Reportnet is a system of integrated IT tools and business processes creating a shared information infrastructure optimised to support the European Environment Agency (EEA) reporting obligations; the system responds to the demand of quality environmental data to be provided by all member states with minimal efforts.
The EU international bodies have in fact agreed on a series of reporting obligations which make the dataflow very complex; the lack of common and harmonised protocols and system between the member State has resulted, in several occasions, in the production of duplicate data provided with different exchange format depending on the national repositories. Information is needed on issues such as the causes of pollution, the status of bio- diversity, the environmental performance of sectors and the effectiveness of actions. Such information is used to describe trends and model futures, thereby helping countries and European institutions to formulate more effective policies.
In this context, scope of the Reportnet tool is the simplification and harmonisation of the data flow, which has become very complex, achieved by covering all concerned activities, from definition of the data that reporters need to produce, till the generation of the final products such as EEA published reports and core set of environmental indicators. This goal implies, from one side, the possibility from the Member States to access transparent updated and reliable environmental data and from the other the definition and creation of common tools and infrastructure for the collection and sharing of those data. This principle is shortly described by â€˜Deliver-once-use-by-manyâ€™.Â Â
The Reportnet project could be positioned as being part of the Common Interest Projects that implement European eGovernment services in specific policy areas in the frame of the IDABC programme managed by the European Commission; many of the reporting tasks that Reportnet assists are in fact directly based on legislative instruments issued by the European Commission and DG Environment.
Reporting obligations agreed between EU and international bodies and countries provide the framework for information flows. This framework has grown in Europe as the Commission and the Member States have agreed reporting requirements for separate laws or sectors, in most cases independently of one another. Member States are also required to respond to a myriad of non-legal (moral) obligations, mainly emanating from EEA, Eurostat, OECD and United Nations.
Description of target users and groups
Main target users of the Reportnet system are:
- The EEA thematic experts who are involved in environmental reporting; the systems enable them to add content and update the database;
- People involved in environmental policy development who are gathering information about environmental issues;
- Country representatives who are involved in environmental reporting;
- People involved in environmental reporting from the perspective of the international organisations receiving and making use of the data.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The initiative has been implemented in 4 main phases:
- A set of Data Reporting Obligations, based on legislative instruments issued by the European Commission, has been defined by the EEA other institutions. These obligations are stored in a Reporting Obligations Database (ROD).
- As a second step, the EEA and other institutions would create the Definitions, i.e a set of protocols for providing the typology of data defined by the obligations (i.e. which format, which structure, etc). The Definitions are stored in Data Dictionary (DD).Â
- Based on the above mentioned Reporting Obligations and Data Definitions, the Member States would report their data via different channels: topic-specific Data Exchange Modules (DEM), or MS Excel or MS Access files sent via e-mail, or they would log them in the Central Data Reposiroty (CDR). This latter system provides all kinds of ways to analyze the quality of the reported data and extract them into different formats for further analysis and aggregation.Â
- In a latest stage, all data becomes user-friendly information published on EEA websites.
The above phases are monitored by the Reportnet search engine called Content Registry which enables to quickly find data at all levels of aggregation.
The Reportnet architecture places into relationship various components and technologies that comprise a framework of data standards, interoperability mechanisms, and other permanent structures on which businesses processes may be successfully implemented.
The software development has been based on two principles: Open Source and Modularity. Open source development enables code reuse, protection of investment, peer review and real competition for the tendering of development by making available all information and tools inside Reportnet. General-purpose components are based on data and technology standards that can be re-used throughout the main application; the system can be easily modified or extended and changes to an individual module can be made without affecting functionality of other modules.
Detailed information on the system architecture are listed below:
- Infrastructure/System architecture: MySQL, PostgreSQL, Java SE, Python, WWW, HTTP, XML-RPC,Â XML, XML Schema, RDF, OWL, XForms, XQuery, Xpath, Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web Services.
- Technological description of information services : SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), REST (Representational State Transfer), XML-RPC (remote procedure call).
- Elements of Semantic Web: RDF (Resource Description Framework), RDF Schema (a knowledge representation language).
- Others: automatic reported data quality checks, automatic conversions from reported data into various output formats, automatic data aggregation with the help of an aggregation database that builds on the concept of Linked Data.
Note: Reportnet does not use SOAP, WSDL, UDDI or any other technology in that family.Technology choice: Open source software
Main results, benefits and impacts
Reportnet will contribute in several ways to a more effective data/information flow, thus supporting the European eGovernment activities in the environment sector.
The main lessons learnt are:
- The effort for the countries to get familiar with the Reportnet system required more time than expected;Â some countries are still experiencing difficulties in this sense;
- Changes in the Member States reporting habits are extremely complex; countries find difficulties in reporting data in XML-based format;
- To achieve a common understanding and agreement on harmonised data structures and formats that would satisfy everybody was one of the main difficulties; the system has been built upon the best possible option among the available solutions.
- The very centralised design was done out of necessity. We can simply not coordinate introduction of new functionality in all member countries.