY-NZ], OpenCongress [SUN-CON] and GovTrack [GOVTRACK] in the USA and OpenAustralia [OPEN-AU].

The government is also starting to consider reuse seriously, and is has already organized competitions to find out what are the most demanded applications, such as Show Us a Better Way [SHOW-US] in the UK, and the Apps for Democracy [APP-DEM] contest sponsored by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia (USA), or the consultation on open access to public information [AU-OGD] by the Australian Government.

Improved Web Search

Some systems are still preventing the consumer to find the needed information, even when it's already publicly available, e.g. is not being indexed by search engines. There is a need to improve Web search. The use of tools such as the sitemap protocol [SITEMAP] (an XML open format, too), show that governments are trying to improve the discoverability of information. The Library of Congress in 2006, partnered with Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google on the development, testing, and piloting of open sitemaps. The initiative focused on exposing and making discoverable hundreds of thousands of items in the American Memory [LOC-MEM] repository resulting in successful indexing and exposure increasing Web traffic to the targeted materials by 25 percent. Making PSI available in open formats can even greater help consumers to find the information they need.

Data Integration

Governments provide information using open standards that empower other agencies and third parties to further mix, enhance and share this information, bringing vast improvement of data integration between disparate systems and flourishing of new services.

How Can Open Government Data Be Achieved?

Publishing (X)HTML

Even when the data is found on the Web in hard-to-reuse formats, third parties are finding their way through it. One common practice is that of HTML Scrapping, in which tools [TOOLS-SCRAP] are used to separate and extract the data from the HTML code. These data is then transformed into a more automatic reusable format, usually XML or RDF, and then mashed up with other sources. Coding and maintenance is costly, requires great work on the side of the consumer. Usefulness of the existing applications (some examples [GOV-MASH]) is high. This shows the potential that providing easier access to the information in a reusable open format has.

Providing APIs

There are already cases in which the government is providing access to information through APIs. In most of the cases, this means that the consumer has access to the data only in the way the producer thinks it should be accessed, e.g. through certain methods, but the consumer does not have access to the raw data or a holistic view of it. APIs are usually provided in Javascript or similar languages to integrate in Web pages and applications and in some cases provide access to an XML view of some parts or the whole dataset.

Some examples are the ones offered by the UK Government for the Show Us a Better Way [SHOW-US] competition, from health statistics and geospatial information to postal codes, but also those from the third sector, such as the ones provided by the Sunlight Foundation [SUN-API], that offer from congress records and events to census data.

RSS/Atom information

Many pieces of information provided by governments are suitable for distribution as news feeds using RSS [RSS] or Atom [ATOM-SYND] that are supported by a great number of tools including built-in support in most modern Web browsers. In this scenario, people subscribe to a set of channels and get the information about e.g. government news, job openings, grants or acquisitions.

One of the core benefits for this approach is update notifications - when a piece of information is added or modified, subscribers can easily get to know this. Users only need a news feeds reader, which they use to subscribe and read the information.

The number of feeds provided by governments is constantly increasing and thousands are already available [GOV-FEEDS].

REST interfaces

REST [REST] provides an architecture to create Web applications, using standards like HTTP and XML. Basically, a "resource" is associated to a URI that can be used to access or modify its information following certain design principles [REST-PRI]. Under this paradigm, a Web site can publish a set of URLs that provide a real programmer's API that 3rd parties can use to build applications that extend the site's capabilities - perhaps by mixing several different sites. This model is highly suitable for the development of mashup applications and can also provide data in open raw formats as the following example shows.

The Seniors Canada Online Web site currently provides such interfaces to perform searches on their databases - for instance, on leisure and sports information [CAN-REST1] and also more sophisticated database-query-like services, such as all keywords starting with letter 'L' in french language [CAN-REST2]. Other agencies could use this API to publish the information - perhaps mixing several sites and putting the data on a map on the Web.

Semantic Web technologies

Semantic Web technologies can provide a huge development in the way the Internet is thought and used. Take for instance, the process of booking a flight with current technologies:

If all the information could be stored in a single relational database, the task could be automated with a series of SQL queries. However, given the distributed nature of the Internet, this kind of automatization is not directly possible with current technologies. Semantic Web technologies could provide a means of implementing such a solution in the Internet space.

