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Challenge: Viewing government documents

Short description: 

Citizens, businesses and government officials need to be able to access and read government documents on their own devices.

Users must not have costs imposed upon them, or be digitally excluded, due to the document format in which government documents are provided.

User need: 

Users in this challenge are people inside and outside of government who need to access and read information produced by government officials or government services.

These users need to be able to view government documents on their device of choice, for example a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop, without the need to pay for any additional software.

As part of the challenge phase, these needs will be investigated further and may be refined based on feedback.

Expected benefits: 

  • Users are able to open and read government documents
  • Users are not required to buy new software to access government documents due to the format in which government documents are provided
  • Users are able to re-use data and text, where the licence permits

Functional needs: 

Citizens, businesses and delivery partners must be able to view  information using the device of their choice.

Documents should be accessible on different devices without loss of integrity - the information should not become spoiled.

Documents in this context include:

  • Word processed texts
  • Spreadsheets
  • Presentations

As part of the challenge phase, these needs will be investigated further and may be refined or expanded based on feedback.

Status: 

Completed

Related meeting minutes: 

Response received via email on 15 January 2014. Posted here on behalf of the Dutch Standardisation Forum.

Governments must consider their goal when distributing content for "viewing". Is it to reach the widest audience without extra cost for recipients or to reach a target recipient with content that can’t be modified? Choices are not obvious and often complex, balancing benefits for creators against those of recipients, or, more pointedly, costs for creators against benefits for recipients. We recommend supporting a range of formats, rather than select and mandate just one. Common, pragmatic practice across the world is to send "un-editable" documents using open standards like ISO/IEC 32000 and make the same document available in other widely consumed "editable" formats, like the open standard ISO/IEC 29500, perhaps only on request.

Many government designed web sites are easy to interact without requiring platform specific plugins, but there are some use cases where there are frustrations.

There are some examples where web mapping tools have used silverlight technologies (eg Ordnance Survey getamap?) which are only implemented reliably on Microsoft operating systems, and there are especially problems with the HMRC CT600 form which rather than be delivered as a series of HTML forms, requires considerable technical expertise to configure and enter data into a pdf file.

As for publications, while pdf and doc/x are ubiquitous, odf documents would be preferred as an option as neither of the former are first class formats for the open source office suites such as LibreOffice.

The Challenges reflect today's approach to Documents – seeing them as a standalone document maintaining the integrity of the original copy. This has substantial potential legal and user access implications. Changes inevitable result of the Government's 'Digital by Default' strategy where a document is just a transient 'page' within an online transaction.  Finally the role of different stakeholders  may need to be refined  as a result of  Cloud based services, where providers may 'transparently' offer a layer of  protection between document formats supported.
A Full Response to the Challenge can be found here, on OFE’s website front page, where for transparency we have given a full analysis of options and recommendations.

This application demands open standards (preferably published by recognised standards bodies) that are available free, and can be implemented without patent royalties. Furthermore, these standards must have been implemented in multiple tools, with demonstrated full interoperability. The specifications that best meet these criteria are: HTML (ISO/IEC 15445:2000, also available from W3C as HTML 4.01 Strict) and PDF (ISO 32000-1:2008, Adobe PDF 1.7). While ISO does charge for copies of this standard, happily the same documents are also available from W3C and Adobe for free.

The scope of the question is limited. Web pages are the most accessible of all, but HTML does not have formula's for instance. The document types described all originate within office applications (at least currently), the OpenDocument Format standard as the native format of these applications needs to be included.
Arguably there is no such thing as 'read only' use, since citizens and business use those documents as source material even without expected dialogue between gov and citizen, and often have to write internal documents based on these.
Making RDF metadata available assists in smarter document work flows outside of governments.

A single source format (may vary depending on the information, but likely ODF), presented to the public via website (and possibly web service for automation) that automatically generates alternate formats for download alongside the source file, allowing the user choice of the most appropriate format.

Provide:

  • ODF (source) - for ease of re-use (Word processed texts, Spreadsheets, Presentations)
  • PDF/PDF-A - for maximum fidelity (Word processed texts, Spreadsheets, Presentations)
  • HTML - for widest access (Word processed texts, Presentations, possibly Spreadsheets)
  • CSV - for widest access to spreadsheet data (Spreadsheets)

Care should be taken to ensure document version & provenance is clear, and navigation to the most relevant version is simple.

PDF provides reasonably consistent support for displaying documents in a consistent way across platforms, with some caveats, and HTML, particularly the later versions, is fast becoming a full alternative for online display

HTML is a universal digital standard, and provides an extremely lightweight document format.

HTML is the best for general purpose, current informative pages. Where possible, semantic markup should be used. PDF should be used for documents that should preserve their value for long term. Digital signature should be used for important documents, such as legal documents.

Pages

Update: The time period for commenting on this proposal has been extended to 17:00 GMT on Friday 28 February.

Citizens, businesses and government officials need to be able to access and read government documents on their own devices.

Users must not have costs imposed upon them, or be digitally excluded, due to the document format in which government documents are provided.

[Incorporated in a standards profile]

Citizens, businesses and government officials need to be able to access and read government documents on their own devices. Documents in this context include word processed texts, spreadsheets and presentations.

Citizens, businesses and government officials need to be able to access and read government documents on their own devices.

Users must not have costs imposed upon them, or be digitally excluded, due to the document format in which government documents are provided.

[Incorporated in a standards profile]