eGovernment refers to the use of the Web or other information technologies by governing bodies at different levels (local, state, national and multi-national) to interact with their citizenry, between departments and divisions, and between governments themselves. This FAQ answers some questions about W3C's role in this space via its eGov Interest Group.

How does W3C contribute to eGovernment?

The Web has become the main channel for governments to deliver services to citizens and Web technologies are crucial in the relationships between governments, and governments and industry. Following interoperable, open Web standards helps ensure access to information by people with diverse capabilities, using a broad range of devices supplied by any vendor of their choice, and helps ensure that "the people's data" will remain available long into the future. W3C has produced more than 90 Web standards in over 11 years. Governments are increasingly finding value in Web standards created at W3C and incorporating them into their policies.

What W3C technologies pertain to eGovernment?

There are many, from HTML to build Web pages, to Semantic Web technologies to increase metadata. Some of the most visible relate to:

The eGovernment Activity at W3C will 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.

Why is W3C launching this group now (June 2008)?

W3C has been involved in eGovernment for several years already. P3P and WCAG are good examples, and they were developed ten years ago already! The new group is the culmination of several years of work by W3C in this area, including two Workshops on eGovernment in 2007, one in Europe and one in North America. The new work will address eGovernment needs specifically.

In the past, many government agencies developed services using proprietary technologies or requiring the use of a given solution by the citizenry and industry. However, governments are increasingly finding value in open Web standards created at W3C, but sometimes they question the benefit due to the considerable effort they have to spend in suiting them to their needs, in part due to their unique requirements (e.g. to demand and enforce certain policies about information privacy). So there is still work to do, including helping the governments understand how to better use, support and participate in the development of Web standards that fit their needs. W3C also needs to learn how to communicate in terms used by government agencies.

This new forum provides a great opportunity to have requirements from all eGovernment stakeholders influence W3C standards for the benefit of the larger community.

How does W3C work relate to efforts in other organizations?

One of the goals of this activity is to achieve collective outreach by standards bodies, leading standards bodies working in fields that support better government data integration and sharing. Therefore, the Interest Group seeks to work closely with international organizations that deal with eGovernment such as The World Bank, OECD, OAS, United Nations, European Commission, OASIS, and others. In this collaboration, W3C will concentrate on what it does well — standards development in a collaborative environment, and Web technology expertise — and will work together with those bodies to promote use of open standards and identify any gaps to be filled in creating a complete suite of standards to enable open government information.

What are the expected outcomes?

W3C has chartered a public eGovernment Interest Group with the goal of improving access to government through better use of the Web. To reach that goal, W3C plans to create a task force to address three main topics:

The group's charter cites two types of deliverables from these task forces:

  1. The creation of an interdisciplinary forum for discussing how the use of open web standards can improve access to government.
  2. Documentation of the challenges that were identified by the task forces, the technical and administrative approaches used, and the needs of best practices, guidelines or new technologies to be developed (roadmap) in order to tackle the most relevant issues within scope for each task force.

The Interest Group may also propose holding more public Workshops to explore new and emerging approaches.

How can I participate in W3C's eGovernment work? How much time will participation require?

Participation is open to the public; anyone may join the group. The eGovernment IG is chartered for one year, and expected commitment for a participants is:

Please, see the separate page on participation to learn how to join the group.

What do government agencies typically see as the benefits of using mashups? What kind of data are they using? What are the challenges?

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 mashups (mashups defined as merging data from two or more different applications or data sources and producing comparative views of the combined information). 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. 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.

It is often not within the mission of an agency to provide sets of information from other agencies or different sources. A few third sector organizations have 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. Unfortunately, these organizations have to use that data in the way it's published, usually in HTML or in proprietary formats.

Developing information for the sole purpose of putting it on the Web as an informative resource, although important and required by policies in many cases, is not enough anymore when citizens and civil societies are asking for access to the raw data. Publishing the raw data in open accessible formats should be a new goal for the agencies and they should get enough incentive to do so. Vast improvement of data integration between disparate systems and flourishing of services are just some of the benefits the unexpected reuse of that information would bring. This is not exempt from additional challenges though.

Agencies are faced with having to ensure that the information and other data that they provide remains the authoritative source of the information and data. By providing access to data via XML or other methods 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 maintain its original nature.

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. Government agencies, like any organization, need to look to W3C or other standards organization for best practices, lessons learned, and strategies.