The EIF Toolbox's holistic approach to interoperability

EIF Toolbox: Promoting interoperability at national and European level

Published on: 25/01/2021

EIF Toolbox Logo

On 12 November 2020, the National Interoperability Framework Observatory (NIFO) launched the EIF Toolbox on Joinup. The EIF Toolbox is a guiding tool for national public administrations attempting to align their National Interoperability Frameworks (NIFs) with the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). We talked with Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez, NIFO’s EC Project Officer, in order to find out what makes this initiative so special.

The EIF Toolbox is obviously related to the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). To put things into context, could you provide a short description of this Framework along with its main goals?

NIFO - Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez
NIFO EC Project Officer

The European Interoperability Framework is the main instrument of the EU and the interoperability programme, ISA² Programme, providing specific guidance on how to set up interoperable and seamless digital public services. The new EIF is part of Communication (COM(2017)134) from the European Commission adopted on 23 March 2017. The Framework contains 12 principles and 47 recommendations, with a stronger focus on openness and information management, data portability, interoperability governance, depicting the main building blocks for integrated public service delivery in a brand new conceptual model.

The purpose of the EIF is to inspire European public administrations in their efforts to design and deliver seamless European public services that are digital and cross-border by default, provide guidance to public administrations in the design and update of National Interoperability Frameworks (NIFs) or policies, and contribute to the establishment of the Digital Single Market by fostering cross-border and cross-sectoral interoperability for the delivery of European public services.

The EIF Toolbox, thus, was created to fill a void. What actually is this toolbox, then, and how does it complement the EIF?

The National Interoperability Framework Observatory (NIFO), as part of the ISA² Programme, is in charge of monitoring the level of implementation of the EIF at EU level. To support public administrations all over Europe implementing in practice the interoperability principles and recommendations outlined by EIF when designing new digital services, interoperable by default, the EIF Toolbox has been conceived as a resource centre offering a wide range of available reusable solutions. The first release of the toolbox has a focus on reusable solutions developed by the European Commission through the ISA² and CEF Programmes fulfilling the EIF principles and recommendations. Actually, clear explanations on how several interoperability requirements can be fulfilled by those solutions from various interoperability angles can be found when browsing the toolbox.

The EIF Toolbox in fact has been implemented as a visual collection of solutions on Joinup linked to the EIF principles and recommendations, and is easy to browse and discover things.

Public administrations with their National Interoperability Frameworks (NIFs) seem to be the direct beneficiaries of the toolbox. Could you give any practical example(s) of how they could use the toolbox?

The EIF establishes a set of principles and recommendations in order to design interoperable public services by default, as well as a brand new conceptual model for integrated digital service delivery. For example, as part of the vision for integrated public services delivered as stated by the EIF conceptual model, let’s imagine a national public administration is building an interoperable national catalogue of public services bringing together the info on services that is often widely scattered in a non-harmonised way throughout various public catalogues or repositories. The ultimate goal is to ease the burden for citizens and business of finding the desired info by establishing a common public service catalogue accessible through major digital government portals meant to be Single Digital Gateways. The EIF Toolbox provides guidance on how to build in practice such a catalogue, by reusing solutions like semantic specifications, common vocabularies and harvesting tools, addressing as well some interoperability design principles such as users’ centricity and multilingualism.

The toolbox follows a specific structure and offers intuitive features (i.e., mouse-over Glossary definitions) that allow its users to easily access information. Could you elaborate on these?

Since the EIF Toolbox links solutions to the interoperability principles and recommendations outlined by the EIF, it also offers useful background information around the Framework. It offers firstly a clickable glossary to understand the main EIF concepts definitions. The hover/mouse-over features allow for a smooth and user-friendly navigation through the different components of the toolbox to find the right level of information.

The Joinup platform was selected for hosting the toolbox, a suitable match given the interoperability focus of the platform. Were there any other reasons for choosing Joinup?

Joinup is the main portal and technical platform hosting all sorts of open source and reusable solutions in Europe, enabling digital services, and is one of the flagships of the ISA² Programme. It also hosts the EIF Observatory (NIFO). We decided to leverage both facts in order to host the EIF Toolbox on the platform and link up together those solutions that are fulfilling some interoperability requirements.

The EIF Toolbox is actually a natural specialisation of Joinup, containing a subset of Joinup solutions offering the interoperability and EIF perspective to its users.

What are the future plans for the EIF Toolbox?

At the moment, the EIF Toolbox focuses on solutions implemented by the European Commission.

We are now working with Member States on how to populate the toolbox with national solutions targeting some specific interoperability requirements that could be reused by other public administrations, and how to federate existing national repositories of interoperable solutions and specifications back to the EIF Toolbox. We are also exploring how to add to the EIF Toolbox practical examples and good practices from all sorts of public administrations implementing interoperability and the EIF, which could be a source of inspiration for others. Finally, we are looking at defining users’ profiles targeting different business needs for a more targeted solution discovery.

Any last thoughts you would like to share with Joinupers?

I invite all Joinupers to find out more on the EIF Toolbox by browsing through it and spreading the word among your colleagues and teams designing/managing digital services or who are in the policy making side.