Advantages of the use of open standards in parliaments
There are a number of important advantages to the use of open standards in parliaments:
- Exchange of documents. Open standards make it easier to exchange documents between individuals and organizations even if they use different software for editing and managing documents. This can facilitate the exchange of documents between departments within the parliament, with another chamber, between parliament and the government (e.g. courts and national law databases), with citizens and the civil society (e.g. parliamentary monitoring organizations), and with legislative bodies and organizations in other countries.
- Search. Search engines can provide more accurate results and users can formulate more precise queries if data is tagged for its specific content. Document can in fact be searched using both the text and the tags together. Open standards permit documents to be used with a variety of search engines, thereby giving legislatures choices in the selection of a search engine.
- Linking among documents and reuse. Legislative documents are highly interrelated. Open standards allow links among documents to be created automatically and even have the potential, depending on the depth of tagging, to support linking between elements within documents. For example, a section of a proposed bill could be automatically linked to the portion of an existing law that it would amend.
- Multiple forms of output and channels. In an ever diversifying environment of personal computing devices, a source document tagged with an open standard could be used to produce different appearances of a bill such as for display in an “App” (in tablet device) or a website, a paper copy, or a version modified to be incorporated into another document. XML can also be used to produce versions which could be easier for persons with disabilities to access by supporting, for example, large type fonts or audio output. In all of its appearances however, the referential and intellectual integrity of the information and documentation is maintained at all times.
- Consistency in formatting. Tagging standards can be used to encourage or even enforce proper formatting so that members and others who prepare the texts do not have to know the exact conventions used when they draft bills or amendments.
- Ease of preparation. Open standards can be demanding to use but once understood they can ease the effort required to prepare a bill or amendment by guiding the drafter through the required formatting steps.
- Preservation. One of the most important uses of open standards is to ensure the long-term preservation of documents. Proprietary systems change constantly in response to market pressures for new capabilities. As these systems are enhanced, they often reach a point where they cannot be used to access documents prepared using older versions of the same software because the documents use tags that are not understood by the newer software. Over time this has the potential for making it difficult, if not impossible, to read the digital version of documents prepared earlier. It becomes a more complex version of the kind of problem faced by programmers at the beginning of the year 2000 when many systems could not properly read dates because they used only two digits to represent the year.
- Access for citizens. The problem of long-term preservation becomes most acute in the context of ensuring permanent access for citizens to legislative documents. Electronic information accessible today may become inaccessible over time because previous media, software, and proprietary formats are no longer supported. And this could prevent public institutions from guaranteeing that electronically archived public records will remain accessible in the future.