My Week in Ravenna at the Akoma Ntoso Developer’s Workshop

Last week I attended the LEX Summer School 2012 and the Akoma Ntoso Developer’s Workshop in Ravenna, Italy. These events were hosted by the University of Bologna. For me, this was my third year that I visited Ravenna. I had originally attended the LEX Summer School 2010 as a student, returned last year as an invited speaker, and this year was again a speaker and a teacher at the Developer’s Workshop.

As always, the visit provided me with a great opportunity to compare notes with my colleagues around the world, learn a thing or two, and share my own experiences in the field of legal informatics. Of course, there has been a lot of development in Akoma Ntoso since 2010. Back then, Akoma Ntoso was a hard to pronounce secret that nobody had heard about. Today, people are slowly learning how to pronounce Akoma Ntoso, the schema is well on its way to becoming a standard, and it is far better known in this field.

The biggest development undoubtedly didn’t happen in Ravenna but rather at the World e-Parliaments Conference in Rome. There a number of parliaments and legislative bodies from around the world committed to providing some support for Akoma Ntoso in the future. Moving forward to a common standard will be the biggest advancement for the still fledgling legal informatics industry.

Back in Ravenna at the LEX Summer School, I once again presented which demonstrates the application of Akoma Ntoso to California legislation as well as other select legislative documents from around the work.

Once the LEX Summer School concluded, we switched to the Akoma Ntoso Developer’s Workshop. While the group was small, the people involved were all hard-core legisltive information systems developers and the discussions were lively and fruitful. A number of tools were described:

  • Bungeni – Ashok Hariharan described the Bungeni system based around OpenOffice that has been developed forthe Global Centre for ICT in Parliaments at UNDESA. Bungeni is a full fledged legislative information system incorporating an editor, workflow, calendaring, citizen participation, and other modules.
  • Italian Senate Editor – Carlo Marchetti and Roberto Battistoni of the Italian Senate describe their editor built on an earlier version of MS Word using the custom XML tagging technology that Microsoft has since been forced to remove. As this technology has been abandoned by Microsoft, the Italian Senate is having to implement an alternative approach using Word content controls.
  • Unibo Web-Based Editor – Monica Palmirani surprised us all by introducing a web-based editor that the University of Bologna is developing for Akoma Ntoso. It’s quite similar to the LegisPro Web editor having been inspired by my work. As can be expected, they are learning many of the same lessons that I have learned on my journey. Where their approach differs from mine is that they’re relying less on new HTML5 capabilities and more on pre-existing open source frameworks and modules.
  • AT4AM – Philip Luppens described the AT4AM amendment tool developed for the European Union Parliament. This is a web-based editing environment for creating European style amendments. It is built using the Google Web Toolkit (GWT). The EU have announced plans to produce an updated open source version of AT4AM.
  • LegisPro Web – I concluded the workshop by describing our new HTML5-based LegisPro Web editor for Akoma Ntoso. I spent much of my time describing the HTML5 technologies we use and the issues I have uncovered in adapting Akoma Ntoso to an editing environment for US style legislation. It was an interesting an engaging conversation. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to put your own work up on display for other people to tear apart, but the results are always a better product in the end.

In the meantime while I was in Italy, there have been a lot of developments back stateside. There are now two active projects to implement the LegisPro Web editor. One project is based on Akoma Ntoso while the other uses the US House DTD. In addition, we are in the process of concluding a contract to add a third project, using a custom schema developed by one of the states in the USA. And if that wasn’t enough, we have just received another large contract to update a legislative system.

We need a few good people!!! All this progress means that we’re going to be stretched thin going into the future. And what that means is that we’re looking for a few good people. If you or anyone you know is looking for a new position in this fledgling legal informatics industry, please contact us at We’re looking for people with a passion for this subject first and foremost. You will ideally have good XML experience in the area of document authoring and will be quite comfortable with schemas and DTDs. Our development platforms are quite diverse. Of course, as we do a lot of cutting edge browser-side development, we need good quality JavaScript developers. This is not just any old JavaScript development though. It’s complex AJAX-style development using the latest HTML5 capabilities, lots of sophisticated DOM manipulation, and complex XSL Transforms. Also, our other client platform is XMetaL. Most of the development in XMetaL is also JavaScript based, with some need for Perl experience. On the backend, we do development in both Java and .Net depending on the customer and we use SQL Server, mySQL, and Oracle XDB for our database work.

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