eGov at W3C: Next Steps.


I wanted to share some of the thoughts that we have within the W3C staff about where we think the eGov activity at W3C is heading, and what the next steps are.  Before I go into that, I should probably also introduce myself: I lead the Technology & Society Domain at the W3C, which includes the eGov, Semantic Web, Security, Privacy, and Web Services activities.

Back to the topic -- first of all, and most importantly:  We're excited by the momentum and activity that we see with governments around the globe, and we're excited by the enormous amount of data that has been coming online over the last year.  We think that W3C has a role to play in this environment.  That role is to help you lead the charge on the public sector's use of the Web, and it is to help you bring more data online, better.

We're also excited to see a lot of interest on senior levels of governments.  In November, Tim Berners-Lee kicked off the conference together with Vivek Kundra, who called out the economic importance of open government data. In the EU, Commissioner Kroes is spearheading a review of the public sector information directive; the Commissioner's Digital Agenda calls for the availability of public sector information online as a key policy goal; and "Government Data, Done Well", is one of the themes that keep emerging from conversations within the broader community throughout the EU. At the same time, the Commission is holding meetings to figure out how to build a cross-EU public data catalogue.

In this note, I want to do two things: First, outline a few of the high-level ideas of what we think the eGov activity can do.  Second, talk about the concrete steps that will get us there over the next two or three months.

So, what can the eGov activity do?

1. The policy level.  For those of us who live and breathe the Web on a macro level, its value and transformative role for society, business, and administrations is so obvious that we at times forget that there are many decisions that need to be made to make government use of the Web happen.  Those decisions need reasons, and those of us who work to support those decisions need to exchange their ideas.

What are the economic success stories and models that motivate decisions about cost and licensing models for government data?  What are the tradeoffs between data and services for free or at marginal cost?  What are the results abroad that might motivate an agency to fund a government data program at a time of budget cuts and austerity policies? How can we turn unfunded mandates into funded, sustainable initiatives?  A lot is to be learned from your experiences in answering those very questions.

2. Leading the charge toward a technical vision.  For government data, Tim Berners-Lee has coined the "five star" model; one version of that model goes as follows:

* on the web, open license
** machine-readable data
*** non-proprietary formats
**** RDF standards
***** Linked RDF

That model aims to enable innovation based on integration across silos within and across governments, based on interoperability between the services and data put online.

We're glad to see more governments get on board with this vision -- Norway and Italy are among the more recent additions of countries that start putting data online and getting to government data done well.  But implementing this vision is a lot of work (as all of you know), and there is a lot to be shared and learned.

Of course, government data is not the be all and end all of governments' use of the Web:  Services to citizens are offered online.  There are exciting ideas about decomposing government services into their fundamental components, bringing those components online, and looking for innovations to emerge on top of those.  What's the technical vision for that?  What do those ideas mean for the Web? How will citizens interact with their governments in ten, twenty years?  We need to have those discussions now.  We think the eGov activity is the place to have them.  And we think you are the ones who will lead governments' innovations in this space.

3. The nuts and bolts.  There's Government Data Done Well, there are the Five Stars -- but how does one actually climb that star ladder?  What does it mean to put a particular government data set into a non-proprietary, perhaps RDF-based, format?  What *is* that format in the first place?  Which of several does one choose?  When is a standard format the best thing to choose (and perhaps even worth waiting for), and when is it not worth the effort?  How do we reconcile the need for standards with the rallying call of Raw Data Now?

Answering those questions is, in many ways, closest to what we do every day at W3C: developing standards.  We realize that there's a precarious balance in government data space, between doing it right and doing it at all.  We also see that the same questions are asked in many countries. That's why we think that W3C is the right place to work out the answers to these questions.

What does all of this mean for the future of the Activity, and how can you shape it?

The nuts and bolts questions, we think, call for a Working Group.  We'll call it the Government Linked Data Working group, and we'll focus on the detailed technical work that makes the five stars for government data possible.  Sandro has drafted a charter for this group that's now available:

We'd love to hear your thoughts on that draft till the year-end holiday break.  We'll incorporate them, and we'll propose a Working Group around these work items to the W3C Advisory Committee (the representatives of the membership) first thing in 2011.  We're excited about this plan, and we think it will make a real difference.

This group will also be the place to take up a lot of the work that's currently going on in the GLD task force, including the dcat vocabulary and several other work items.

We also think that the more general technical vision, the policy level, and the deployment questions call for a separate group.  That will be the future role of this Interest Group:  Serving as the place for the broader discussion about governments' use of Web technologies, and (for those who are interested in that sort of work) being a basis for education and outreach work around technical visions, policy concepts, best practices, and case studies.

An initial draft for the IG charter is here:

Your comments are more than welcome.

We look forward to a great conversation about the future of eGov at W3C, and to your comments on where you want to take this activity.  Remember, W3C is its members and participants!

Thomas Roessler, W3C  <>  (@roessler)
Technology & Society Domain Leader

Received on Thursday, 9 December 2010 13:20:48 UTC