Towards Automated eGovernment Monitoring

September 26, 2011

Morten Goodwin’s Ph.D. thesis, with the title Towards Automated eGovernment Monitoring, is now available online.

Illustration photo of digital government

EGovernment solutions promise to deliver a number of benefits including increased citizen participation. To make sure that these services work as intended there is a need for better measurements. However, finding suitable approaches to distinguish the good eGovernment services from those which need improvement is difficult. To elucidate, many surveys measuring the availability and quality of eGovernment services are carried out today on local, national and international level.

Because the majority of the methodologies and corresponding tests rely on human judgment, eGovernment benchmarking is mostly carried out manually by expert testers. These tasks are error prone and time consuming, which in practice means that most eGovernment surveys either focus on a specific topic, small geographical area, or evaluate a small sample, such as few web pages per country. Due to the substantial resources needed, large scale surveys assessing government web sites are predominantly carried out by big organizations. Further, for most surveys neither the methodologies nor detailed result are publicly available, which prevents efficient use of the surveys results for practical improvements.

This thesis focuses on automatic and open approaches to measure government web sites.

The thesis uses the collaboratively developed eGovMon application as a basis for testing, and presents corresponding methods and reference implementations for deterministic accessibility testing based on the unified web evaluation methodology (UWEM). It addresses to what extent web sites are accessible for people with special needs and disabilities. This enables large scale web accessibility testing, on demand testing of single web sites and web pages, as well as testing for accessibility barriers of PDF documents.

Further, the thesis extends the accessibility testing framework by introducing classification algorithms to detect accessibility barriers. This method supplements and partly replaces tests that are typically carried out manually. Based on training data from municipality web sites, the reference implementation suggests whether alternative texts, which are intended to describe the image content to people who are unable to see the images, are in-accessible. The introduced classification algorithms reach an accuracy of 90%.

Most eGovernment surveys include whether governments have specific services and information available online. This thesis presents service location as an information retrieval problem which can be addressed by automatic algorithms. It solves the problem by an innovative colony inspired classification algorithm called the lost sheep. The lost sheep automatically locates services on web sites, and indicates whether it can be found by a real user. The algorithm is both substantially tested in synthetic environments, and shown to perform well with realistic tasks on locating services related to transparency. It outperforms all comparable algorithms both with increased accuracy and reduced number of downloaded pages.

The results from the automatic testing approaches part of this thesis could either be used directly, or for more in-depth accessibility analysis, the automatic approaches can be used to prioritize which web sites and tests should be part of a manual evaluation.

This thesis also analyses and compares results from automatic and manual accessibility evaluations. It shows that when the aim of the accessibility benchmarking is to produce a representative accessibility score of a web site, for example for comparing or ranking web sites, automatic testing is in most cases sufficient.

The thesis further presents results gathered by the reference implementations and correlates the result to social factors. The results indicate that web sites for national governments are much more accessible than regional and local government web sites in Norway. It further shows that countries with established accessibility laws and regulations, have much more accessible web sites. In contrast, countries who have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities do not reach the same increased accessibility. The results also indicate that even though countries with financial wealth have the most accessible web sites, it is possible to make web sites accessible for all also in countries with smaller financial resources.

Full disclosure: I am the author of the thesis.

Web Accessibility Checking

April 22, 2010

eGovMon logoA new version of the eAccessibility Checker has been launched by the eGovMon-project.

The tool targets checking how accessible web pages and web sites are for people with special needs. This new release focus on being understandable both for content providers and web developers. People no longer need to be web accessibility experts to find out both the accessible status of a web page and how to improve it.
The tool also includes an accurate presentation of the code ((X)HTML and CSS) which creates barriers. As well as good and bad examples of web accessibility.

Can you make your web site accessible and get the Checked by eGovMon-logo?

Open Source in French eGovernment

October 8, 2009

Recently, a very interesting survey on open source in the French government has been presented. Following is a short summary of this survey, which I thought could be a nice follow up on my recent blog post on open source in eGovernment.

This French survey shows that 96% of the French public sector use open source.

According to the report, 77% use open source for the maturity of the software, which is the most common reason. This is of course not a property of open source itself but a consequence of well carried out open source development in these projects.

Furthermore, very much related to government transparency, 67% say they use open source software to be independent from their vendor. 48% say they use open source for interoperability, while 43% say they use it because of public policies.

Open Source in eGovernment

October 4, 2009

I have recently had the fortunate opportunity to listen to several talks from the open source evangelist Bruce Perens. This inspired me to do a short survey on the use of open source in eGovernment.

There is no question that open data and open source are key elements to ensure transparency in government. Any scientific survey on these topics will tell you this, such as: Government Transparency via Open Data and Open Source, Open Source Government Transparency Projects, etc. Furthermore, not surprisingly, the European Commission reported that open source software as well as the use of open standards are necessary for successful interoperability.

Despite of this, a recent paper by Robert Deller and Veronique Guillox,

Determining relevance of “best practice” based on interoperability in European eGovernment initiatives, identified that open source and open systems are unfortunately significantly under utilized when efficiency is measured in government services. In fact, Deller and Guillox’ data indicates that open source is the most under-represented characteristic when benchmarking interoperable systems. The study shows that only 6% of the best practice initiatives from the ePractice portal had explicit requirements for an open systems. Similarly, as much as 84% of the initiatives had absolutely no indication that open source were part of the initiative.

In contrast, an excellent project which won the ePractice good practice label 2007 is PloneGov. The project is still innovating and is again a finalist for the good practice label in 2009 (and has won several other impressive awards). The project has realized that government agencies world wide often have similar requirements and face similar challenges. Thus, PloneGov attempts to unite efforts and focus on creating portals for local governments and cities. There is no question that they do this very well; the PloneGov reference list is impressive and speaks for itself.

Joomla is another open source portal which has been used for local governments web sites. We are for example starting to see this used by several Norwegian municipality web sites. I work with Norwegian municipalities myself and have often been surprised that we have not seen more open source projects such as Joomla used for the web sites. Norway has 430 municipalities, most of which have very similar requirements, this is specially true for their web sites. This should be the ideal situation for use of open source software. It will be interesting to see how Joomla will compete with the well established proprietary vendors in the Norwegian marked.

Another eGovernment tool based on open source and open standards recognized by ePractice is openFWPA. Even though it is currently only deployed used in Asturia, Spain, it is a large application which has the potential to make collaboration between public entities more transparent and much easier – both in Spain and globally. This project has a huge potential and it will be exiting to see if other government agencies will start to utilize this in the future.

Let us hope that we see many more excellent open source government projects in the future as well as more transparent eGovernment.