The Semantic Web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries [SW-ACT] and there are several technologies [SW-FAQ] that allow to describe, model and query these data.

RDFa in XHTML [RDFA-SYNTAX] is a first approach in bridging the Human and Data Webs. It allows to add some metadata described in RDF to XHTML that is easier for machines to understand. From the RDFa Primer [RDFA-PRIMER]:

presentation vs. semantics

On the left, what browsers see. On the right, what humans see. Can we bridge the gap so browsers see more of what we see?

An example is the London Gazette [LON-GAZ1], the UK Government's Official Journal and Newspaper of Record where proposals and decisions of public bodies, e.g. to establish a new tax or to give permission to a company to build a factory, have been published since 1665. SemWebbing the London Gazette [LON-GAZ2] shows how increasing semantics is challenging but can lead to important benefits.

The DBPedia project is an example of how a given Web site can be prepared for this kind of applications, using:

DBPedia is one of the largest datasets in the Linking Open Data community effort [LOD] which shows how powerful mashups of datasets exposed using Semantic Web technologies can be.

Governments would need to publish the required interfaces so third parties could query their information in distributed Web applications. This could provide huge benefits:

Using a Semantic Web approach, public organizations would publish datasets - and offer a query interface for applications to access the information in a non-predefined way. This would greatly boost the ability of third parties to use and reuse the information provided by public governments, in ways and applications perhaps unforeseen (and unforeseable) by them.

What Are the Main Issues and Limitations with Publishing Open Government Data?

Mission and Strategy

In general, government agencies have not seriously considered mashups on a coordinated level yet. The agencies are challenged with exposing data from applications or creating applications to display data. Resourcing of personnel and funding have not allowed for a focus on providing Open Government Data. The government agencies are also challenged in finding other agencies or organizations where regulations or government policy (in addition to the lack of resources) will allow the sharing/exchange of information which would lead to a useful mashup.

For example, agencies have not rendered their mission, goal, and objective statements in readily shareable format. Thus, it is more difficult than necessary not only to create cross-agency mashups of the data contained in agency strategic plans themselves but also to identify related objectives that offer strategic opportunities for well-coordinated sharing of data supporting those objectives.

A typical application mashup requires the use of APIs with data available via XML, many agencies have not yet considered the consistent or holistic use of XML across applications or data repositories, not to mention other open formats like RDF. The age of systems varies significantly and, at times, the proprietary nature of the systems and applications offers further challenges with providing access to the data needed for a mashup when it is often not within the mission of an agency to provide sets of information from other agencies or different sources.

Provenance and Trust

Agencies are faced with having to ensure that the information and other data that they provide remains the authoritative source of the information. Providing access to data via XML or similar open formats to others for display in mashups releases control and management of the data outside of the responsible agency, which is a concern; the agency can no longer be sure that the data has maintained its original nature and the final consumer cannot be sure about where the data is coming from and if it's trustable or not.

Some issues may arise: on one hand the interpretations other could do of the provided information without the proper context, on the other how to ensure that the data carry its restrictions with it (e.g. original author, copyright, license, etc.). If agencies are to proceed in adopting mashups within their organizations and/or across the government and/or with third parties, best practices, policies, and procedures will be needed to ensure the information and data's authoritative nature is preserved when necessary.

Limitations of the Technology

Although some of the technologies and standards have been in use for many years already, such as HTML from the day the Web was invented or XML from 1998 here might be cases in which when using one of the existing standards some issues may arise or some ways in which the technology is intended to be used are not possible yet -- i.e. some gaps in the standards are found or some new features are required. W3C has an open process [W3C-PROCESS] that allows anybody to comment and participate on improving the standards; one of the eGovernment Interest Group's goals is to act as a mediator between governments and W3C, communicating to other W3C Groups those needs in order to be taken into consideration and fulfilled as necessary, and communicating to governments how to better use the existing standards for the benefit of both governments and W3C and the Web community at large.


