[p2p-research] Policies on Drugs, Open Standards and Web Accessibility

Ryan rlanham1963 at gmail.com
Mon Nov 2 16:52:35 CET 2009

How not to be naive about open standards...is the EU scrapping

Sent to you by Ryan via Google Reader: Policies on Drugs, Open
Standards and Web Accessibility via UK Web Focus by Brian Kelly (UK Web
Focus) on 11/2/09

Over the weekend we’ve been hearing about the squabbles between the
Government and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Professor
David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council, argued that cannabis was
less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and that it was upgraded by the
Government to Class B against the council’s advice – for political
reasons. In response, as described on the BCC News, the Home Secretary
“Johnson defends drugs row sacking“ saying that Professor David Nutt
went against a long established principle by straying into politics.

An example of a political expediency taking precedence over evidence,
surely? After all, we can predict the headlines in papers such as the
Daily Mail if the Advisory Council’s recommendations had been accepted
by the government.

But if we feel that evidence and the need to acknowledge the
accompanying complexities should outweigh an approach based on simple
slogans would such an approach also be used in the context of IT
development work?

This thought came to me earlier today after reading a tweet from
Wilbert Kraan which stated

“RT @PeterMcAllister: EU wants to get rid of open standards:
http://is.gd/4KMUi (via @brenno) Leaked draft:
http://bit.ly/2tTN7X #EUopenS“

The accompanying blog post , headlined “EC wil af van open standaarden“

“De Europese Commissie schrapt in stilte open standaarden voor
interoperabiliteit. Het draait nog slechts om ‘open specificaties’,
waarbij patenten en betaalde licenties geen taboe meer zijn.”

Friends on Twitter have responded to my request for a translation and
suggest that the post on”The European Commission silently scraps
interoperability standards” begins with the view that:

“The EU has quietly changed its view on open standards and no longer
sees patents and paid licensing as taboos”

The EU has changed its mind on open standards? That sound intriguing!
So I’ve skimmed though the ”European Interoperability Framework for
European Public Services (version 2.0)“ document (PDF file) – which, I
should add, is clearly labelled as a work in progress.

This report is of interest to me as I recently gave a talk at the ILI
2009 conference entitled “Standards Are Like Sausages: Exploiting the
Potential of Open Standards“. In the talk I described how my early work
in promoting open standards (which date back to my contributions to the
eLib Standards document back in 1995) can, in retrospect, be seen to be
naive. Over the years I have found myself recommending open standards,
especially those developed by the W3C, which have failed to gain
significant acceptance in the market place. And, just as, the Daily
Mail knows it is safe to promote a zero tolerance approach to drugs to
its core audience, I was also aware that promoting open standards is a
safe thing to do in a public sector IT development context. But over
the years I have begun to realise that such recommendations need to be
informed by evidence – and if the evidence is lacking there may be a
need for a more refined approach, rather than a continuation of the
“One final push” approach.

These views also apply in the context of Web accessibility. I have
argued for several years that an approach based solely on technical
conformance with a set of accessibility standards, which fails to
acknowledge the diversity of use cases, definitions of accessibility,
limitations of relevant tools available in the market place and the
resource implications of conforming with such flawed approaches, is the
wrong approach to take.

In light of this I was very interested in what the EU’s draft document
on the European Interoperability Framework for European Public Services
had to say.

What did I find in this document about the European Interoperability
Framework (EIF) which aims to promote and support the delivery:

1.5.1 The Political and Historical Context of Interoperability in the
EU:: I welcome the section which acknowledges that political and
historical issues have a significant role to play in enhancing the
delivery of interoperable services.

2.2 Underlying Principle 1: Subsidiarity and Proportionality. This
section goes on to add that “The subsidiarity principle implies that EU
decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen. In other
words, the Union does not take action unless EU action is more
effective than action taken at national, regional or local level“. It
the context of IT services, I see this as endorsing a user-focussed
approach to development work, rather than the centralised imposition of
solutions. Section 2.3 Underlying Principle 2: User Centricity
reinforces this approach.

2.4 Underlying Principle 3: Inclusion and Accessibility. This section
goes on to add that “Inclusion aims to take full advantage of
opportunities offered by new technologies to overcome social and
economic disadvantages and exclusion. Accessibility aims at ensuring
people with disabilities and the elderly access to public services so
they can experience the same service levels as all other citizens.“

We then read that “Inclusion and accessibility usually encompass
multichannel delivery. Traditional service delivery channels may need
to co-exist with new channels established using technology, giving
citizens a choice of access.” Hurray – we’re moving away from the WAI
perspective that suggests that all Web resources must be universally
accessible to all, to an inclusive approach which endorses a diversity
of delivery channels!

2.10 Underlying Principle 9: Openness. This section goes on to add that
“openness is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members
of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate
within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the
advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant
problems. In that sense, openness leads to considerable gains in
efficiency.” I’m pleased to see this emphasis on the benefits of
openness of content and engagement endorsed in the document.

This section than states that:

Interoperability involves the sharing of information and knowledge
between organisations, hence implies a certain degree of openness.
There are varying degrees of openness.

Specifications, software and software development methods that promote
collaboration and the results of which can freely be accessed, reused
and shared are considered open and lie at one end of the spectrum while
non-documented, proprietary specifications, proprietary software and
the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions, i.e. the “not invented
here” syndrome, lie at the other end.

The spectrum of approaches that lies between these two extremes can be
called the openness continuum.

We are seeing an appreciation of complexities and a “spectrum of
approaches [to openness]” rather than a binary division which is
promoted by hardliners.

2.12 Underlying Principle 11: Technological Neutrality and
Adaptability. This principle leads to “Recommendation 7. Public
administration should not impose any specific technological solution on
citizens, businesses and other administrations wh n establishing
European Public Services.” Having acknowledged the needs to be
user-centric and to encourage openness, whilst recognised that there
may be a spectrum of approaches which need to be taken, the document
spells out the implications that specific technical solutions should
not be imposed.

Chapter 4 of the document introduces four Interoperability Levels, as

Although not depicted in the diagram for me this indicates the team for
the technical discussions and decisions about interoperability need to
be formed within the context of political, legal, organisation, and
semantic considerations. Surely self-evident when stated like this, but
not when we hear mantras such as “interoperability through open
standards” being promoted at a policy level which can lead to
discussions taking place in which other considerations can become

Has the ”EU quietly changed its view on open standards and no longer
sees patents and paid licensing as taboos“. Or might we suggest that
the “The EU is now taking a pragmatic approach to the relevance of
standards in ICT development. It now feels that the technical
considerations need to be placed in a wider context“?
Posted in standards
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