The Assembly's Vision For Exploiting Information
A strategic view of the importance of information to Assembly business
1. This paper sets out the views of the Information and Outreach Directorate on the strategic importance to the Assembly of information and information management processes, and the need to be pro active in the management of the development of information services as the Assembly's business evolves.
2. The purpose of the paper is to establish a strategic vision - a broad expression of business aims - that will provide a foundation for the development of business objectives, information policies, strategies, procedures and systems concerned with:
i. the administration of the Assembly - where the focus is on efficiency and effectiveness, and
ii. the Assembly's relationship with the people of Northern Ireland, the public at large, the media, and other bodies - where the focus is on communications, image, inclusiveness, cross community support and openness etc.
3. Whilst the focus of this paper is on information uses and information management, its purpose is not constrained by the remit of the the Information and Outreach Directorate. It is strategic in intent and must achieve corporate ownership and application if it is to succeed.
The political context
4. The political context in which Assembly business is carried out can lend a political interpretation to language that is otherwise used to describe business matters and intent . The language of this paper should not be interpreted as progressing any political agenda other than that legislated by Parliament and expressed by the Assembly Commission.
Setting the business context
5. The paper re-affirms the value of information and the necessity to employ effective and efficient means to acquire, manage, process and disseminate information. It builds on the understanding and acceptance within the Assembly of the business context in which information strategies should be pursued, and thus establishes a firm basis for the development of:-
- Information Services (structures, people and products);
- Information Systems (mechanisms and processes); and
- Information and Communications Technology (ICT – tools).
6. Many of the principles of information management are common to any business operation but the needs of government, and more particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, require broader thinking on the importance of information to the democratic process and the peace process.
7. The paper therefore proposes a vision for the exploitation of information within the Assembly and in our dealings with outside bodies and the public. Acceptance of the vision and of the strategies for information management will enable services, systems and ICT infrastructure to be developed which fully support the Assembly's intentions as an institution and target our investments towards areas of agreed priority.
The intended Users of information – the customers
8. The paper identifies two distinct categories of information users: The Assembly and the Public.
9. Within the Assembly, all Members, Committees, Assembly Parties support, and the Secretariat place high demands on information services for the supply of quality and timely information – both to inform analysis and debate on political matters and in the management of the operations of the Assembly.
10. The public's interest and need for information about the political process is of primary importance to the success of the Assembly's political agenda – the Assembly needs to be seen to be effective.
11. The information facilities that have been developed for the Northern Ireland Assembly have addressed a broad set of business needs and have evolved in parallel with the structures and processes of the Assembly. It is now time to adopt a strategic approach to the development of information services and systems - to make sure that the opportunities to use information, to the benefit of Assembly business, are fully realised in a sustainable way.
12. The following paragraphs describe the unique context of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its business processes and the way that the Assembly's business vision for modern, open, inclusive and efficient operations and ways of working reflects the importance of information and the use of ICT.
13. The Assembly as a new institution has sought to grasp opportunities for adopting best practices in information management – to get it right from the start. Our size, focus and lack of historical legacy means that we can be nimble in addressing information needs and adopting best practices in information management. This strategic intent deals with the internal workings of the Assembly but also enshrines the importance of public access to the process of government and the need for seamless access to central government, other devolved UK Legislatures and the EU.
14. The political developments within Northern Ireland are in the spotlight of media attention and the Assembly has a key role to play in promoting a positive image of the devolved administration. The Assembly would like to become regarded as a model of modern government – a showcase.
15. The Assembly needs to acknowledge the hunger for information within society at large, and the very keen interest in the practical outcomes of the political process. It is also important to establish and continually reinforce cross-community support for the Assembly and to maintain a focus on human rights.
16. These are the driving forces of Devolved Government in general and the Assembly in particular, and must be fully reflected in our information strategies.
17. The Assembly, by its constitution and operational processes, is unique, responding to the need to ensure fully inclusive participation by all elected political representatives, and where the hopes and expectations of the people of NI are bound up to a significant extent in the workings of the democratic institutions. The Assembly's use of information therefore needs to respond to the local and unique aspects of the Assembly, to be seen to be inclusive in the widest sense, while building on established democratic practices and responding to national and global trends and best practices of modern government.
18. Northern Ireland is subject to external influences and the Assembly's performance will be assessed against global norms and benchmarks. UK government policy and the UK's Information Age agenda (Modernising Government and Joined-Up Government – defined in Northern Ireland as Better Government) apply to the Assembly, but in many cases these need to be amplified locally and made relevant to the particular needs of the Assembly. The new agenda for government within the UK and in other developed countries is based on an appreciation of the fundamental changes in working methods and interaction with "customers" which technology is making possible and which have already changed the landscape of many commercial sectors.
