The Joinup platform is moving on to new challenges in the ever-changing world of digital transformation. To successfully tackle them, Joinup needs to attract the experts who are at the forefront of interoperability practices, the hands-on practitioners (technical experts), as well as the ones defining the theory (policy makers). To find out how this could be accomplished, and how the Commission’s interoperability policy – via the Interoperable Europe initiative – will contribute to this success, we interviewed Joinup’s EC Project Officers Bernard CLAES and Victoria KALOGIROU.
Joinup hosts a vast amount of information. Are there any plans to organise and present it to users in more efficient ways?
Bernard CLAES: Indeed, the Joinup platform contains a plethora of content, ranging in the tens of thousands. This, alone, poses a significant challenge for us to properly manage, organise and present it to our users. The problem affects multiple areas of the platform, too: on the one hand, we need a suitable data structure to hold this information in a flexible way (i.e. with proper tags, metadata, categories etc.) and, on the other hand, we have to display this wealth of data in user-friendly, visually-appealing, and sensible page layouts that don’t confuse the users. That’s why we’re concentrating our efforts in the aforementioned areas in order to provide coherent user journeys that will guide users around the platform and allow them to discover the type of information they need the most.
Obviously, we need to utilise existing functionality – no need to re-invent the wheel – thus a major part of this activity will be focused on improving Joinup’s search engine that will feed the user journeys with intelligible information. As a positive side-effect, the search results will also benefit from these under-the-hood changes, providing users with more relevant results as well as with new features such as auto-correction and auto-suggestion.
Victoria KALOGIROU: While we’re at it, we’ll be improving a bit the troubled concept of Collections, too. The stimulus for this originated from one of our recent User Group Meetings, in which participants expressed their favour in classifying Collections into meaningful categories. This will help users discover more easily Collections and expose to them the actual purpose and target audience each Collection caters for.
And let’s not forget that this wealth of content exists thanks to our users’ contributions. That’s why we’ll also dedicate effort to make this creation process as enjoyable as possible by introducing, in the near future, the Joinup Content Creation Wizard.
The wizard will offer users a step-by-step approach to creating content, utilising interactive elements that will explain and guide the creators through all available fields and options.
What about the quality of the content on Joinup. Is there room for improvement and are there any ways to safeguard it?
Bernard CLAES: Inevitably, the problem of quality arises when dealing with a large amount of content. We should not forget that Joinup carries a considerable legacy that had its starting point in 2011 and runs – non-stop – until today. This effectively means that the platform carries a lot of “baggage” from the past. This information, while seemingly dated, provides researchers, scholars and other interested users with a view of the history of e-Government, interoperability, and digital transformation in general. That’s why it needs to be preserved and we keep it available on Joinup. Now, regarding the quality aspect, I would say the focus should be towards the quality of the metadata associated with Joinup’s content and not with the content per se. The content, in most cases, is of good quality – and this applies to both old and new information. However, we have identified issues with the metadata which describes this information; in some cases, it’s severely lacking, in others, it’s of poor quality. Since metadata is key to our efforts on user journeys and improved search results – just to name a few impacted areas – it’s vital that we spend time on improving them. To do so, we’ll be exploring manual and automatic methods, such as text analytics and natural language processing.
Victoria KALOGIROU: Of course, the actual content quality is of importance to us, too. But for that, we already have in place mechanisms to check it, such as eligibility criteria for publication of content, a continuous content moderation process, and frequent spot-checks conducted by native English speakers. Furthermore, the Joinup Moderation Team proactively provides advice to content creators on how to write good quality material, and the team is always available to answer queries related to content creation best practices.
Last, we also have in place a dedicated “clean-up” process that is run regularly, scanning the platform for content that doesn’t meet our expected quality levels (i.e. empty or abandoned Collections/Solutions, poor quality descriptions etc.).
Joinup is a collaborative platform, too. Are there any features in the pipeline that will help boost user engagement and interaction?
Bernard CLAES: Joinup is what it is today thanks to its users. Their continuous, constructive feedback helps us focus on the tangible issues identified by users and allows us to plan ahead for missing features or needed improvements.
The latest developments prove that we’re listening to our users and applying as best – and quickly – as possible these changes to the platform for the benefit of all.
Intuitive, easy-to-use community features are paramount to the success of Joinup as a collaborative platform. That’s why we’re rethinking the concept and design of existing community features, such as the Discussion item. Discussions are, unfortunately, underused despite their tremendous power and flexibility in having users collaborate within them. Our latest improvements have added forum-like features to Discussions such as threaded comments, subscription options, notifications etc. It’s clear, though, that we need to work harder on this front and see whether we should further extend and adapt Discussions or introduce a more traditional forum functionality. In any case, we’re up to the challenge.
Victoria KALOGIROU: Joinup has a long history of being the home to many long-standing eGovernment-related communities such as the Open Source Observatory (OSOR), the Semantic Interoperability Community (SEMIC) and ePractice, as well as to newer communities such as the National Interoperability Framework Observatory (NIFO) and the European Interoperability Reference Architecture (EIRA). This, alone, proves that Joinup is capable of hosting and sustaining communities. Moreover, we’re always on the lookout for adding more features that will help existing – and future – communities collaborate more efficiently, that’s why we’re investigating ways to introduce topic-based areas that would allow users to communicate around specific subjects related to digital transformation domains.
In short, there are lots of ideas being assessed regarding the user engagement and interaction aspects of Joinup, and we’re open to all types of input and concepts – so feel free to let us know about your own collaboration-related wish list by contacting us!
Interoperability is one of the core ideas behind Joinup. How is the new policy, expressed via the Interoperable Europe initiative, related to the platform?
Bernard CLAES: First off, Joinup is now home to Interoperable Europe, the initiative of the European Commission for a reinforced interoperability policy. That, alone, gives considerable weight to the platform’s strategic importance in supporting this policy. The Interoperable Europe space on Joinup covers the policy angle, showcasing news about government-related interoperability, events organised by the European Commission and other partners, initiatives that support the digitalisation of EU public administrations, best practices related to interoperability, and more.
So, on the one hand, we have Interoperable Europe covering the policy angle. On the other, we have Joinup, with its numerous interoperable technical solutions ready to cover the practical – or hands-on – aspects of the policy and adding to the mix its collaborative features, as well. Seems like an ideal match, wouldn’t you agree?
Victoria KALOGIROU: Let’s not forget, also, that the new Joinup vision is compatible with the Commission’s interoperability policy. It forges a connection between the policy angle and the building blocks required to make the policy a reality. This, again, solidifies Joinup’s suitability for hosting Interoperable Europe, and reaffirms the platform’s commitment to upholding the core concept of interoperability.
Any last thoughts you would like to share with Joinupers?
Bernard CLAES: New and exciting things will be coming to Joinup, so stay tuned!
Victoria KALOGIROU: Well, it’s summertime, too, so on behalf of the Joinup Team we’d like to wish everyone a great summer season!