Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of governmental public domain information

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II.4.2. Defining the public information management policy requirements

The following functions need to be addressed in the development of a national and local information management policy:

  • Providing access to governmental information for use by the public;

  • Providing the best possible access to and use of information by multilingual or disadvantaged communities at a local level;

  • Avoiding improperly restrictive practices on dissemination and use of public information;

  • Information resource management planning;

  • Management of information dissemination activities;

  • Electronic information dissemination;

  • Safeguards for public information.

Additional specific details and their implementation will depend on each nation’s circumstances and needs.

II.4.2.1. Providing information to the public

All government entities have a responsibility to provide information to the public consistent with their legislative and regulatory missions. They should fulfil this responsibility by:
a. Providing information that describes their organization, activities, programmes, meetings, systems of records, and other information holdings, and how the public may obtain access to their information resources.
b. Providing access to their records under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (see section II.3 above), subject to the protections and limitations provided for in this Act.
c. Making available such other information as is necessary or appropriate for the proper performance of the organization’s functions.

d. In determining whether and how to disseminate information to the public, each government entity shall:

    1. Disseminate information in a manner that achieves the best balance between the goals of maximizing the usefulness of the information and minimizing the cost to the government and the public;

    2. Disseminate information on equitable and timely terms;

    3. Take advantage of all dissemination channels in government at all levels, libraries, private-sector entities, and media that are appropriate to the dissemination function for each particular type of information; and

    4. Help the public locate governmental information maintained by or for the government entity.

In order to facilitate these actions, it is necessary for public authorities to identify exhaustively all their accessible and useful resources through comprehensive online directories or searchable databases, containing all necessary metadata. Metadata means information on the information (such as: name of public authority, date of creation, content summary, terms of access, document updates, and format).

II.4.2.2. Providing the best possible access to and use of information by multilingual or disadvantaged communities at the local level

The following specific objectives should be implemented to address needs in providing access to and use of information by multilingual or disadvantaged communities at the local level:
a. All national and sub-national entities should seek to avoid linguistic segregation in providing access to their public information.
b. It is necessary to take advantage of technologies that facilitate access to and use of information in all the national languages in order to ensure maximum self-expression, and to promote education, science, culture and communication. Public information must be produced and disseminated in appropriate formats, and access strategies must involve disadvantaged communities in the production and use of locally relevant information. The introduction of modern information and communication technologies, such as digital networks, should complement the continued use of existing communication networks (such as local community centres and libraries) and small-scale audio-visual equipment (e.g. radio, audiocassettes, and video). The country’s significant traditional modes of communication also need to be utilized.
c. The appropriate government entities should adopt a strategy to develop freely accessible language education materials, and disseminate those materials freely online and through other appropriate means. At the same time, the translation of the highest priority public information resources into local languages and dialects needs to be undertaken.
d. Private-sector initiatives that develop multilingual content and its dissemination, particularly to disadvantaged communities at the local level, should be encouraged and supported.
e. The appropriate government entities should work with national and international experts in the development of:

  1. Internet search engines and Web browsers with extensive multilingual capabilities;

  2. Online dictionaries and reference materials;

  3. Automatic Language Treatment (ATL) services such as software for automatic translation, including speech processing aimed at augmenting human capacity for communication through speech, and natural language processing, aimed at augmenting capacity for understanding language; and

  4. Information products and services that can meet the special needs of people with physical disabilities.

II.4.2.3. Avoiding improperly restrictive practices on dissemination and use of public information
Information costs are of several kinds, and relate to data collection as well as information production, organization, updating, retrieval, printing, dissemination, and archiving, among others. Indisputably, the question of the price of public information is a critical matter for both citizens and the private sector. Producing available, but high-priced, information can be an insurmountable barrier to public access to information, especially in disadvantaged communities.
In setting the terms and conditions for the dissemination and use of public information, government entities should:
a. Avoid establishing, or permitting others to establish on their behalf, exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangements that hinder the availability of information dissemination products on a timely and equitable basis.
b. Avoid restrictions or regulations, including the charging of fees or royalties, on the reuse, resale, or re-dissemination of public information products by the public.
c. Set user charges for information dissemination products at a level no higher than what is sufficient to recover the cost of dissemination (i.e. the marginal cost of fulfilling a user request). They should exclude from calculation the costs associated with the production of the information. Exceptions to this policy could be:

  1. Where other statutory requirements are at variance with the policy;

  2. Where the organization collects, processes, and disseminates the information for the benefit of a specific identifiable group of users whose needs and resources can be accurately determined;

  3. Where the organization plans to establish user charges at less than the cost of dissemination because of a determination that higher charges would constitute a significant barrier to properly performing its functions, including reaching members of the public whom the agency has a responsibility to inform; or

  4. Where the information is digital and disseminated online, in which case it should be provided free of charge, since the marginal cost of providing the information to each additional user is close to zero.

