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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. 42. Hyperlinking Related Information

Parliaments shall seek to improve the ability of citizens to find relevant parliamentary information by hyperlinking parliamentary information to other related information, for example, by hyperlinking references in a bill history to earlier versions of the law, to relevant committee reports, to expert testimony, to sponsored amendments and to the portions of the Hansard that contain the record of parliamentary debate on the relevant piece of legislation.

Legislative information is only comprehensible if accompanied by relevant background and contextual information. A law, for instance, can often only be understood in the context of other laws.  As the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament’s 2010 World e-Parliament Report notes, “To understand the status and meaning of a bill, members and citizens need the associated reports prepared by the committees, subject experts and others; descriptions of all the actions taken on the legislation; amendments proposed and their status; links to parliamentary debate and votes on the bill, and other related material.”[1] Parliaments must enhance access to the context of their work for parliamentarians and citizens alike.  

 

According to the World e-Parliament Report 2010, 55% of parliaments report that proposed legislation is linked to related documentation broadly, with some parliaments choosing to hyperlink to more information than others. For example, only 27% linked information on committee hearings to proposed legislation, while 56% had committee reports linked to the relevant piece of legislation. Thirty-three percent of parliaments report that they link bills to summary explanations of the legislation. Over time, trends show that the hyperlinking among documents by parliaments is increasing.[2] The report explains, “More work need[s] to be done to link legislation to other related documents that could assist the user in obtaining a more complete representation of the information relevant to specific bills under consideration. When links from proposed legislation to related documents were provided, they were most often to plenary debate on the bill, relevant laws and statutes, and committee reports about the legislation.”[3] While governments and parliaments should explore ways to further hyperlink relevant bits of data, as the Open Knowledge Foundation’s report Beyond Access notes, “these future possibilities should not impede the release of current government datasets.”[4]

 

As mentioned in relation to provision 41 above, the Chamber of Deputies in Italy uses RDF as a standard for linking documents.[5] The Brazilian government, including the Congress, has developed the LexML platform to “unify, organize and facilitate access to legislative and legal information made available in digital form…” Part of LexML’s work includes developing “a linker application that will automatically insert links to reference laws and documents in legislative texts.”[6] Akoma Ntoso provides a standard for efficient linking of documentation across parliaments and governments.  Some PMOs, including Regards Citoyens in France, have begun to link legislative information to enhance citizen access. However, the absence of open and structured information from parliaments links the ability of external groups to assist in linking documents.


[1] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 60.

[2] Ibid., pp. 56-61.

[3] Ibid., p. 51.

[4] Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge Foundation, Beyond Access: The Right to (Re)Use Public Information, 7 Jan 2011, p. 36.

[5] Resource Description Framework, http://www.w3.org/RDF/. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[6] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 100.