19. The Assembly is a busy institution, dealing with a large number of "live" issues at any time, and the information flows are in many (if not most) cases time critical. The objective in meeting the Assembly's information requirements is principally to do with effectiveness but, as the institution gains maturity, the efficiency of information provision and support will grow in importance. The Assembly therefore seeks to ensure that the approaches adopted for meeting information needs are as effective and efficient as possible, covering:-
- timeliness and quality – getting the right information to the user at the right time and in a form that best supports the current use or purpose; and
- effectiveness and efficiency – the approaches and techniques used should ensure that the overhead on information-based activities is kept to an acceptable minimum in terms both of the users' time and the level of professional and administrative support effort and cost involved.
20. Meeting requirements for effectiveness and efficiency in a modern context implies a pervasive use of ICT and the use of flexible and highly integrated Information Systems.
21. The Assembly's vision for the use of information is:-
i. based on an understanding of the sources and uses of information and the needs of users within and outside the organisation;
ii. built on precepts that have been developed to fit the particular needs and intentions of the Assembly, of the benefits sought and the risks that will need to be managed; and
iii. predicated on a strategic and holistic approach to Information Systems and ICT whereby the technological aspects are indivisible from the broader strategic intent.
22. The vision targets directly the main features of the Assembly's approach to its remit – to be inclusive, open, transparent and modern, efficient and effective in its operations.
Information and Information Systems – precepts
23. In addressing the full range of sources and users of information, the Assembly's approach has been based on a number of precepts:-
i. ICT is transforming the way activities are undertaken in all economic sectors – including government: ICT considerations should not dominate our plans for Information and Information Systems, but the Assembly fully accepts and welcomes the opportunities now available to do things differently and better;
ii. in developing information services in the future it will be important to strike a balance between the sophistication and costs of the facilities available and the ease of use by all users, covering the full range of needs and competencies;
iii. the quality, timeliness and efficiency with which information needs are met will depend on the effective management of common repositories of underlying data and the use of common tools for accessing, updating and re-use of information; and
iv. the Assembly should continue to utilise standard approaches and techniques as these develop in the global world of ICT and as they are specifically applied in parallel and related sectors and institutions.
24. These precepts together describe the distinct elements of the strategy that will realise the vision in terms of what is possible and desirable, and how the opportunities identified are to be grasped.
25. The Assembly has already made significant progress in meeting information needs. We have implemented the basic platform, systems and services required to deliver a modern set of facilities to users within the Assembly, and to provide communications facilities to the outside world. In doing so, modern technologies and communication systems have been used.
Re-applying lessons learned elsewhere and working in partnership
26. We have drawn on experiences and approaches of Westminster in particular and from other jurisdictions where appropriate but in such a way that the unique nature of devolved government in Northern Ireland is reflected in the solutions which have been deployed. We have forged effective working relationships with colleagues in Westminster, in the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales and in the Dail in order to continue to exploit the potential for sharing experiences, and have adopted a collaborative approach to the development of systems and services.
Building on the firm foundations already laid
27. The basic ICT infrastructure and associated services are now substantially in place and this has created the platform on which further applications can be delivered to meet business needs and address information requirements.
28. With the achievement of devolution in December 1999 and the experience gained since then, further requirements have been identified and a better understanding now exists of the demands that will be made by a working institution.
29. The experiences and lessons learned are encapsulated in the Assembly's vision for information and have fed directly into the development of the information strategy: and they will determine, to a large extent, the approaches we take in the future to the development of our Information Systems and ICT infrastructure.
Exploiting information and ICT
30. Where the Assembly is operating in a well established way (such as the Official Record – Hansard) and where the information processing required is based on legislative or procedural rules (order papers, Bills) the information management and processing requirements have been easy to isolate.
31. Similarly, where approaches to particular information-based activities are mainly described by the ICT facilities available (such as publication on the Internet), the Assembly has already established a robust means of supporting these needs. But so far each requirement and each stage has been considered largely in isolation from others.
32. To date the focus in meeting these requirements has been to establish the necessary information and systems infrastructure to enable the Assembly to operate. An evolutionary approach has been adopted which has responded to priorities in a flexible way and which has made best possible use of extant solutions and de facto standards.
33. The Assembly is still developing and evolving as an institution and the continued further evolutionary development and expansion of Information Systems and the use of ICT is expected to be most appropriate way forward in the short term. But it is clear that there are opportunities for these developments to be underpinned by a coherent strategy for Information in its broadest sense and for this Strategy to set the context for future IS and ICT plans.