Building Regulation Management Software with User-Centered Design: A Case Study

User-Centered Design (UCD) is based on the idea that, fundamentally, “Technology serves humans. Humans do not serve technology.” The quote is attributed to Joshua Porter, who led user experience for marketing platform HubSpot, but the philosophy has spread throughout the technology industry. UCD means that those who design solutions should understand their users and their users’ problems before designing any solution.

Regulatory professionals haven’t had many opportunities to benefit from UCD. They use PDF and web browsers to review existing regulatory materials, Microsoft Word and other word processing tools to create new ones, and old-fashioned printouts, highlighters, and pencils, and even scissors to figure out how to craft amendments. None of these solutions were designed for regulatory work.

Xcential is working to change this.

For nearly two decades, the team at Xcential has partnered with legislatures and rulemaking bodies around the globe to design underlying digital structures for both law and regulation that will permit the adoption of purpose-built solutions. Once laws and regulatory rules are expressed as Data First, UCD can inform solutions created with legislative and regulatory users in mind.

Agente Studio identifies six basic principles of UCD:

  1. The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks, and environments.
  2. Users are involved throughout design and development.
  3. The design is driven and refined by user-centered evaluation.
  4. The process is iterative.
  5. The design addresses the whole user experience.
  6. The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.

Xcential recently partnered with a Canadian province to build a regulation management platform, based on Xcential’s LegisPro solution, that drafts, amends, and codifies regulatory materials as Data First. The result of this partnership exemplifies UCD in many ways  — not perfectly, of course, but it’s a start.

Here are a few of the key features of Xcential’s LegisPro regulation management platform and how they make life easier for regulatory professionals.

1. A Familiar Workspace

Regulatory professionals are used to word processing tools, especially Microsoft Word. So Xcential’s LegisPro platform retains the look and feel of word processing. While tools like  Microsoft Word boast loads of useful editing features, they can’t do all the things regulatory professionals need them to do. So LegisPro adds this unique functionality built by, and for, regulatory professionals.

For example, laws and regulations in a particular jurisdiction are usually bound by both form and style requirements. They must have headings, citations, and structures that look a certain way.

For its Canadian partner, Xcential adapted LegisPro’s drafting interface to match these requirements.  Headings, citations, sections, and subsections automatically display and flow the way they must for this jurisdiction. 

Within the drafting interface, all legislative materials are pre-formatted to look like the final printed document, automatically adjusting based on a drafter’s edits. A table of contents menu on the left side of the interface allows drafters to quickly navigate to and also interact with different pieces of the regulation.

All the time spent tweaking formatting, indentation, and fonts to match what the jurisdiction requires? Gone.

2. Seamless Editing

Preparing amendments to existing regulations is often a highly manual process that involves copying and pasting content from multiple documents, often in different formats. When the authoritative source is published on a website or as PDF, this preparatory step is especially cumbersome. Artefacts of HTML or PDF formatting show up in the copy/paste and have to be manually removed. Needless to say, this process is often error prone and very time consuming.

LegisPro totally eliminates this preparatory step. LegisPro presents the exact text of the existing regulations, as promulgated by  the authoritative source, ready for direct editing.

With LegisPro, regulatory professionals don’t have to worry about transcription errors or conformity to the authoritative source. LegisPro eliminates transcription, bringing its users right to the point in the process where they can apply their substantive knowledge. 

3. Track Changes Built for Regulatory Work

Regulatory professionals are used to the track-changes function of Microsoft Word and other word processors. These functions are very useful. Trouble is, they don’t quite match the intricacy and precision of tracking changes necessary for regulatory drafting..

Word processors’ track-changes functions highlight some kinds of changes that don’t matter to regulatory professionals, such as font and formatting. At the same time, they conceal other kinds of changes that matter a great deal.

For example, when a chunk of existing text is moved elsewhere within the same document, Microsoft Word treats it as redlined text in its original location and new text in its new location, even if it wasn’t otherwise substantively changed. Yet regulatory professionals might want to keep track of moved or renumbered text distinctly from other types of edits.

Xcential built LegisPro to do precisely what regulatory professionals need: track exactly the changes that are relevant to regulatory work while also incorporating functionality like automated numbering and renumbering, and built-in form and style that complies with unique jurisdictional requirements. 

In fact, with LegisPro, track changes take on a whole new capacity: driving automated amendment generation.

4. Automatic Amendment Generation

Amendments represent one of the most challenging tasks facing regulatory professionals. While they require tremendous precision and intellectual rigor to draft, they also come with significant clerical overhead because of the many functional limitations of most generic word processing tools.

When regulatory professionals create potential changes to existing regulations, they often start by creating a Microsoft Word redline. But most jurisdictions cannot consider an amendment in redline form. Instead, many require an amendment to be expressed in “cut-and-bite” form. An amendment in cut-and-bite form expresses every insertion, deletion, and other change in prose – for example, “section X is amended by deleting subsection X(i), in subsection X(ii), replacing [old definition] with [new definition], and by adding at the end the following …”

LegisPro automatically generates cut-and-bite amendments. How? From those tracked changes made directly in the context of the existing regulatory text. 

In fact, LegisPro allows regulatory users to toggle back and forth between redline and cut-and-bite.

LegisPro is able to do this because all of its front-end user experiences refer back to a backend in which original text and amendments are expressed in structured, standardized XML.

But regulatory professionals do not need to work in, or understand, XML to benefit from these functions. As far as LegisPro’s users are concerned, challenging clerical tasks are gone and they can focus on substance.

5. Export to Word Processors

Even though LegisPro is a step forward for regulatory professionals, Xcential and its Canadian partner realized it won’t be adopted all at once. LegisPro and other modern regulatory tools will coexist with word processors for the foreseeable future.

Hence, LegisPro includes a flexible export-to-Word capability.

This is a crucial part of a user-centered approach — understanding the current process and connecting a new system into an older system. Word is a ubiquitous medium. Giving users the functionality to produce a .docx file allows drafters to exchange with external partners and departments, get feedback, and integrate changes.

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