W3C eGovernment Interest Group: Open Meeting
Summary Report 12-13 March 2009, Washington, DC, USA

The W3C eGovernment Interest Group organized an Open Meeting on 12-13 March 2009, hosted in Washington, DC (USA) by The American Institute of Architects. The purpose of the meeting was to derive feedback and input into the draft issues paper released on March 10, 2009 and formulate a work plan for the second year of the group.

The meeting was chaired by Kevin Novak, The American Institute of Architects, and John Sheridan, UK National Archives and coordinated by Jose M. Alonso, W3C/CTIC. Minutes of both meeting days are available [Day 1 Minutes, Day 2 Minutes].

Beth Noveck, US Office of Science and Technology Policy, Ellen Miller, Sunlight Foundation, and Steve Ressler, GovLoop were the guest speakers providing insight and thought into the complex challenges facing governments worldwide in achieving the promise of electronic government.

Attendees included representatives from various US Federal Agencies, The World Bank, and Non-Profit Organizations and included several invited experts whose interests and activities focus on the electronic government space and specifically Web and technology standards.

The meeting was structured to allow for a day of provocation followed by a day of solutions and approaches identifying situations, use cases, standards, and directions that would aid governments worldwide with achieving electronic government. The meeting discussions were constructed to focus on the topics of Participation and Citizen Engagement, Open Government Data, Interoperability, Multi Channel Delivery, Identification and Authentication, Long Term Data Management, and the Future Focus of the Electronic Government group.

The meeting began with an energizing talk from Beth Noveck that focused on the agenda of openness and transparency being championed by the new United States Government Administration and which recognized the challenges ahead. Ellen Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation followed Beth with an engaging and informative discussion on exposing government data and resulting success stories which have aided to educate and inform the constituents. Lastly, Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop presented a compelling story of the importance of social media and networking for government professional both for internal purposes and also meeting constituent expectations for participation and discussion.

John Sheridan, UK National Archives led the discussions on Social Networking and Social Media by demonstrating the success of the UK government in engaging the public in discussions. The attendees discussed a variety of issues and challenges confronting governments from implementing social media and networking into their operations. The discussions included copyright issues, government censorship, citizen feedback and response, and policy and legislative barriers and challenges.

The participants concluded their discussions with the actions of identifying current Web and technology standards and use cases that would aid governments in implementing or piloting various applications and services while noting potential areas where new standards are needed.

The Open Government Data discussion began with a presentation from John Sheridan highlighting a recent UK report on the Power of Information. The report focuses on various issues including; Discovery, can I find the data; Legal, am I allowed to use it; Technical, is data in the right form; Commercial, can I afford to buy the data I need; Intelligibility, can I interpret it.

Photo of AIA Board Room at a Meeting Break
Photo credit: Jose M.Alonso

The group discussed the value of RDFa, XBRL, persistent URIs and other Web standards that allow governments to easily expose data and ensuring it is discoverable but kept ROI and business case requirements in focus noting the challenges that government employees face with their managers and superiors when attempting to make government information available. The group identified that small gains are important and that more examples need to be identified and documented.

The participants concluded that more needs to be investigated and reviewed prior to finalizing the Open Government Data section in the draft issues paper.

The agenda moved forward to focus on interoperability, the Semantic Web, taxonomies, domain knowledge, and the overall issue of discovery and availability. Reported during this discussion was the most government websites are not using valid HTML and do not meet Web Accessibility standards thereby compromising who can access the information and services available. Demonstrated was an approach for linking data named Rosetta Stone created by Joe Carmel. The example joined content from the US Code and the Congressional Record to demonstrate how users could research and locate companion information from multiple sources. The group discussed the various approaches and standards, including highlighting challenges with metadata that can aid in exposing and joining information, the Semantic Web documentation produced by W3C, and the Cool URI document written by Tim Berners-Lee.

The next day began with a complex and fruitful discussion on Multi-Channel Delivery including the Mobile Web, device accessibility, and interactive television information and service applications. The group debated the challenges of each and decided to focus the initial group efforts on mobile devices and access noting the adoption of these devices as the single access point in most developing nations. The participants noted the amount of work already in process by W3C and other organizations including the Mobile Web Best Practices published by the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group. The participants intend to collaborate on the multi-channel section of the issues paper and document case studies and relevant Web standards that would aid governments with exploring Mobile Web applications and service delivery.

The next discussion focused on identification and authentication lead by Daniel Bennett from AdvocateHope. Daniel provided insight and explanation to his additions to the issue paper highlighting OpenID and other standards currently being used or piloted. He further explained the challenges and issues facing what authentication and identification means to the US Federal Government.

The last topical discussion focused on long term data management and revolved around repositories, URIs, metadata, semantics and data issues confronting agencies and governments in managing and making available data in the long term thereby preserving access for current and future generations.

The final conversation focused on formulating a plan for the second year of work for the electronic government interest group. Proposed efforts are to continue to provide tools and direction for governments to enable social networking and media applications and services and include focus on policies and cultural aspects, continue to explore and match standards and policies related to multichannel delivery focused on mobile devices with the goal of assisting governments with the tools and techniques that allow data to be served via multiple and diverse access points, meet objectives set by US Federal Government and work to identify standards and practices which would enable e-rulemaking, and continue to grow and mature standards and practices, to include additional use cases and scenarios on the topics of open government data, interoperability, authentication and identification, and long term data management.

The next work for the group will focus on reviewing comments and feedback on the draft issues paper. A final version of the paper, including a work plan for the group's year 2 efforts will be published in the next couple months.