Think tank rolls out e-gov tool

A New York technology research center recently unveiled an online tool to help government agencies design and present better access to information in an electronic format. The tool is actually an interactive version of a guide developed two years ago by the Center for Technology in Government at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY-Albany). "The guide is basically a response to what I would call a general frustration of the complexity of designing electronic information access programs," said Theresa Pardo, CTG deputy director and one of the guide's co-authors.

Better access programs provide users a way to easily locate, use, analyze and compare relevant data. But agencies often don't recognize that as access becomes more intricate, information requirements become more complex, Pardo said. And those responsible for delivering such programs aren't experienced in the design of those types of information resources, she said.

"They know the factors in their area of expertise, but this is a new area of expertise," Pardo said. "It's more than just making a dataset available on the Web. What this tool does is allow you to develop a variety of designs to take into account these different dimensions and take into account various cost implications of each of the various designs."

Planners, Pardo said, should account for various factors, such as the purpose of an access program, the main information to be provided, who will use it and how will they use the data, who supplies and collects it, laws and regulations governing use, how long is it useful and what staff skills are needed.

SUNY-Albany's online tool supports collaborative design efforts, providing a common workspace for the various participants.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration, funded the guide's development, and a National Science Foundation program paid for creation of the online workbench.

Pardo said the center is also working on a best practices guide, documenting various examples among government agencies and other groups. "You kind of have to do an a la carte best practices," she said. "One of the underlying principles is you can't adopt someone else's strategy out of hand. You have to conceptualize [the models]. It's more work, but it's more likely to have value."

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