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Knoweldge by Googling Parliamentary Information (kNOWing)

Published on: 06/06/2007
“Googling” official information produced at Azorean Parliament, with the Google Technology, appears as the solution to the “global world wide old problem”: how to offer a searching mechanism over parliamentary information to citizens who usually know nothing about our internal organization or the structure of information, but have the democratic right and duty to know, monitor and control every subject debated, every law and project produced by their elected Deputies? In our opinion this project contributes to promote the information society for all, with direct benefits to citizens and organizations with interests at Azores Region, because it offers a freely search through keywords on all (and it is really all bytes of information stored in our site, public data bases or public folders) parliamentary information (produced internally or official received in the context of parliamentary activity), that enables crossing the information by theme, date, political interlocutor, etc, and with absolutely no need for any knowledge about the way Azorean parliament internally woks and organizes information.

Policy Context

Legally all information produced during parliamentary activity must be public. Our insular reality, 9 islands in the mid of the Atlantic Ocean, imposes the internet as the privileged communication channel. It’s a Regional Political Strategy to do it in a friendly and useful way (not just offering official documents as isolated information). At a National level there is also a strategy to promote the knowledge and information society, with several guidelines and programs taking place. However it’s at European level, with the signature, by our President, of the Declaration of Bilbao at the World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities, on November of 2005, and in the context of the CALRE (Conference of the European Regional Legislative Parliaments), more specifically integrated in the “Working Group for e-democracy”, that this project takes form to promote the participation, democracy and transparency of the activity of Azorean Legislative Assembly. Technically the appearance in the Portuguese market of the Google Search Appliance, with the partnership between Google and Safira at April of 2006, was an opportunity that we took to improve our traditional, and not 100% satisfactory, website and public information search system, and evolve to offer not just information but knowledge about parliamentary activity.

Description of target users and groups

Our target groups are potentially all citizens, regional, national or cross-border, with social, financial and economic interests in Azores Regional Territory. Other particular group that will benefit very much from this new tool is scientific and historical professionals, as well as the “media” (social communication), who search not only up-to-date information, but also past one, and all the relationships between the two.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

This project can be divided into 5 phases: - Acquisition by Azorean Parliament of the Google Box - Acquisition from Safira ( engineering and configuration services - Co-work between Safira and ALRAA to integrate Data Bases and Internal Security Policies on the project, as well as to load dictionary and create all the needed logic in the box - Massive digitalization of old paper documents since 1976 - Prodution

Technology solution

Technology choice: Standards-based technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

Usually website have this “technological offers” for searching information: 1) a “free” search engine that searches over the full site (only html and similar) or specific data bases fields or 2) a “know how” imposition, to the user, about the core business of the organization to find the “structured” information “friendly” organized in the site. On the actual “Knowledge Era” it’s not enough! Our intention, with this project, was to offer a logical and related search of topics, freely and over a wide range of document formats and data bases, with no pre-detained knowledge about our core business. The innovation of the present project for searching the internal public information of Azorean Parliament, either produced internally or “inputted” to us by third parties (but relevant to the work we produce), is that the user just needs to know the keywords on the subject he is looking for and google it! Just the same way he uses On our side the Google, after a “hard” background work of indexing and appliance of Google optimized search algorithms and security policies to public folders, gives the users exactly the same kind of results as in (with, for example, “neighbour” context, and in few seconds), applied to ALL internal and public information that the Azorean Parliament disposes. To better understand the importance of this project it is necessary to know that the public information that we dispose goes from parliamentary diary sessions (where everything is registered, from the deputies speeches to all lateral commentaries, applauses and jeer), project of laws, regional law rules, specialized commission reports, Govern questionnaires, citizen petitions, outside public documentation (that comes from National Parliament to receive a Regional’s opinion or the responses from consults and auditions made to external entities) to press releases, etc. Quantitatively, this low cost project represents an increase of 70.000% over searchable bytes, since we evolve from a traditional search over data base fields and site documents of approximately 100 MegaBytes to a global information of approximately 7 GigaBytes (until now, but expecting much more when all the paper diary sessions since 1976 are OCRered at September 2007), once we now search over traditional formats, but also over images of older official documents or inputted documents from external entities, that entered in paper but are an input that causes an outcome of parliament activity. By now we have 51% MoM (month-on-month) improvement on search. Qualitatively, this projects offers to citizens, and to all kind of organizations, full transparency over parliamentary work and increases their approach to parliament, due to the facility with which useful information and knowledge are produced. This project promotes e-democracy. Innovation: The novelty of this project is bringing to the organization the state-of-the-art already available at world wide web on searching, with the technology (formation zero to my end users), taking advantage of full integration with my internal security policy of folders and documents, and existing data bases, and with no need of reinventing the “wheel” in developing search and intelligent algorithms. On the search over images (that was a problem for us because of old documentation and outside inputs) the solution we implemented was innovative: we keep two versions of the document (an image and an OCR), Google indexes the OCR one, and applies all the logical to this one, but always shows the “pretty” image of the document, making information transparent to the user, and never loosing, for example, the official stamp with the date and number of entering register, offering a real image of the real document. Even in documents produced internally, if for example they have physical signatures, we search over the electronic format, but show the official one.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Azorean parliament is available to share the experience with public, and private, organizations interested in seeing how we resolved some technical problems that occurred, especially on searching over images and in granting secure access to information, as well as in benefits produced.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1 - Great projects don’t necessary mean big expenses; Lesson 2 Historical information, in a political context, is crucial to understand and support actual decisions and opinions; Lesson 3 - Facilitating information, and most of all the way we can access it (easy and quick), is the first step to approach citizens (or clients in the private sector), and draw them to take parte in our activity; Scope: Regional (sub-national)