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.
Users in the context of this proposal 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 technology progresses, government’s production of information in formats traditionally associated with documents will become less important for users.
Government services are being redesigned to make them more straightforward and easier to use by making them digital by default. This will diminish the use of traditional government document formatting even further as information is published directly on the web.
This proposal recognises that changes in technology and service delivery will therefore mean that document formats become less important as for users accessing information and transactions increasingly becomes an online experience. However, documents formatted in office software are still prevalent amongst users of government information.
Users need to:
- Access and read information
- Store a local copy of the information they are viewing
- Print a copy of the information they are viewing
- Preserve information for archiving or as a record
- Make sure that the information they are creating is able to be viewed in the way they were intending
- Be able to use accessibility tools with information in online and offline formats
- Access information on a device and platform of their choice, for example a laptop, tablet or smartphone
- Be sure of the integrity of specific information
- See previews of statistical information
Creators of government information should also consider the proposal on sharing or collaborating with government documents as the user may also need to edit the information being shared.
- Users are able to access and read government information
- Users are not required to buy new software to access government information due to the format in which it is provided
- Users are able to re-use data and text, where licences permit
The format should support:
- Characters associated with Unicode 6.2 for text based file formats (in accordance with the standards profile for cross-platform character encoding)
- Use of metadata
- Implementation in software from a variety of suppliers
- Citizens, businesses and delivery partners being able to view information using the device of their choice
- Rendering that is appropriate for a user’s device
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
When dealing with citizens, information should be digital by default and therefore should be available online. HTML 4.01 (or higher e.g. HTML5) is the default format for browser-based documents, including for previews of CSV files.
For static versions of non-statistical data produced for download, archiving and authenticity, PDF/A should be used as the default for non-editable documents. PDF 1.7 should be used where more rich functionality is needed.
For statistical data and in cases where editable information is required, refer to the standards in the proposal on sharing or collaborating with government documents.
- Information that is newly published should be provided in the formats described in this proposal
- Unless requested by a user, there is no requirement to transfer existing information to these formats, although this would be desirable over time
- Documents may be published in other formats only in addition to those described in this proposal
- Government officials should engage with standards bodies associated with the maintenance of standards that are agreed for document formats for use in government
This proposal, if agreed, would apply to information produced by or on behalf of central government departments, their agencies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and any other bodies for which they are responsible. These government bodies would need implementation advice to give clarity about when to use particular formats and the user needs they meet.
A document metadata profile is outside the scope of this proposal, although this may be the subject of other challenges taken through the Standards Hub process.
Assessment of tools that can be used for providing multiple formats from a single standardised format are also outside the scope of this standards challenge.
- HTML 4.01 - ISO/IEC 15445:2000 Information technology - Document description and processing languages - HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
- HTML 4.01 Specification
- PDF 1.7 - ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008 Document management - Portable document format - Part 1: PDF 1.7
- PDF/A-1 - ISO/IEC 19005-1:2005 Document management - Electronic document file format for long-term preservation
- PDF/A-2 - ISO/IEC 19005-2:2011 Document management - Electronic document file format for long-term preservation
Enables citizens, businesses, charities, voluntary organisations and government officials to access and read government documents on their own device, without having to pay for specific software.
This profile would apply to information produced by or on behalf of central government departments, their agencies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and any other bodies for which they are responsible.
The Technical Standards Panel recommends that PDF, HTML 4.01 and HTML5 should be adopted as standards for viewing government documents.
These standards (especially HTML) were considered core to the web and therefore meet the needs of most online stakeholders. By adopting this standards profile users can be confident of what tools they will need to access government documents, lowering the technical threshold of access to government information where currently proprietary tools are sometimes required.
The Panel noted that the W3C version of the HTML 4.01 specification was being referred to rather than the ISO version.
The scope is the entirety of digitally published government documents. With such a broad scope the panel felt it essential that the standards selected were open, mature and robust whilst meeting the needs of users.
The panel considered that two sets of standards were important in reflecting offline and online usage, however this may be reconsidered in the future as the mix of on/off-line working changes.
These standards are already widely adopted and are officially recognised ISO standards.
PDF 1.7 was originally developed in a commercial setting, however it has since been adopted by ISO (ISO 32000-1:2008). PDF/A was developed in an open committee process and did not start as the property of a commercial entity. The Panel felt that the commercial origins of the standard were less important than the wide adoption from different vendors for both viewing and creation.
There is no formal reference implementation for PDF and there are some gaps in the specification (detailed in the standard assessment), however the panel did not consider these to be reasons to not adopt.
HTML is an established foundation of the web, leading to significant confidence in the areas of evaluation.
There is no reference implementation for HTML, however the panel did not feel that this was a reason for non-adoption. Similarly, the challenge owner’s spokesperson presented no specific evidence as to the specification’s impact on the environment, financial costs, security or privacy. The Panel considered these points but felt that, in the absence of any identified negative impact this should not stand in the way of adoption.
In terms of HTML5, the specification is still evolving and is still not stable. It is, however, widely adopted, including by GOV.UK. The panel considered that greater benefit would be derived from proposing a dual HTML 4/5 standard now and reassessing this as HTML5 becomes stable.
The majority of responses suggested using versions of PDF and HTML for viewing government documents.
PDF/UA was considered but we agreed with the conclusion that this was a relatively new profile and is focussed mainly on the development of PDF authoring tools, viewers and assistive technologies. Tool development is outside of the user needs described in this challenge. The standard could provide some useful guidance for authors of documents to make the content more accessible.
Publishing formats for ebooks, including ePUB were suggested. We agreed with the assessment that there is growing uptake of ebooks but currently there is little use of tools in government that produce documents in ebook formats. The focus of this challenge is on business documents and therefore we concluded that ePUB and ebook formats should not be considered for this particular challenge at this time. We will monitor the development and uptake and may consider ebook formats in future.
Other standards suggested, such as WCAG and Dublin Core we agreed were outside the scope of this document format challenge although could be considered for other challenges.
The Panel agreed that there would be a benefit to service delivery on implementation of this standards profile.
PDF is already widely in use as a publishing format on GOV.UK and may other sites. Basic PDFs are widely portable across different platforms and are easy for viewers to use. Encouraging publishing in HTML is better for accessibility and for delivering content to a wide range of viewing devices.
The Panel recognised that backwards compatibility is important for users viewing government information and noted that HTML4.01 and PDF 1.7 are both backwards compatible. HTML5 support for backwards compatibility will be monitored as the specification matures.
A rise in popularity of ebooks may require a change to the proposed approach.
Changes to the emerging HTML5 specification may create uncertainty for implementers.
The ubiquity of free software for viewing these formats means that users do not have costs imposed upon them
People are not digitally excluded as a consequence of the format that documents are published in, providing opportunities for greater engagement, transparency and accountability of government
- No additional cost is anticipated for government other than the costs associated with refresh of technology
Implementation should begin as soon as the Open Standards Board reaches agreement.
- Government bodies will be required to publish implementation plans to signify when implementation will be completed.
Publishers of government information should be encouraged to improve their awareness of creating accessible content.
Government officials should consider engaging with standards bodies associated with the maintenance of standards that are agreed for document formats to ensure our users needs are considered.
Additional challenges may be considered for document metadata, search and archiving if user needs are not being met.
The Panel noted that no reference implementations had been found, however as both HTML and PDF are widely in use this was not seen as an obstacle for accepting the recommendation.
Existing fora, consortia and standards body specifications are being referred to, notification was not required. However, W3C standards will be referred to the Multi Stakeholder Platform.