Improving Access to Government Information with Open Standards for Document Formats

Improving Access to Government Information with Open Standards for Document Formats

Rajiv C. Shah (University of Illinois College of Law, USA) and Jay P. Kesan (University of Illinois College of Law, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-390-6.ch009
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An important element of transformational government is improving the access and use of government information. Effective use of government information requires government to move beyond traditional proprietary document formats because these formats limit access and use of information stored digitally. In this chapter, we show how document formats based on open standards and the Extensible Markup Language (XML) can revitalize citizens’ access and use of government information. We also offer an improved definition of open standards to assist governments in selecting which document formats to adopt. A critical part of this new definition is an emphasis on multiple implementations of an open standard, which is also known as running code.
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Background On Document Formats

The most recognized document formats are Microsoft’s Word DOC format for word processing, Excel’s XLS for spreadsheets, and Powerpoint’s PPT format for presentations. However, there are countless other formats that are used by government. Information produced and used within government is created and modified within document formats. The ability to edit, search, and analyze this information directly can transform how government manages itself as well as its relationship with its citizens. Consider the example of Thailand:

December 26, 2004. 7:58 am. A thirty-foot-high wall of water—a tsunami—slams into the famed resort islands off Thailand’s southern coast. In one tragic moment, thousands of lives are lost, and thousands more are missing.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Document Formats: Specifications for storing information, a commonly used document formats include Microsoft’s DOC format or Adobe’s PDF format.

Standards: In the context of information technology, standards are guidelines for allowing disparate devices and applications to communicate and work together.

Interoperability: In the context of information technology, interoperability is the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.

Running Code: Having multiple independent interoperable implementations of a standard. The term originates within the standards body known as the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Open Standards (Typical): Open standards are generally defined based on three criteria. First, the standard is publicly available to everyone at a minimal cost. Second, no entity controls the standard or the standard is licensed on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.” Third, the development process for creating the standard involves public participation.

Extensible Markup Language (XML): A general-purpose specification for creating custom markup languages. It is extensible because it allows users to define their own elements.

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