II.4.2.4. Information resource management planning

All government entities subject to the national information policy should:
a. Adopt an integrated life-cycle approach to the management of information resources; that is, from the planning stage, to production, organization, dissemination, use, preservation and, in appropriate circumstances, purging ( i.e. removing from official sources of availability, but not necessarily destroying the information that is outdated).
b. Consider the effects of the decisions and actions taken under this policy on members of the public and on other government entities, and ensure consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
c. Fulfil new information needs through partnerships for sharing of information, or through commercial sources, where appropriate, before creating or collecting new information.
d. Record, preserve, and make accessible sufficient information to ensure the effective management and accountability of government activities, and to protect the government’s legal and financial interests.
e. Incorporate records management and archival functions into the design, development, and implementation of information systems, including the following requirements:

  1. Provide for public access to records where required or appropriate.

  2. Collect or create information that is necessary for the proper performance of approved government functions, and that either has practical utility or addresses citizens’ identified needs.

  3. Use electronic information collection and creation techniques where such techniques reduce burdens on the public, increase the efficiency of public programmes, reduce costs or provide better service to the public. Conditions favourable to electronic collection or creation include the following:

    • The information involves the production of a large volume of data, or needs to be disseminated to a large portion of the public;

    • The information production is performed on a recurring basis;

    • There is a need to routinely convert the information to electronic format;

    • A substantial number of the affected public are known to have ready access to the necessary information technology; and

    • Conversion to electronic reporting, if mandatory, will not impose substantial costs or other adverse effects on the public, especially for sub-national government and small business entities.

Each Government organization or entity should maintain and implement a management system for dissemination of all its public information, which will, at a minimum:
a. Assure the dissemination of information products which are necessary for the proper performance of the organization’s functions.
b. Consider whether an information product available from other government sources is equivalent and reasonably fulfils the organization’s dissemination responsibilities.
c. Establish and maintain inventories of all of the organization’s information products. These need to be linked with a searchable electronic repository or databases that will help to identify the available information.
d. Develop other aids to locating the organization’s information dissemination products, including catalogues and directories, which will help to achieve its dissemination objectives.
e. Identify in its information products the source of the information, if coming from another organization.
f. Ensure that members of the public with disabilities, whom the organization has a responsibility to inform, have a reasonable ability to access the information.
g. Establish and maintain communications with members of the public and with other government entities so that the organization creates information products that meet their respective needs.
h. Provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information products.
i. Ensure that a prompt and orderly transition to compliance with the requirements of organizational and national policy is made with regard to any existing inconsistencies.

II.4.2.6. Electronic information dissemination

Government entities should use electronic media and formats, including both public and private networks, as appropriate and within budgetary constraints, in order to make their information more easily accessible and useful to the public. As a general matter, government dissemination of electronic information on digital networks, now frequently referred to as “E-Governance” services, have already improved governmental information services to citizens and businesses in many countries, and have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of both individual government organizations and intragovernmental activities.33 The use of electronic media and formats for information dissemination may be justified by any of the following conditions, which are analogous to those provided for the electronic collection or creation of information under section II.4.2.4 (e) (iii), above:
a. The organization develops and maintains the information electronically.
b. Electronic media or formats are practical and cost-effective ways to provide public access to a large, highly detailed volume of information.
c. The organization disseminates the information product frequently.
d. The organization knows that a substantial portion of users have ready access to the necessary information technology and training to use electronic information dissemination products.
e. A change to electronic dissemination, particularly as the sole means of disseminating the information product, will not impose undue acquisition or training costs on users.
Attention must be given to the accuracy and updating of information, because disseminating inaccurate or outdated information is contrary to the public mission of an organization and may result in unnecessary problems to the public. The date of any updates should always be identified.

II.4.2.7. Security of public information

It also is important to implement appropriate safeguards in the management of public information, both to protect any confidentiality, privacy, national security, or intellectual property rights in the information, and to ensure the long-term preservation of the information. Government entities should:
a. Protect the security of the information by:

  1. Ensuring that information is protected commensurate with the risk of harm that would result from the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to, or modification of, such information. Also, government entities should consider the effects of actions taken under the national information policy on the privacy rights of individuals, and ensure that appropriate legal and technical safeguards are implemented.

  2. Limiting the collection of information that identifies individuals to not more than what is legally authorized and necessary for the proper performance of the entity’s functions.

  3. Limiting the sharing of information that identifies individuals, or is protected by national security statutes or intellectual property rights, to situations in which this is legally or contractually authorized, and imposing appropriate conditions on use where a continuing obligation to ensure the confidentiality of the information exists.

  4. Providing individuals, upon request, with access to records about them maintained in the organization’s records, and permitting them to amend any records that contain errors.

b. Preserve the information through appropriate management and retrieval facilities for all official public records that should be retained permanently. Government entities subject to this policy should:

  1. Ensure that their records management programmes provide adequate and proper documentation;

  2. Ensure the ability to access records, regardless of their form or medium;

  3. Establish appropriate selection and retention criteria as well as accession schedules for permanent archiving of records, in consultation with the national archives and in accordance with legislative requirements;

  4. Provide training and guidance as appropriate to all public officials, employees, and contractors regarding their records management responsibilities; and

  5. Recognize that current electronic formats and tools cannot guarantee that digital information can be preserved in its original form for decades without being transferred to new formats and media34, and make strategic choices that take this constraint into account.

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