The next challenge for Joinup, the European Commission’s community of practice on government digitisation, is to make its wealth of knowledge easier to access. According to Sander van Dooren, an application architect who has been involved with the development of Joinup since 2015, the web portal will have to focus on building bridges between its disparate collections. “Many users struggle to see the link,” he says. “It should become easier to see that some collections deal with policies, and others are about tools that are an outcome of a policy.”
As one of the portal’s principal developers Sander Van Dooren knows that Joinup brings together a wide range of projects. This can make the portal difficult to navigate, and search results are not always especially clear.
The application architect says one reason for this is that Joinup is a community of practice combined with an exchange of eGovernment IT solutions. “Unless you know about ISA² (the European Commission programme behind Joinup) you won’t see the link between these projects,” he notes.
Van Dooren is confident that this challenge can be addressed through communication and technology.
Next on his wish-list is to make all of the data on Joinup machine readable. Achieving this is more than a practical goal, he says; it is also a philosophical principle. “Joinup and ISA² owe it to themselves to implement 100% the principles put forward by the Semantic Interoperability Community (SEMIC), for example in the ADMS (the standard that was specifically developed for interoperability solutions by ISA² and its predecessor ISA).”
Van Dooren has been working on Joinup since 2015. He has some seven years of experience with Drupal, the portal’s content management system. When Van Dooren and his colleagues started, Joinup used Drupal version 6, and the ADMS was implemented on top of Drupal, by converting Joinup data and making it available separately. In the new version of Joinup, which was unveiled last October, the ADMS is completely built in. The ADMS linked data engine is the core of the system. It provides content to the users via Drupal, but offers the same data to other services by means of a Sparql endpoint, and in the ADMS format.
This means Joinup is on par with open data portals, Van Dooren says. Even better, the Joinup software itself can be configured to use any metadata standard. This means that other developers could build an open data portal by selecting the Data Catalog Vocabulary (DCAT), a W3C standard for automatically building links between online data catalogues. “Most users won’t realise this makes Joinup very similar to open data portals, except our solution is a little more abstract. We can aggregate any structured data made available by the European Union Member States.”
This architecture is the topic of the presentations by Van Dooren at conferences related to Drupal, such as his talk in 2017 at Drupalcamp Transylvania. He also speaks at Open Data conferences, as for example his 2017 presentation at OpenBelgium.
Van Dooren is at first a little hesitant to talk about his work on Joinup. “I’m only one of an extended team of developers based in Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and Romania. To build Joinup, we have had a lot of input from analysts, and worked with other experts to get us up to speed on the architecture, the front-end, as well as the rich content.”
It’s been a rewarding experience, he says. “Working on the next generation of the Joinup platform, which we launched in October, has made me see how much is happening on government digitalisation across Europe,” he says. “Joinup is making so much knowledge and expertise available, and collections such as the open source observatory (OSOR) provide a fascinating view on what is happening in European public services.”