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.
User need approach:
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.
Achieving the expected benefits:
- 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.
Other steps to achieving interoperability:
- 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.