While nearly all parliaments use the Internet to communicate information to citizens, many do so in formats that can be viewed by people, but not be processed by machines. This prevents citizens and parliamentary actors from taking advantage of the advances in modern technology that have helped revolutionize commerce and industry. Putting data in open formats is a key element of the Open Government Partnership. Even some parliaments that provide information in formats that can be processed by computers place copyright restrictions or fees on the use of information. This can also prevent citizens from freely sharing, republishing, and integrating this parliamentary information with other sources of information. Enabling bulk downloading, which allows the user to download all the information in a database at once, is also critical to third party developers who use parliamentary information.
Providing parliamentary information in open formats, which are machine-readable, reusable and re-publishable, makes parliamentary information more accessible to citizens. It allows them to develop and use their own tools and software for making this information more interesting, useful and understandable. In addition to fostering innovation, many parliaments have found various efficiencies in utilizing open formats, as well as cost savings (Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, 2012; Mandelbaum, 2012). For these reasons, the IPU states that “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.” The IPU also calls specifically for countries to provide on their parliament’s website the ability for “high-speed downloading of parliamentary files,” a suggestion echoed by the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness.
Parliaments may take a number of steps to provide parliamentary information in open formats; in particular, parliaments may wish to:
- Create a policy for ensuring that parliamentary information is provided using “open data” principles. Several parliaments and governments have issued directives or policies to help govern principles on open data. These policies cover issues such as which information is to be provided in which format, where, and how.
- Create specific websites where citizens can access legislative data in open formats, similar to how governments have created open data portals. This can serve as a means for fostering public discussions on open data and how the parliament can begin to serve the data needs of its citizens.
- Provide bulk download and/or API (application programming interface) access to parliamentary data. Access to raw parliamentary data is essential to developers interested in creating websites that help citizens understand and analyse parliamentary information. Providing bulk access to the raw data is an easy and low-cost way to ensure access to the data, while creating an API can be more costly, but can also be useful in some circumstances.
- Consult and consider publication in a format that is interoperable internationally. The United Nations (UN) has supported the creation of the Akoma Ntoso standard for all legal documents, which provides the basis for the Brazilian government’s open documentation standard and is in use by a growing number of parliaments.