Access-eGov was aimed at increasing the accessibility of public administration services for citizens and business users by supporting the interoperability among existing electronic as well as "traditional" government services. For citizens and business users, Access-eGov provides two basic categories of services.
Firstly, Access-eGov can identify the general administrative procedure that needs to be followed in a specific situation and a byÂ specific citizen, for example when wanting to register an enterprise. Depending on the user's needs and their specific situation, a personalized to-do list isÂ set up.
Secondly, Access-eGov identifies which offices are responsible for which step in the process and lists the available services of individual government offices. In most cases, the created scenarios are of a "hybrid" nature, i.e. a combination of traditional and electronic services - depending on the services offered by the responsible administration.
For citizens and business users, Access-eGov provides a personal assistant, guiding the user through the generated scenario. For service providers (i.e. public administration institutions) on all levels, Access-eGov enables easy introduction of a new (e-) service into the world of e-government interoperability and a methodology for describing workflows for new life events.
During the project, the system has been tested on the three life events establishing an enterprise, getting a building permit and getting married.
The project was funded by the European Commission within the Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme and followed the strategic aim of Strengthening the integration of the ICT research effort in an enlarged Europe. Universities, IT companies Non-profit organisations and public administrations from Slovakia, Germany, Poland and Greece have been working together to develop a solution for integrating government services by using semantic web technologies.
Access-eGov Addresses one of the main objectives of the Action Plans eEurope and eEurope+ "Government on-line: electronic access to public services" by "bringing administrations closer to citizens and businesses through the use of Internet" while putting user at the centre.
The approach of the project was to add semantic (machine-interpretable) descriptions to existing government services on the web so that they can be found and combined by different semantic web applications and accessed by citizens via a single platform. Requirements for such semantic interoperability can be for example derived from the EU services directive, which demands that services of all governments have to be made available online at a single point of contact.
A direct target group of the project are local, regional and national governments (public service providers) throughout the whole EU and their institutions responsible for public services providing. Public administrations have been closely involved in the project to develop the solutions based on their requirements and the project provides a system for making government services from different levels accessible to citizens via a single point of entry.
The second target group are citizens and enterprises using the platform to create "to do lists" for their personalized life events and find the services they need. Also the needs of citizens have been evaluated in the beginning of the project and their user requirements formed the basis of the developed solution.
The project consortium consisted of universities and IT companies with experience in knowledge management and semantic web technologies as well as business processes, administrations in need of user-friendly solutions providing information and e-services for complex life events and Non-profit organisations taking into account the requirements of citizens, especially of disadvantages groups, and promoting the project via the relevant media.
The developed solution was tested in two pilot projects in Poland and Slovakia and a field test in Germany. The system was developed in close cooperation between the service providers (administrations) and the developers of the technical solution (universities and IT companies) taking into account the previous user requirements analysis from the point of view of administrations as well as citizens in the different countries.
In Poland, the city of Gliwice tested the pilot application on the example of registering a new enterprise. In Slovakia, the Kosice Self-Governing Region used the application for leading citizens through the procedure of getting a building permit and in Germany, the Ministry of Finance coordinated a field test with twelve registry offices, in which the application was tested on the administrative procedures required for getting married. After the first prototype had been developed, the system was tested by citizens and evaluated. Based on the results, the prototype was enhanced and tested in a second round.
The Access-eGov system builds on principles of semantic web technologies. Semantic descriptions of individual government services are created by administrations, can be found and interpreted by semantic web applications and, based on a knowledge model containing a workflow description of administrative processes as well as required inputs and outputs of individual services, are combined for citizens into a personalized life event scenario.
At the basis are resource ontologies for government services containing formalizations of all relevant elements (concepts, attributes, relations, workflow structures, etc.) that can be used for modelling and semantic annotation of governmental services. By means of their semantic description, existing governmental services - both electronic as well as the traditional non-electronic ones - can be integrated.
An Annotation Tool, a web-based application, is used by public administrations for describing their governmental services using concepts from the resource ontologies. The Annotation tool is used for example to specify the type of a service and automatically imports the service description into the knowledge model of the system. Although the Annotation tool was initially designed for governmental services, it can be used for the annotation of any services, offered for example by a private company. Alternatively to the annotation tool, administrations can use a web service interface to add their service descriptions to the Access-eGov system.
A Personal Assistant Client, another web application, is the interface visible for by citizens. It guides the citizens through a specific life event, for example starting a new enterprise or getting married.
The Personal Assistant client (PAC) asks the citizen a number of questions and based on the answers provided, it generates a workflow (list of tasks or to-do list) for the user to follow. The workflow is tailored to the particular case, i.e. the country where the service is located and the characteristics of the citizen. The selection of life events that the Personal Assistant supports is not set or predefined. The Personal assistant has been designed as a dynamic application capable to support almost all possible life events. Support of new life events can be introduced by using the Annotation services described above.
All the Access-eGov components are delivered as open source solutions.
The main results of the project are a component for creating semantic mark-up to government service, a personal assistant client for citizens, a security and reference architecture and resource ontologies along with methodological guidelines.
These results are relevant for the research community and public administrations working on standards for the description of life events and government services. The developed software can be used by public administrations and the available pilot applications bring advantages to citizens helping them to get an easy overview of steps they have to do in a specific life event.
The project results have been presented on various conferences on e-Government as well as in scientific media but also in local newspapers and radios in the regions where the pilot applications have been publicly tested. Among others, it was presented to a working group of Deutschland Online, on CeBit and the e-Inclusion conference.
The pilot applications have been tested and evaluated online by the general public in Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
1. It was very important to involve user partners (public administrations) to develop and test the system in a realistic environment. A balanced cooperation between technology developers and public administration authorities is regarded as essential, since public administration is needed to provide domain knowledge, to annotate services as well as to update annotated information. Their support and commitment to the vision of citizen-centric service delivery is of paramount importance because of the vibrant changes in this field of application, e.g. as software in the public administration sector is subject to frequent changes in legal regulations.
2. Transforming data from simple websites into semantically annotated data required in some cases a lot of annotation effort. Only in the future, when semantic technologies will be used by a variety of tools that can make use of the same annotated data, the real advantages of this technology will come into effect and justify the additional annotation effort. Creating semantically enriched service descriptions from websites that are built from well structured databases or via a web service interface proved to be faster and effective already.
3. Making services accessible by using semantic technologies also meant to agree on the semantics of public administration services. This process is not so much about technologies but mainly about communication and cooperation between different administrations with different views of the concepts that have to be described. While the project was running, parallel efforts on national levels were made to agree on a unique system for typing services as well as for describing other concepts from the area of public administration. The results of these efforts will facilitate the employment of semantic technologies on a national and international level in the future. Access-eGov has shown by its pilot applications, how the use of such standards can be exploited.