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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title V - Enabling Electronic Access and Analysis of Parliamentary Information

Sec. 36. Providing Information in Open and Structured Formats

Parliamentary information shall be compiled and released in an open and structured format, such as structured XML, that can be read and processed by computers, so that parliamentary information can be easily reused and analyzed by citizens, civil society, the private sector and government.

While it is essential to make parliamentary information available in electronic formats, not all electronic formats are alike. Information presented in a Microsoft Word document, PDF, or an HTML web page, cannot be processed or analyzed using software without first being “scraped” from its original source and reorganized in a database. The development of customized scraping tools is laborious and the results must be parsed for errors caused by scraping. Information provided in open and structured data formats, such as XML, can be processed and re-purposed without these issues, which allows software developers to focus on developing tools that add value to parliamentary information.

There is an emerging international consensus that government and parliamentary information should be made available in open and structured formats. As stated by the IPU, “open document standards, such as XML, should be used to prepare proposed legislation and other parliamentary documentation. Eventually all documentation and media should be made available using open standards.”[1] The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament explains that “open standards for documents are an essential component of [transparent document management systems] …  Standards are needed to provide the functionality and flexibility required by parliaments for diverse requirements such as searching, exchanging, integrating, rendering, and particularly for ensuring the long term availability of digital record at an affordable cost. XML supports the values of transparency, accessibility, and accountability in a variety of ways.”[2] 

The World e-Parliament Report 2010 survey found that only 34% of parliaments with document systems in place (14% total) currently used XML.[3] However, use of XML is quickly expanding among parliaments. The InterParliamentary EU information eXchange (IPEX) recently found that 14 of 33 parliaments in the European Union are currently using XML for legislative documents and that many others looking to develop that capability.[4] In April 2012, at a meeting of the Speakers of many European parliaments, the role of open standards in providing better access to parliamentary information was formally recognized.[5] Beyond Europe, a law adopted in Brazil requires the government (including parliament) to release public data in an XML format based on the Akoma Ntoso standard that is gaining traction worldwide as a standard for parliamentary data.[6] The Chilean Senate is developing an XML-based legislative mark-up system that will allow the Senate to release parliamentary information in an open data format on the parliament’s website.[7] Parliamentary chambers in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Suriname and Ecuador have been testing Bungeni, a suite of open source applications for managing legislative information in XML following the Akoma Ntoso standard, and may use Bungeni to support their legislative information management needs.

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, p. 14.

[2] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 103.

[3] Ibid., p. 94.

[4] Survey on the EU Parliaments initiatives on common standards for digital data and documents, Submitted by the IPEX Board to the Secretaries General of the EU Parliaments on 6 February 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[5] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, Accessed 3/23/2012.

[6] Brazilian Law 12527, adopted November 2011.

[7] Roberto Bustos L., Senate of the Republic of Chile, Markup System of Session Diaries, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament Meeting, Washington, D.C., Feb 27-29, 2012. Accessed 6/12/2012.