The collaborative wikification of public service procedures
“Using low cost open technologies to achieve high impact.” This motto has been inspiring the work of my organisation, GFOSS – the Open Technologies Alliance in Greece. Our view on Open Government derives from the need to have access to knowledge, the Free/Open Source Software ethos, and builds on the fact that open technologies are human-centric technologies.
When we were presented with the challenge of documenting public service procedures, we implemented a solution based on the Open Source MediaWiki platform. The problem was that procedures and services offered by the public administration are not documented (or not fully documented), resulting in multiple interpretations as to how public services are implemented by different government units. This lack of open, updated, and clear documentation is an issue that confuses not only public servants, but also citizens and businesses that have to know the requirements and that processes that lead to the provision of a service. Public servants often do not know how to offer relevant services, while citizens and businesses do not have a clear understanding of the rules – and, as such, are usually met with delays, leading to a greater likelihood of corruption.
The solution we provided is an open source wiki platform (http://www.diadikasies.gr), which is based on open, standardized, and widely available tools (MediaWiki). Its content is produced by trained public servants and interested citizens. Each service is described in an article containing all the relevant information: the legal framework that defines the service, the necessary documents with templates for all printed and / or electronic forms, and the step-by-step procedure that leads to service delivery. The advantage of using open and standardised technologies such as MediaWiki is that it is a free, easy to use, customizable, and low-cost solution.
The platform is structured around services based on the life cycle of the administrative procedure (e.g. which actions to take following a birth), on specific activities (e.g. how get a license to sell on open market) and also across diverse institutions and agencies (e.g. ministries, regions, municipalities, schools, universities, hospitals, etc). Public servants record the services they deliver in a structured way, starting with a short description of the service, the legal framework, the required documents (with attached forms and/or links to e-services), and a step-by-step overview of the procedure. All entries in the wiki are cross-linked to allow a smooth navigation between different topics and avoid any data duplication. The collaborative nature of this system allows for constantly enriched content with new services and procedures updated on a regular basis. So far, more than two thousand public services have been documented on the platform.
Apart from the platform, GFOSS also provides training seminars to public servants on how to record procedures and services on the platform. We have also developed online open educational material (available in Moodle) for public servants on how to use the platform. By crowdsourcing the documentation of public services, we are giving the opportunity to everyone to have access, amend and be informed, we create a community that takes co-ownership of the project, and a mechanism for quick conflict resolution.
We have partnered with several government institutions at all levels (ministries, regions and municipalities), as well as courts and academic institutions in this collaborative effort. There have already been over two thousand public services documented in the platform, and we currently have over five hundred registered users – a community of public servants that write and maintain information on the procedures.
From a technological point of view, our next steps are planning to adapt Open Europe standards (CPSV and CPOV) and to incorporate semantic technologies in order to provide a standard and structured way of documenting public services, while at the same time facilitating interoperability between European member states. The process of standardization and semantic-enabling will add value for all stakeholders involved. We also plan to incorporate BPMN capabilities in the platform.
As part of our participation in OGP, as a civil society organization, we have commited that we will maintain and upgrade our technical infrastructure, and provide training workshops to government officials from various public bodies.
The objectives of our project are:
- To ensure each person/entity concerned is aware of how many and which services are provided by a public body.
- To help each organization to standardize the services provided so that the same service has the same name and will be provided the same way everywhere.
- To serve as a first major step towards the simplification of government procedures. Simplification will save resources for the public administration and for citizens.
The overall vision is to transform government into a transparent and effective organization with institutions and services that empower its workforce, the citizens, and the private sector by responding to their needs and aspirations using sustainable and open infrastructures. The ultimate goal is to pursue open government reforms with a tangible impact that will progressively enable changes in the day to day operation of public administration.