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.


Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

January 10, 2011

Universal Design: Is it Accessible?” is an interesting and controversial paper published in by Jane Bringolf in The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design.

In the paper Bringolf argues that universal design sometimes fails to meet its own principal. For example, despite being far from universal, concepts such as accessibility and disability are often used to describe universal design. Bringolf further argues that this is partly why universal design is understood as a disability product rather than something made for all users.

The author claims that in a legislation with focus on people with disabilities, the benefits for all are lost. Instead the focus for designers and developers is to meet the regulations. This requires designers and developers to think in specially designed for disabled people when developing new products, which is exactly what universal design is trying to prevent.

The author controversially claims that neither legislation nor further research is the solution to a more universal designed world. To avoid people with disabilities becoming just another legal problem for designers, the author wants to re-brand universal design.


Government At a Glance

October 28, 2009

A new and very interesting survey from OECD has recently been launched called Government at a Glance. This survey focuses on public administration and is intended to be a bi-annual survey of the OECD members.

The survey is categorized into indicators. Each indicator is composed of results from multiple questions. These are individually weighted discretized into a single score per grouping of indicator. The indicators are grouped as following:

  • Delegation: Composed of among others checking if there is a agency for human resources on national level.
  • Recruiting system: Composed of among others how a person becomes a public servant (direct application or competitive examination).
  • Performance-related pay: Composed of among others who gets performance related pay.
  • Performance assessment: Composed of among others how important performance assessment is related to career advancement.
  • Mid-term perspective: This is divided into; Estimates such as how often are multi-year estimated updated and Targets/Ceilings such as how many years does a target cover.
  • Performance Budget: Composed of among others if the ministries are required to report on performance against targets.
  • Executive flexibility: Composed of among others if the ministries have the authority to cancel spending once the budget has been approved.
  • Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA)-process: Composed of among others if RIA carried out before new regulations are adopted.
  • Programmes for reduction of administrative burdens: Composed of among others if there is an explicit programme to reduce the administrative burdens.

The survey also includes how core values within government has changed from 2000 to 2009, shown in the following figure:

Overview of what governments identified as core values in 2000 and 2009.

Some of the other key findings includes that governments are increasingly using private and non-profit entities to provide goods and services. Furthermore, that only between 10% and 60% of the population use eGovernment services.


ITU promotes implementation of UN convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

September 2, 2009

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) promotes an implementation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A forum, hosted by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology of Thailand, addressed policy and regulatory measures to promote accessibility in ICT. According to the press release, this is the first effort to promote implementation of ICT provisions in UN on the rights for persons with disabilities.

For more details, see the press release from ITU.