The main purpose of the Akoma Ntoso initiative is to develop a number of connected standards and languages and guidelines for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents, and specifically to:
- Define a common document format
- Define a common model for document interchange
- Define a common data schema
- Define a common metadata schema and ontology
- Define a common schema for citation and cross referencing
Parliaments and Courts function through the medium of documents. Debate in Parliamentary chambers and courts proceedings are recorded as documents. Legislation is passed through the voting process via a combination of documents, the proposed legislation itself, proposed amendments, committee working papers and so on.
Given that most of the processes are document-centric, the key enabler of streamlined Information Technology in Parliaments and Courts is the use of open document formats for the principal types of documents. Such open document formats will allow easy exchange and aggregation of information – in addition to reducing the time required to make the information accessible via different electronic publishing media.
The Information Technology industry has coalesced around a standard technology for Open Document Formats known as XML (eXtensible Markup Language). Akoma Ntoso makes use of XML industry standard XML (eXtensible Markup Language) to define the structure and syntax of its open document standards. It includes a set of XML-based parliamentary, legislative and judiciary Open Document Formats to cover:
- Parliamentary Debates
- Committee briefs
- Primary Legislation – covering the life-cycle of a piece of legislation
MODEL for data interchange and open access
Define a common MODEL for data interchange and open access to parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents
Regardless of the processes that generate and use parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents, regardless of the cultural and historical factors that give shape and substance to these documents, and regardless of the human languages in which these documents are written, there are undeniable similarities that are shared by documents of the same type, of different types, for different purposes, of different countries.
One of the main objectives of Akoma Ntoso is to be able to capture and describe these similarities so as to unify and streamline, wherever possible and as far as possible, the formats and software tools related to parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documentation, and describe processes in a similar way. This lends itself to reducing the need for local investments in tools and systems, to helping open access, and to enhancing cooperation and integration of governmental bodies both within the individual countries and between them.
Akoma Ntoso defines a model for open access focused on the following issues:
- generation of documents: it should be possible to use the same tools for creating the documents, regardless of their type, country, language, and generation process.
- presentation of documents: it should be possible to use the same tools to show on screen and print on paper all documents, regardless of their type, country, language and generation process.
- accessibility of documents: it should be possible to reference and access documents across types, languages, countries, etc., converting the network of explicit references among texts into a web of hypertext links that allow the reader to navigate easily and immediately across them.
- description of documents: it should be possible to describe all documents, regardless of their types, languages, countries, etc., so as to make it possible to create repositories, search engines, analysis tools, comparison tools, etc.
At the same time, the Akoma Ntoso model considers the differences that exist in individual document types, that are derived from using different human languages, and that are implicit in the legislative culture of each country. Therefore the common open access model is designed to be flexible, to support exceptions, and to allow extensions far enough to provide support for all individual characteristics that can be found in a complete document set covering different cultures and countries.
Define a common African parliamentary, legislative and judiciary DATA schema
Parliaments and Courts work with a number of distinct types of documents such as legislation, debate records, parliamentary questions, judiciary proceedings, judgements etc.
Akoma Ntoso explicitly supports each major type of document with specific provisions for individual characteristics. The definition takes the form of human and machine-readable document models, according to the specification tools made available by XML schema, the specification language used by XML.
All document types share the same basic structures, provide support for metadata, addressing and references, differentiate common structure and may accommodate national peculiarities.
All documents can be produced by the same set of tools (although specialized tools may provide more detailed and specific help in specific situations), need the same tools to be displayed or printed (although specialized tools can provide more sophisticated and individual presentations), can reference each other in an unambiguous and machine-processable way, and can be described by a common set of metadata that helps in indexing, analysing and storing all documents.
METADATA schema and ontology
Define a common African parliamentary, legislative and judiciary METADATA schema and ontology
Metadata are structured information about a resource. Metadata record information about a document that is not actually part of its content, but is necessary to examine in order to deal with the document itself (for instance, information about its publication, lifecycle, etc.). Metadata also enable a document to be found by indicating what the document is about and how it can be accessed. Furthermore, metadata facilitates the discovery and use of online resources by providing information that aids and increases the ease with which information can be located by search engines that index metadata. Metadata values are labelled and collected according to a common ontology, i.e. an organized description of the metadata categories that describe the resources. A shared ontology is fundamental to provide a way for managing, organizing and comparing metadata.
The parliamentary, legislative and judiciary ontology is concerned particularly with records management and document management, and covers the core set of data elements needed for the effective management and retrieval of official parliamentary, legislative and judiciary information. The aim of the parliamentary, legislative and judiciary ontology is to provide a universal schema for all the information about a document that is available to its owner, does not belong to the document itself, and might be needed for management or searching. The Akoma Ntoso ontology provides direct translation of some of its values into the corresponding properties of the Dublin Core metadata schema (an international standard for the description of electronic documents available online), and uses values and terms drawn from the legal thesauri to improve searchability by legal professionals.
Nonetheless, Akoma Ntoso, the ontology is designed to be extensible so that Parliaments and Courts with different, or more specific, metadata needs may add extra elements and qualifiers to meet their own requirements.
MECHANISM for citation and cross referencing of documents
Define a mechanism MECHANISM for citation and cross referencing of data between documents
The Akoma Ntoso Naming Convention and the corresponding Akoma Ntoso reference mechanism are intended to enable a persistent, location-independent, mechanism for resource identification and active referencing. The adoption of a scheme based on the Naming Convention allows the full automation of access to documents in a fully distributed hypertext.
The naming convention can cater for:
- the direct access to the document being referred to, regardless of type, jurisdiction, country, or emanating body.
- the specification of the existence, at a certain time, of more than one copy of the same document being referred to;
- the possibility that references to resources not yet published on the web are present.
Official documents, bills, laws, acts and judgements contain numerous references to other official documents, judgements, bills, laws and acts. The whole parliamentary, legislative and judiciary corpus of documents can be seen as a network, in which each document is a node linking, and linked by, several other nodes through natural language expressions. The adoption of a common naming convention and a reference mechanism to connect a distributed document corpus, like the one embodied by the Parliaments and Courts, will greatly enhance the accessibility and richness of cross references. It will enable comprehensive cross referencing and hyper-linking, so vital to any parliamentary, legislative and judiciary corpus, from:
- debate record into legislation
- section of legislation to section of legislation in the same act
- section of legislation to section of legislation in another act of the same Parliament or of an institution like the Pan African Parliament or European Parliament;
- from judgements to other judgements and acts.