FW: Government and "web basics"

Kevin, I'm an adherent to Michael Schrages' admonition that good manners
should not be allowed to get in the way of a good argument.


I agree that, consistent with their own national strategic objectives and
budgetary priorities, government agencies should try to help less fortunate
nations who are willing and able to establish and be held accountable for
effectively pursuing their own strategic objectives.  (I don't believe in
pouring money down rat holes, even for the best of intentions.)


In the U.S. Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) Business Reference Model
(BRM), International Development and Humanitarian Aid is the second
objective under Services for Citizens goal 15 but "foreign economic
development and social/political development" is kind of an after-thought
under the second objective (Global Trade) under that goal.


With reference to OMB Circular A-76 and the FAIR Act, determining what are
and are not "inherently governmental" functions is indeed a key challenge.


With respect to IT and IRM, I personally believe that governments should
focus on *data* standards, i.e., the records and elements of data that are
unique to governmental functions.  I don't believe we can truly understand
what our "business" is without understanding the information required to
conduct it.  More specifically, I believe government agencies should specify
and post on their Web sites XML schemas (XSDs) for all of their records,
with documentation elements included within each XSD to provide plain
language definitions of each element in contains.  If that were done, XML
registry services could be built from the bottom-up.  See
0GSA%20metadata%20search%22 & http://xml.gov/registries.asp  


A good place to start would be to finalize the XSD for the FEA Data
Reference Model (DRM).  See
http://xml.coverpages.org/FEA-DRM-SchemaDraftV04-20060103.xsd or


BTW, if the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) had a strategic plan, it
would already be in the StratML collection.
http://xml.gov/stratml/index.htm#StratPlans  Thus far, I haven't been able
to smoke one out of them but perhaps I will infer a StratML document from
the information they *are* providing on their Web site:




From: public-egov-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:public-egov-ig-request@w3.org]
On Behalf Of Novak, Kevin
Sent: Thursday, October 02, 2008 9:27 AM
To: Owen Ambur; Sheridan, John; public-egov-ig@w3.org
Cc: Adam Schwartz; Betty Harvey; Sylvia Webb; Betsy Fanning; Ronald P. Reck;
Oscar Azanon
Subject: RE: Government and "web basics"


Owen and John,


Agree on the points made but think we are missing one key challenge. Larger
governments have the abilities to invest, rightly or wrongly in their
direction, in the web and providing information and service delivery


Developing nations on the other hand, do not have the resources or
knowledge, they don't know where to start nor how efforts would be sustained
if they do. Once and if they do, it is unlikely that they have the data and
telecommunications infrastructure in their countries to actually reach their
citizenry electronically. As we know mobile devices are proliferating in
many developing nations given the affordability of the devices and the
ability to take advantage of wireless communications. There is a lot of
activity in this area and on the topic concerning the general web across
many organizations and groups, several of which I have been involved with.
As well, through my work on the World Digital Library project sponsored by
the Library of Congress and UNESCO, I experienced many of the challenges and
stories first hand and recognized what a formidable task the developing
nations have. 


What I don't believe has been focused on yet is how governments can and
should seek to deliver information and services via mobile devices. What
standards and specifications exist to account for the particular or unique
needs of governments? Not many that I am aware of. If we are to be
successful in our endeavor, we need to account for these alternate delivery
mechanisms. This can be accomplished by synergizing with other W3C group or
external organizations and not be something we bear on our own.


I believe this needs to be accounted for in our work and offers us
significant challenges in our scope but key to our mission.


On the topic of solutions like URIs:


Items like URI's are somewhat familiar to larger governments who handle
significant amounts of electronic documents. Although, I myself would argue,
given my experience with many international libraries and digital repository
communities and efforts, that even the basic knowledge of the how, what,
when, where, and why doesn't always exist. As John mentioned, there needs to
be basic understanding at a high level and not in technical terms what is
possible and why things should be done. I am not sure we need to be the
trumpet or standard bearers in this realm given the work of many others but
definitely something we should account for. A significant portion of our
work needs to focus on communicating in plain terms the value and
opportunities of electronic government.


Some ramblings for a Thursday morning.


On a personal note, Owen, I want to thank you for your commitment and level
of involvement to the group. I truly appreciate it.







Kevin Novak

Vice President, Integrated Web Strategy and Technology

The American Institute of Architects

1735 New York Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20006


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Email:    kevinnovak@aia.org

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The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural
profession and the resource for its members in service to society.



From: Owen Ambur [mailto:Owen.Ambur@verizon.net] 
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 10:53 AM
To: 'Sheridan, John'
Cc: Adam Schwartz; Betty Harvey; Sylvia Webb; Betsy Fanning; 'Ronald P.
Reck'; Novak, Kevin; Novak, Kevin; 'Oscar Azanon'
Subject: RE: Government and "web basics"


John, I'm copying several of my StratML Committee colleagues since the
second and third to the last paragraphs in your message below are closely
related to an issue I have raised with them, i.e., how best to identify each
of the individual goals and objectives established by organizations in their
strategic plans (taking into account the need for version control at the
element level as well as the periodic relocation of files on the Web).


