The Content Corner: Government as API

Feb 22, 2016

Here at DigitalGov, we generally focus on federal governmental digital efforts within the U.S. It is where we live and operate, so it makes sense, but many governments across the world struggle with the same issues and leverage technology as a common solution. When I came across an article where Australia announced its “government as an API” platform was available, it seemed like a great opportunity to see how another country is tackling structured and open content.

Streamlining Services

In late 2014, the Australian government began feasibility studies of consolidating a range of digital services and leveraging the cloud. A central website hosting program (similar to Sites) was included in an effort to provide email and desktop software as a service (SaaS). The website hosting platform called govCMS went through an early adopters phase as a pilot and then was released government-wide in early 2015.

To date, govCMS hosts 51 websites with 16 currently in development, offering a choice of SaaS or Platform as a Service (PaaS) implementation for agencies that require greater flexibility, but wish to use the same codebase. The service also provides an open source and responsive design that meets Australian best practices. This coupled with the elimination of the entire vendor and procurement process (I assume Australian procurement is as time-intensive as ours) has drawn 25 Australian agencies to adopt the platform. The latest addition to govCMS may attract even more agencies to sign up.

Omnichannel Content

With the launch of the “government as API” feature of govCMS, the Australian government has made the ingestion and dissemination of content, from any source, much simpler and safer.

First, the service leverages the power of the shared govCMS platform and allows easy sharing of any content that exists within the system. Again, this provides the same kind of content reuse that our own agencies such as NIH are providing via syndication. A single content source can be edited once and then is updated wherever it is being used throughout any site using their shared platform, a full realization of the COPE (create once, publish anywhere) mantra. But wait, there’s more!

Not only does govCMS make it easy to share internal content between other sites on the platform, it also can consume content from external sites. Here’s the cool part: external content is normalized “to enable interoperability between diverse applications, and to adapt to and enforce content models.” So at least in principle it will suck in any content you find and make sure that it adopts your own content models (like our article and event models). The power of this is two-fold:

  • It makes sure the external content matches the look and feel of your site and will be responsive for your users, and
  • It allows this content to become easily sharable within the govCMS platform as well.

This creates content that is shared and can be shared anywhere, by anyone, on any device—fully omnichannel communication!

Again, I have not seen this work, but as opposed to syndication, which is great but is basically creating a dedicated connection to an external piece of content, this process actually creates a new piece of content that correctly conforms to your standards. It helps create what the Australian government refers to as a “single source of truth” similar to how NIH can provide their syndicated content as a single, trustworthy source.

One of our primary missions in the public sector is to provide that single (consistent) source of truth, and with our continued efforts with structured content, APIs and content models I feel we are closer and closer to achieving that goal. Just as when I spend time with my U.S. digital government peers, I always am inspired and invigorated by the efforts of other countries and their accomplishments. You go, Australia!

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