Legislative Data: The Book

Last week, as I was boarding the train at Admiralty station in Hong Kong to head back to the office, I learned that I am writing a book. +Ari made the announcement on his blog. It seems that Ari has found the key to getting me to commit to something – put me in a situation where not doing it is no longer an option. Oh well…

Nonetheless, there are many good reasons why now is a good time to write a book. In the past year we have experienced a marked increase in interest in the subject of legislative data. I think that a number of factors are driving this. First, there is renewed interest in driving towards a worldwide standard – especially the work being done by the OASIS LegalDocumentML technical committee. Secondly, the push for greater transparency, especially in the USA, is driving governments to investigate opening up their databases to the outside world. Third, many first generation XML systems are now coming due for replacement or modernization.

I find myself in a somewhat fortuitous position of being able to view these developments from an excellent vantage point. From my base in San Diego, I get to work with and travel to legislatures around the world on a regular basis. This allows me to see the different ways people are solving the challenges of implementing modern legislative information managements systems. What I also see, is how many jurisdictions struggle to set aside obsolete paper-based models for how legislative data should be managed. In too many cases, the physical limitations of paper are used to define the criteria for how digital systems should work. Not only do these limitations hinder the implementation of modern designs, they also create barriers that will prevent fulfilling the expectations that come as people adapt to receiving their information online rather than by paper.

The purpose of our book will be to propose a vision for the future of legislative data. We will share some of our experiences around the world – focusing on the successes some legislatures have had as they’ve broken legacy models for how things must work. In some cases the changes involve simply better separating the physical limitations of the published form from the content and structure. In other cases, we’ll explain how different procedures and conventions can not only facilitate the legislative process, but also make it more open and transparent.

We hope that by producing a book on the subject, we can help clear the path for the development of a true industry to serve this somewhat laggard field. This will create the conditions that will allow a standard, such as Akoma Ntoso, to thrive which, in turn, will allow interchangeable products to be built to serve legislatures around the world. Achieving this goal will reduce the costs and the risks of implementing legislative information management systems and will allow the IT departments of legislatures to meet both the internal and external requirements being placed upon them.

Ari extended an open invitation to everyone to propose suggestions for topics for us to cover. We’ve already received a lot of good interest. Please keep your ideas coming.

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