Governments have been using the Web even before it became a very popular channel to publish public information. The Web is an ecosystem in constant evolution and as such there are always new capabilities that need to be acquired in order to use it to its full potential. Adequate resourcing and training of those involved in the development of applications and services is needed.


What is Interoperability?

It is common in governmental processes that two or more public organizations share data while delivering a given service. For instance, ID documents issued by the police are requested in many of these services by administrations other than the police.

Historically, these data interchanges were paper-based. However, the advent of the new ICT poses great opportunities to improve not just the way data is exchanged, but enabling the creation of new services.

According to the European Interoperability Framework [EIF], Interoperability means:

The ability of information and communication technology (ICT) systems and of the business processes they support to exchange data and to enable the sharing of information and knowledge.

Interoperability can be achieved at different levels, ranging from local / departmental to the national and international levels.

What Are the Main Benefits of Interoperability?

Interoperability presents many important benefits for both citizens and public organizations. The way this data interchange happens has a great impact on the perception by end user of the service, and in several areas.

Easier for the Citizen

Before digital exchange of data, citizens were requested to present many documents that were issued by other governmental departments. The task of requesting the different documents from other administrations was sometimes left to the citizen. In an interoperable scenario, data exchange happens behind the scenes.

Less Documentation

Since data is exchanged automatically, the citizen needs to present less and less documentation.


Data transmission by digital means is usually much faster than paper-based exchange, thus reducing service time.

Greater automation

Since data is already in digital formats, it is possible to have increasing automation at the business process level. New or existing applications can be plugged in to share that information.

Increased multi-channel delivery

Processes where paper-based documents are required are not easily ported to internet or mobile channels. When these documents in paper format are not required anymore, internet or mobile delivery becomes feasible.

How Can Interoperability Be Achieved?

Interoperability is by its own nature a joint effort. Sharing information requires sharing a set of common principles among all participants. Therefore, a set of common standards is key to interoperability.

Government Interoperability Frameworks

Though it is possible to start peer-to-peer data interchange programs, greater value usually lies in multi-lateral solutions. This principle sets the ground for the creation of a Government Interoperability Framework (GIF).

Though a universal definition for this term is still under discussion, a GIF is a common structure shared by different Governmental Organizations that enables them to share information and business processes. At a minimum, a GIF should define a set of technical interoperability principles (i.e. data transport, data representation, etc), though it may include as well:

This is therefore a standardization effort. Several standards can be applied to each area, though it is strongly advised that open standards are chosen when available.

What Are the Main Issues and Limitations?

Interoperability presents a series of issues that need to be taken into account.


It is important that personal data is used only within limits allowed by individuals. This requires setting some sort of personal data protection standards that should be respected in any situation. Depending on the country, explicit authorization from the citizen may be required in order to perform any data interchange.


Being a quite difficult issue, it is important that required levels of security are in place in the different areas: data access, communications, etc. providing equivalent safeguards to non-interoperable scenarios.


The semantics of the information must be agreed beforehand, so all exchanging parties have a common understanding of the meaning of the data exchanged. At the international level, this can be a complex topic since some legal concepts may differ from one country to the other. The final goal is to be able to interpret data consistently across the different organizations and platforms involved in the data exchange.

Interoperability may require changes in current legislation, so this needs to be addressed as well.

Open Standards

It is of paramount importance to use open standards where available – for instance, use the X.509 technology stack when digital certificates are required.

Open Source

Whenever possible, Open Source Solutions should be evaluated and considered an option along with proprietary alternatives.

Multi-channel delivery

This section will be completed as the document matures.

Identification and Authentication

The Transition of Identity from the Physical to the Virtual

Governments and citizens communicate using online methods increasingly and for many purposes. And in the numerous types of these communications between government and citizens there are varying needs or requirements for both parties to identify themselves or authenticate the transaction which include: privacy of the identity of the citizen, the transaction and the information contained in the communication, the assurance to the citizen of the identity of the government agent or body, the legal requirements that may bind a citizen and government agency to the accuracy or agreement contained in a transaction, and the reliance on outside parties the tools and implementation of identity and authentication.

