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Home About us Projects EUSLAND (2002-2003)

EUSLAND (2002-2003)

EUSlanD is an international project, co-financed by the European Commission under the Information Society Technology Programme, to create a flexible and open networking system on the Internet - called ESY - for the use of Local and Regional governments' experts from all Europe. ESY shall allow these experts to retrieve and integrate data standing in different databases at municipal and regional level, by making use of intelligent electronic agents and supporting tools built to facilitate the provision, semantic classification and sharing of information. On the other hand, ESY will help them to exchange points of view and know-how, based on their own experiences and on benchmarking exercises that the project will carry out to identify best practices. Experts are being invited to participate in the five thematic networks, organised under the framework of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and its European telematic network initiative ELANET, to test and demonstrate the system: Financial opportunities through EU programmes; Implementation of European legislation at regional/national level; Urban Transport solutions in larger cities; Employment policies by Local and Regional Authorities; Local and Regional innovation ICT-based (included technology watching).

 EUSLAND

European System For Local Authorities networking Domains

Project summary


EUSlanD created a flexible and open system for the use of Local and Regional governments, based on a shared knowledge management model. The research system enabled deployment and integration of existing information at local and regional government level, through intelligent supports favouring their provision, semantic classification and exchange. To demonstrate and prepare the exploitation of the system, making use of actual transnational experiences in need of ICT tools to increment the number and range of participants, the project create knowledge thematic networks on key European areas for these authorities: financial opportunities through EU programmes; implementation of European legislation at regional level; benchmarking of urban transport solutions among larger cities; employment policies by Local and Regional Authorities; local and regional innovation based on ICT; technology watching.
Each information provider or user of the EUSlanD services became a EUSlanD node. The project results were disseminated for further exploitation through the ELANET network of CEMR.

Project objectives

European information and decision systems supported by ICT are a unique opportunity for Local governments to cope with the new challenges created by the decentralisation process in most of the EU countries, governed by the application with different levels of intensity of the subsidiary principle from he local to the national level. State decentralisation policies are now usually followed by new responsibilities that Local governments must undertake. Because of limited resources, both from a human and economical point of view, as well as the excessive fragmentation of Local governments throughout Europe, networking and retrieval of relevant data are becoming the key factors of success for Local governments to cope with pre-existing and new functions.
The basic goal of this project was to strengthen and to make more homogeneous the decentralisation process that is taking place in Europe, based on a full application of the subsidiary principle, by creating an efficient data retrieval and networking system on Internet for civil servants and experts of administrations and community organisations acting at the local level.
The system responded to the urgent need that local administrations have, under the new international context created by the consolidation of the European Union and by the establishment of the euro, of working together, of learning from each other, of using experiences of other local governments and of avoiding reinventing wheels hat have been experimented with success or negatively in other places of the Union.
The main EUSlanD project objectives were, consequently two:

  1. to contribute to the task of making Local and Regional governments more efficient in a decentralised society by creating and testing through research and demonstration, at a European level, a knowledge management system on Internet based on an extensive use of telematic and multimedia products;
  2. to strengthen existing thematic networks at a transnational European level, as well as creating new ones, by allowing people working for or with municipalities, provinces and regions, to interact through the system, benefiting from additional support services.

Description of work

 - The research and demonstration work is tuned over a 24-months timeline, starting January 2000. EUSlanD has produced, however, exploitable results in all the project stages. On the other hand, users groups for the different thematic networks, formed by civil servants and local experts, guaranted continuous users feedback.

- Divided into eight work packages, the project offered through its life the following results:

- by month 4 the user needs shall be better identified to determine the user requirements that the system and service applications forming part of the EUSlanD demonstrator prototype must meet; after twelve months, a first prototype has been ready for evaluation. It has basically contain the system applications: the searching engine for data retrieval and exchange of information, the certification system and other utilities, included a secured payment system;

 - by month 18, the prototype was completed with all the service applications to support the activities of the knowledge thematic networks previously indicated;

- a quality assurance master plan and periodical evaluations on the research progress with the participation of the users groups were back up the verification process of the demonstrator prototype in the first part of the year 2001, providing additional feedback for its fine tuning before demonstration;

- demonstration, in the second half of 2001, validated the web prototype as well as the information nodes of the system, through extensive use by a large number of civil servants and local experts;

 - dissemination on a European scale of project progress and results were carried out according to a specific plan, mainly through ELANET (CEMR), the European IS network formed by the Associations of Local and Regional governments and their ICT-based service providers.

 - the project ended with a European Symposium leading to full exploitation of the EUSlanD system. 

Participants List

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 Innovation

EUSlanD was a research and demonstration project designed to overcome lack of homogeneity among Local and Regional governments through co-operation and standardised solutions that can be easily and largely implemented.
The EUSlanD system provided an innovative methodology to organise existing information and to classify it, as well as to build applications packages related with the exchange of this information. The system was consists of two basic abstraction mechanisms:

  • the EUSlanD Domain Concepts;
  • the "Tagged-Abstract".