Having watched the URI/URL debate for a number of years, I'm not sure we can
resolve it in the StratML standard or the W3C eGov IG.  However, perhaps we
might be able to enable users of the Web to resolve it in a de facto, if not
also a de jure manner, e.g., by including an <IdentifierType> element in the
StratML schema (and other schemas) and allowing the debate to be resolved by
what actually occurs on the Web in the years ahead.  (Content authors would
be free to indicate whatever type of ID they choose to apply and, over time,
the de facto standard(s) should emerge.)


BTW, I agree with your assertion that government *should* provide URIs for
.gov resources and perhaps for other resources as well.  However, it might
be more politically feasible to give the owners of non-governmental
resources the opportunity (in a standardized way) to provide identifiers (of
any type they choose) for their own resources before trying to impose the
hand of government.  Given the speed at which the bureaucracy moves, that
might also prove to be a quicker means of achieving the objective.




From: public-egov-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:public-egov-ig-request@w3.org]
On Behalf Of Sheridan, John
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 9:42 AM
To: public-egov-ig@w3.org
Subject: Government and "web basics"


There are three modalities for governments' use of the web:

* to deliver public services, to citizens and businesses (providing
information or transactional services)
* to engage with citizens through the use of social media on government
websites or through engagement with online communities elsewhere on the web
* as infrastructure, to enable others to build their own products and

These modalities can be loosely characterised as "provide, engage and
enable". The extent to which a government chooses to fulfil 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

Advocates of the interventionist state are more likely to support a strong
and overt role for  government on the web, whereas supporters of smaller
government seize on the web's potential to enable the state to step back.
The state may seek to establish online communities as part of public service
provision or instead engage with existing communities hosted by others. If
the UK government's experience is any yard stick then both modes of
engagement are being adopted with much to learn about the relative levels of

There are fundamental differences of view about the nature and role of the
state in society. Such intrinsically political questions will increasingly
play themselves out in terms of governments use of the web as they do in
other spheres of public policy. As the Web becomes more important and
integral to our lives so does the potential for the politicisation of the
state's role on the web as provider and/or enabler.

The web has enormous potential to facilitate public services reform, opening
up new models of provision and engagement. Millions of people are using
simple tools like discussion forums, blogs and wikis, to advise and help
each other. Often this support aids the achievement of public service
outcomes, for example by supporting parents through difficulties with their
children (e.g. netmums or mumsnet). The extent to which people trust each
other in such forums is striking, for example helping one another to
navigate the complexities of the public sector, such as accessing advice on
taxation issues (e.g. moneysavingexpert.com).

The prevalence and shear scale of these communities is significant. This is
not a blip or a fad but a new social trend that is making the web relevant
to every area of public policy. For officials with a background in
information technology and long standing interest in the web it is striking
to be joined by policy colleagues whose primary concern is health or
education. The motivations can be starkly different but there is a growing
level of interest in the true potential of the web.

Another important part of the context for the e-Government Interest Group is
a significant tightening in public expenditure as a consequences of the
turmoil in global financial system. Many governments have made a significant
investment in their web presence and with declining revenues will need to
achieving efficiency savings in the immediate term. Communications and
Information Technology budgets are likely to come under increasing pressure.
In response governments are likely to want to consolidate their web presence
around fewer sites, in order to reduce costs and deliver more comprehensible
and joined-up public services. It will be important for this group to
articulate the case that the use of standards and knowledge sharing saves
costs. Doing the *right* thing is not necessarily more expensive than not -
and in the long run saves money.

When characterising governments' current use of the web a number of general
observations can be made. Whilst increasingly cognisant of the opportunities
afforded by social media, typically  governments are still operating a
broadcasting paradigm. Websites 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
organisationally 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 a 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
website development as the engineering of basic information infrastructure.
Surveying governments use of the web, RESTful principles are not widely in
evidence. It is as if when developing a channels strategy sometimes
governments forget that they are part of the whole web.

Underlying these issues is one of particular interest to the W3C as a
technology standards organisation, 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.

It is an important architectural principle of the web that "global naming
leads to global network effects". Is this, and the other basic principles of
web architecture, properly understood?

The reality is that few officials responsible for commissioning or managing
government websites are familiar with the basic principles of the web - how
many will have read the volumes "Architecture of the World Wide Web" for
example? 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.

What is needed is a bridge into that corpus - a simple statement of "web
basics" in the context of government activity on the web. This can be
supported by the use-cases which address more detailed issues in each of the
modalities of governments use of the web ("provide, engage, enable").

Unless we (the people in governments responsible for what we do on the web)
can develop a basic understanding of how the web works and why, there will
be a significant constraint on governments' ability to reach their potential
on the web and thus on the potential of the web itself.

For example, there are entities and concepts that deserve an identifier (a
URI) that the government should properly assign. These range from URIs for
all the schools, hospitals, police stations - even the courts, through to
URIs for interoperability artefacts such as XML Schema that are being used.

The importance of giving resources URIs is something that is not
sufficiently understood, particularly in the context of governments' role on
the web. There are other examples of basic web principles which are being
overlooked, overwhelmingly through lack of knowledge and understanding.

If the e-Government Interest Group is able to address this one issue -
finding a way to convey the basic web principles in a simple way to the non
technical audience - it will do both governments and the W3C a great

John Sheridan 

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Received on Thursday, 2 October 2008 17:32:39 UTC