The main difficulty that must be overcome to advance online identification and authentication is the lack of coherent analogies to the forms and protocols that have endured for centuries in which face to face or physical representations were the main methods of assuring identity and authentication. Complicating the transition is the fear by both the government and the citizen of losing control of identity which can have more profound and wide ranging effects than were previously possible. On the other hand, the advantages, adoption and efficiencies of electronic communication are pushing societies to rapidly adapt to this new world.

The Myth versus Reality of Physical Forms of Identity and Authentication

In creating online analogies to how identity and authentication worked, it helps to better understand the actual practices of authentication rather than the many myths and assumptions. For example, signatures were not always analogous to biometric forms of authentication and identity was more assumed than verified with certain exceptions. On the other hand, the physicality of identity and authentication made mass forgeries and identity theft less prevalent and less impactful on the persons whose identity was being stolen. And in the relative short time of the World Wide Web and mobile phones the nature and social forms of identity are being created anew in ways that are far beyond the understanding and capabilities of the world prior to 1991. And the ability to both verify and falsify the nature of reality creates complications in how to identify and authenticate in this new age. Imagine that a person standing on a street in view of public web cams using a pre-paid cell phone with GPS, logging in remotely to a computer half way around the world to communicate with a government agency housed three blocks away.

Roles of Identity and Authentication with eGovernment

There are many types of online communication between citizen and government that used to depend on a signature placed on a piece of paper in the presence or not of witnesses. There were many less formal communications in which identity was hidden or not important, because the citizen was only one of many people expressing a viewpoint. And in others the physical presence of the citizen was required even if the transaction was anonymous, as in many forms of electoral procedures. In transforming those communications from physical to virtual, the purposes behind the need for identity and authentication should be of the highest consideration and the actual physical methods should not, except where social practices outweigh any of the advantages of technology.

And, except in accepted in transactions that might have dangerous or catastrophic implications at the point of the transaction, the need for authentication and identity should be balanced with:

Personal identity verification is not the only aspect of identity in online transactions: other characteristics and types of status will be wanted including identification of jurisdiction (either in terms of the location of the transaction or the residence), the status of residence or citizenship, certifications (e.g. medical license), employment status, etc. Also the relationship with certain organization may be conveyed, such as the chief financial officer of a corporation would be the sole identified individual to be allowed to sign certain documents.

Uses for Identity and Authentication

Identity and authentication allow for many types of online activities and transactions. Identity is often used for gating and/or authorization, as in only certain identified persons can have access to specific information or software. Identity is also used as a social control method, for example to avoid anonymity where the anonymity might lead to inappropriate dialogue. Authentication is a primary means to ascertain the validity of a transaction and the identity of the parties to the transaction, as in a legal document that must be authenticated in case of a court case. And significantly, tracking the identity of the sender or recipient of electronic disbursement of money for auditing purposes.

Technological Methods for Authentication and Identity

Authentication technologies rely on the combination of several methods of identification and authentication including:

Often online identity is paired with membership or contractual relationships in addition to be tied to certain technologies.

W3C eGov IG's Interest in Identity and Authentication

The group will provide use cases where Web technology is used for online identification and authentication by government and the public. There are several standards already developed and in development by the W3C that are and will be important in the use by government agencies. Governments may want to use unique identifiers to include and use for storing and managing identity, and the use of XML [XML] compliant strings such as URI/URLs [ADDRESSING]. This group is already using URL's as a unique identifier for identity as part of the OpenID [OpenID] specification for access to the group's wiki [EGOVIG-WIKI].

XML Schemas [XSD] allow for validating information that accompanies and helps to verify identity or jurisdiction such as postal addresses. The W3C has also established a standard for forms [FORMS]; forms are the most common means by which citizens can send information to government agencies. And the W3C is working on methods to ensure the non-repudiation and authenticity of documents through its work in the XML Security Working Group [XML-SEC]. This group will endeavor to welcome participation in acknowledging various technologies, while seeking to help in finding methods to evaluate the quality and success.

Long term data management

This section will be completed as the document matures.

Next Steps

This section will be completed as the document matures.


This section will be completed as the document matures.


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