The EUSlanD Domain Concepts were semantic concepts usually accepted by actual and potential information providers and users of the EUSlanD System. These concepts were syntactically denoted in the system through tags. Furthermore tags were organised in a special thesaurus that offered the following features:

  1. tags were localisable: satisfying needs for different languages but keeping the accepted semantic meaning;
  2. tags were related among them using "specific domain" relationships: this means that two tagscould be related to a given domain but not others;
  3. both the tags and the specific domain relationships were designed to accept their own evolution through time.

The "Tagged-Abstract" was a textual document that contained mainly:

  1. links to legacy data;
  2. summary of the related legacy content;
  3. declared semantic through the use of previous tagging agreements to relate the specific text with the "EUSLAND Domain Concepts".

The research on user needs will better determine the exact content of the abstracts should be, by addressing questions such as: Can we create, at least partially, the abstract by automatic extracting? Can we let a reader comment on it and make reviews? Can we define a standard on how to make abstracts? Should the abstract provide some kind of certification on the level and quality of the information being provided? Will these abstract be compatible with easy machine translations? Can a numeric classification be adopted, and is it useful, to facilitate documents searching in original language even if the searcher does not know that language? etc.; will have to be answered by the research.
An example of how the search-engine should work was most useful to understand the concept:

  1. imagine a Danish user wanting to know which laws regulate throughout Europe "public services" at the local level. The system would first present him the different services offered. The user would then identify and access the specific thematic network on legislation and enter his request using browsing supporting facilities. The search of the information becomes feasible if there is a tag (Domain Concept) that matches the information requested and that allows the user to enter the relevant abstracts (the search would be done using Danish or English or any other language contained in the multilingual tag). The user would also have the chance to reduce the searching area by further composing his request using different combinations of available concepts;
  2. the system would relate the request to the EUSlanD Domain Concept of "public services", which has been previously agreed as a valid concept for searching by the information providers (it means that information providers of the EUSlanD system have agreed that in their records, data bases and documents, "public services" means, for example: "offered at local level responding to citizens' basic needs". Public services could include local transports, water and energy supply but not, for example, the telephone network, that has been put into the EUSlanD domain concept "communication". Once the domain concept of public service has been clearly identified, the system would show a certain number of "Tagged-abstracts" containing information on documents from the different data bases of the information providers;
  3. the Danish user would then have a good view of what exists in the field of legislation regarding public services in European countries. Through the abstracts he would have the chance to evaluate other legislation's approaches to the problem that he is trying to analyse, as well to access directly to the legacy data, that is to say to the original documents from which the abstracts derive. If he is interested in studying the Italian legislation, he would access law n. 142 of 1990 regarding "Local Government", which is a milestone on public services regulations. Being this an official document it would be at disposal in the original language and it would under his authority to have it translated, if he needs it. In addition a special browsing service would enable him to make queries to know if something new has been put in a specific EUSlanD thematic network from a certain date on (that could be, for example, the date of the last time he accessed the system).

The system tools described been integrated in a more general logical system architecture, as shown in the diagrams that follow:

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Community added value & contribution to EU policies

EUSlanD will created a knowledge management system based on modern ICT technologies that been used, in time, by thousands and thousand of civil servants and experts working at a local level in the different sectors where Local and Regional governments operate. As described in the project, the system allowed, on one side, the retrieval of information on specific domains through a multilingual searching engine based on abstracts where the information on the issue that the user was asking for has been previously filtered and classified; and, on the other side, provided a package of services to stimulate exchanges of experiences and networking between people studying the same problems.

The main potential added-value of the system was become an important instrument to support European cohesion and to favour EU enlargement. The community added-value of the projects lies precisely in this objective of the European Union: economic and government policies were certainly indispensable to favour integration but the bottom-line was to make people feel as much European as they love their own culture. And, to a large extent, it was not only a question of European rights but of having people working together to solve problems that despite of their local realities were quite similar in the end. Local governments were to play a significant role in this perspective during the next years and the EUSlanD system maked it easier by organising information, by helping to distinguish what is relevant and what is not and by compensating the differences of languages.

The EUSlanD system also contributed to stimulate the information market at the local level and favour indirectly competition. It was a well know fact that there was still a gap in the use of the new communication and information technologies between, not favourable to Europe, between the old continent and global competitors, particularly the U.S. and Japan. Because of this, it was interesting to see what was happening in the U.S. regarding information-searching systems.

