ERCIM News No.48, January 2002 [contents]

E-Governance: The Case of the Finnish Parliament

by Olli Mustajärvi

A major portion of information management in the public sector consists of document management. Therefore, implementation of better services for the citizens in an information society requires effective implementation of electronic document management. This case has been characterised as the most important document management project in the Finnish public administration ever.

SGML offers for the purposes of e-governance a technology for document management by enabling long-term accessibility of information in documents. SGML and XML are definition languages by which standard document structures can be defined.

The SGML standardisation project in the Finnish Parliament was carried out with the University of Jyväskylä. The effects of the standardisation have concerned documents, document production, archiving practices, information distribution, and inter-organisational collaboration.

Discussion about building and supporting e-governance by means of SGML started in 1994. The goal of the project was to evaluate alternatives for standard document formats, to design preliminary standards for parliamentary documents, and to develop methods for standardisation. During later phases the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister’s Office, and a publishing house also participated in the project. During 1995-1998, a method for document analysis was developed in the project and four domains were analysed. As part of the analysis, preliminary DTDs were designed for 21 document types. Since Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, all legislative documents have to be available in both of the languages.

The use of SGML (or XML) on a specific domain requires document standardisation. The standardisation means agreement upon rules, which define the way information is represented in the documents of the domain. SGML standardisation does not concern documents only. Successful implementation of the standards of a domain may require major changes in work processes as well as in the tools used in the work. Especially inter-organisational document standardisation covering many document types has proven to be an extremely complicated task.

Technical solution for document production management and distribution.
Technical solution for document production management and distribution.

The work of the first project has been followed by projects where selected companies have developed and implemented SGML solutions (DTDs and tools) for a specific subset of documents, and the Parliament and ministries have redesigned their work processes. The first implemented document repository in SGML form was the archive of laws and statutes which was published by the Ministry of Justice in 1997. In the archive, links to documents in the archive of the Parliament are automatically created. The SGML format was produced by a conversion from word processing files. Conversion of text files was also used in the early version of a new SGML-based budgeting system implemented by the Ministry of Finance in 1998. In the Parliament, the goal was to initiate document production where documents would be originally authored in a structured form. Changing the document production processes and authoring tools has been a major reengineering effort.

The quality of the documents available on the web has however improved as a consequence of the SGML implementation. Documents are now available in three forms: HTML, PDF, and SGML. People working in the Parliament are able to print documents with slightly different layouts for different purposes, eg, for different phases of legislative drafting.

In February 2000 the Finnish Parliament decided on new goals for information distribution, including a goal for the distribution of consolidated legal texts. After the decision, the Ministry of Justice commenced a project for implementing an SGML-based consolidation. A pilot system implemented in the Parliament demonstrated that using the SGML form as a basis, the consolidated legal database can be realised and updated with reasonable costs. The consolidated Finnish legal database is expected to be in use in 2002 at the latest.

Technologies and their Functionalities
The text databases of the Parliament are connected to the web servers of the Parliament. One is for public use on the Internet (http://www.,, http://www. and the other, called Facta, is for internal use. Between the two servers there is the firewall and a mirroring technique is used for the data transfer from the internal server to the public server. Because the Trip databases form the basis of the Parliament’s text processing system, all Internet users can get up-to-date information about the Parliament’s work, documents, speeches and voting in sessions, etc. The web services offer powerful retrieval capabilities utilising document structures. Compared to the pre-standardisation situation, capabilities for defining queries have significantly improved. The latest version of the Trip system, including support for XML, will cause some further changes. The XML support will be utilised in the Parliament. According to some preliminary testing, the SGML form of the documents in the Parliament does not cause significant problems in the new Trip/XML database.

Impacts for the Organisation
The availability of the parliamentary documents on the web has significantly decreased the dissemination of paper documents both in the Parliament and from the Parliament. The costs of the standardisation project are very acceptable compared to annual printing costs or annual expenditure on information technology in general. A major change at the organisational level can be recognised in the relationship of the Parliament and the publishing house. The deployment of SGML has made the Parliament less dependent on the publishing house. The Parliament is able to place a call for bids for printing parliamentary documents. This is expected to lead to savings in printing costs in the future, estimated to be as high as 40-50%.

In relation to society, the feedback received has indicated a clear improvement in the public image of the Parliament. The Parliament has been referred to as a pioneer in its work for improving openness, web services, and usability. The activities in the Parliament have been seen as a model for other organisations.

Impacts for the Society
The implementation of SGML standards in the Finnish legislative work has radically improved the accessibility of information and thus supports democracy and transparency of governance. All documents are available to all citizens free of charge. The tasks of the Finnish public libraries are now changing towards services by which citizens are helped to reach legislative archives via the Internet. A major impact to society is expected as a consequence of the implementation of the SGML-based consolidation. In the future both legal experts and laymen will have improved capabilities for legal information retrieval by the accessibility of consolidated law on the web.
As a whole, the document management development activities in the Parliament can encourage other organisations in the public sector, both in Finland and in other countries, to work towards delivering their documents more quickly and with improved quality to everyone who needs them.


Please contact:
Olli Mustajärvi, The Parliament of Finland
Tel: +358 50 552 1184