The Cabinet Office’s Standards Hub explained its thinking on the matter and published the recommendation this week, using the following language:
“When dealing with citizens, information should be digital by default and therefore should be published online. Browser-based editing is the preferred option for collaborating on published government information. HTML (4.01 or higher e.g. HTML5) is therefore the default format for browser-based editable text. Other document formats specified in this proposal – ODF 1.1 (or higher e.g. ODF 1.2), plain text (TXT) or comma separated values (CSV) – should be provided in addition. ODF includes filename extensions such as .odt for text, .ods for spreadsheets and .odp for presentations.”
The proposal is open for public comment until February 26. FSFE will submit a statement, and so should you.
What I like best about this announcement is that it’s not just a bureaucratic decision made by someone, somewhere, without regard to practical realities. This is actually based on a lot of research that the UK’s Government Digital Services (GDS) has done with the very people who will be affected by this decision.
A blog post by the leader of that research exercise gives some impression of the length that GDS has gone to to make sure their recommendations are relevant and practical:
As part of our parallel discovery project we have:
- analysed feedback on using government documents that we received through GOV.UK customer support and transformation projects
- interviewed people in government to understand what they use electronic documents for, how they work, and who they share with
- carried out a survey of 650 citizens and businesses, to ask them about their experience when using documents produced by the government
The UK government has a record of going two steps forward, one step back on Free Software and Open Standards. This here is definitely a step or two forward. It’s also the right way to go about such complex decisions. The European Commission and other public administrations around Europe should take note.