A first example was the evolution of some actual US portals, like Excite, Lycos and Zdnet that started as search engines boosted by private investments and have now acquired a strong market profile and a stable increasing demand, to the extent that they were being quoted most successfully in the stock exchange. But perhaps even more important for the future of EUSlanD and its contribution to the information market were the examples of non-profit organisations like the Open GIS Consortium (aiming to standardise Geographical Information Systems), the Object Management Group (OMG) and many others hi-tech working groups working on common technical standards as a basic key to stimulate competition, even between its members. These non-profit organisations usually include many different organisations: from users to research institutions and information providers.

EUSlanD has the same kind of ingredients: it facilitated access to classified information in key domains for Local governments to improve their own administrations and services; promoted standardisation and provide services to help networking between civil servants and experts from any kind of organisation working at the local level. In a reality like Europe where the large majority of economical competitions involves SME's and where Local governments were strong employers, such a knowledge management system undoubtedly helped to create new business opportunities and more employment of qualified personnel.

Interoperability of services and applications was a primary objective of the European Union: EUSlanD became a portal to integrate information sources and to provide integrated packages of services/applications based on full interoperability at a European level.

Why a European project?

The project in itself was born European because aimed to stimulate exchanging of data and experiences, as well as cross-fertilisation, at a horizontal level between people that worked in or with Local and Regional governments. As the Information Society it developed in Europe this need for retrieving previously filtered and classified information on specific topics, as well as to see what solutions were implemented in a part of Europe to a similar need in another part of the continent, was becoming always more important.

A second reason, was the need to articulate superior levels of co-operation between organisations that were working steadily in the information market at the local level, in order to balance the overall situation with other levels of the information market where multinationals operate. The Local governments level was a relatively poor and too fragmented market that can be served efficiently and with reasonable returns on investment only if the information providers establish close links with the users.

From this point of view, the EUSlanD consortium has the critical dimension and the profile, in terms of mission, human and organisational resources, that were necessary guarantee the future exploitation of the invention. The consortium profile can be easily understood from the roles and past experience in this sector of the four contractors:

  1. Ancitel S.p.A., a specialised company in interactive services on Internet and other networks for local governments, created by the Italian association of local governments, and that was managing the largest municipal network at a national level in Europe (4.000 active subscribers). On the other hand, Ancitel was responsible, through an agreement between the Italian government and ANCI, of developing a network interconnecting horizontally, as part of the public administration network, the civil registers of the 8.100 Local governments, as well as the interconnecting vertically these databases with government and other central databases;
  2. Engineering, one of the major software houses in Italy, acing as technological partner. Engineering was an independent company, family owned, providing high quality IT solutions in different business sectors, included Local governments;
  3. Nalad, one of the most active associations of local governments in Europe, that has developed own technical skills to create information services based on telematic applications and that has a sound know how, especially from the users perspective, to discuss content and technology of a transnational system as EUSlanD;
  4. URBA 2000, a small but most active company in the European arena, which has participated in major IS projects involving cities, providing management and organisational solutions, in particular urban transport issues and feasibility studies for European digital sites regarding land and property management by Local and Regional governments.

The fact that a reliable part of the IS supply has got together to provide a knowledge management system for the use of Local governments was in itself a powerful instrument to stimulate the growth of the IS market at the local level grow, for two simple reasons:

  1. there was little important offer that can come from multinationals operating in the telecommunications and IT market (the demand was not strong enough to justify their investment);
  2. SME's operating in the Information market were not an alternative to solve the problem, if they may not refer to mainstream projects as EUSlanD.

IS providers that can play a decisive role in this market niche are rather few in Europe, usually companies owned by Associations of Local or Regional governments or by a large number of municipalities. Larger IT companies, like Engineering in the case of EUSlanD, may also address this market mainly composed by little and middle governments, only if they find suitable partners that have great experience in this field and that can take over their shoulders the tasks that they cannot address without having to deploy a highly cost technical assistance. Their role was clearly as a technological facilitator.

Last but not least, EUSlanD will contributed to European standardisation by organising and classifying information of interest for Local governments in a standard form. Also examined the possibility of creating a numeric standard classification of documents, in order to allow information retrieval independently of the language in which these documents have been codified (i.e. an Italian user would be able to search in a Danish database information about "urban transport" or "waste", using a commonly agreed numerical code). 

Contribution to Community social objectives

The aim of a system like EUSlanD was clearly use to provide a useful instrument for better and more efficient local administrations and services to citizens.

At the same time, the EUSlanD system contributed to progressively change actual working conditions of civil servants by making easier their contacts between themselves and with external experts/consultants working in their same area of interest. Teleworking and use of ICT and Internet tools became a must, helping civil servants to acquire new professional skills.

More efficient and better monitoring systems managed by EUSlanD users certainly helped to improve living conditions in those thematic areas where the system is active. The quality of life of the people using the EUSlanD system improved by allowing them to develop their duties in a more organised and flexible way, saving time and acquiring new experience from different realities in a simple manner.

EUSlanD sure maked life of people searching for useful data and/or solutions related to local government's problems much easier. 
 

 

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