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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. 41. Facilitating Easy and Stable Mechanisms for Finding Information

Given the amount of information that is often made available by parliaments, the ability of users to search easily and quickly for relevant information is a necessity. Parliaments should create searchable databases of past and current parliamentary information enabling both simple and complex searches using appropriate metadata to make it as easy as possible for citizens to quickly find desired information. Information should be available in a location that remains constant over time, for instance on a webpage with a persistent URL.

To ensure that citizens are able to access information, parliaments should create searchable databases of current and past information.  This information ought to be searchable through both simple and advanced searches that help citizens find the information that they are looking for, even when their knowledge is incomplete. The Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites recommends that parliamentary websites have “a searchable database of past and current parliamentary action, which can be used to find all relevant information, to search for major elements of action, and sort results by various criteria, in a way that meets the needs of parliamentary staff and citizens and is understandable to all.”[1] To ensure that parliamentary information can be accessed permanently, parliaments should ensure that URLs, or web addresses, persist unchanged, so that they can be linked to by external sites.  


Not all search functions are equal. The use of robust metadata enhances discovery of documents and related documentation that help one understand the information they are searching for and its context. Metadata is commonly described as “data about data,” and includes, but is not limited to, basic reference information, such as that contained in a card catalogue at a library, and administrative information, like when and how the document was created or has undergone changes. As explained by the Open Knowledge Foundation, “Metadata standards exist for many areas of activity, including archiving, the arts, biology, education, geographic data, government, social sciences, linguistics, libraries, media, and science. The commonly agreed upon standards for these fields allow data to be classified in a way that makes them easier to describe, locate, retrieve and manage.”[2] By creating common data and metadata models, information released by parliaments “can easily be cited and cross-referenced either by other Parliaments/courts or by other users” making it “possible to search across the document repositories of multiple Parliaments/courts in a consistent and effective way.”[3] In addition to use of metadata, parliaments may also make information more easily accessible by making greater use of microformats “so that information intended for end-users (such as contact information, geographic coordinates, calendar events, and the like) can be automatically processed by software.”[4] Akoma Ntoso provides a framework for standardizing metadata across legal documents.[5]

Currently, 81% of parliaments use search engines “that can serve the needs of both members and citizens, at both the beginning and advanced levels.”[6] In Bulgaria “where all draft laws could be searched by several criteria – keyword, date of filing, who filed them, reporting committee and code number.”[7] The Chamber of Deputies in Italy enhances searchability by facilitating semantic interoperability of documents using Resource Description Framework (RDF), a standardized model for helping to describe documents and the relationship between them.[8] 

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §3.1.

[2] Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, Beyond Access: The Right to (Re)Use Public Information, 7 Jan 2011, p. 20.

[3] Giovanni Sartor, Legal Informatics and Management of Legislative Documents, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, January 2008, pp. 40-41.

[4] Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, Beyond Access: The Right to (Re)Use Public Information, 7 Jan 2011, p. 20.

[5] Fabio Vitali, Metadata in Akoma Ntoso: an Introduction, Africa i-Parliaments, Accessed 5/15/2012.

[6] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 63.

[7] Center for Liberal Strategies, Open Parliaments: Transparency and Accountability of Parliaments in South-East Europe, p. 14.

[8] Resource Description Framework, Accessed 6/12/2012.