To assist future implementors we report on:
the DEVELOPMENT approach undertaken -
Is the application suitable?
Acquire the electronic data
Study the data closely
Complete the conversion
the ADVANTAGES of a hypertext system -
Ease and cost of distribution
Easy access to answer Inquiries
and ISSUES confronting hypertext developers generally -
Managing, maintaining, and accessing, vast amounts of textual knowledge is already problematic, even when the form is electronic, but matters become far worse when the knowledge objects are pictures, graphs, sound, or vision - truly multimedia.
A new approach is needed to accommodate modern man's demand for information. It is needed as much for text based knowledge as for multimedia forms of knowledge.
In the domain of 'the law' there is a preponderance of text based knowledge, so our topic is somewhat naturally confined to hypertext as opposed to hypermedia and multimedia.
'The law' quickly adopted 'word processing' systems soon after they became available, initially on the mid-sized computers, typically sold by IBM for example, in the 1970s. There are two reasons for this: firstly, law firms had the money to acquire these relatively expensive systems; and second, law firms engaged in a great deal of work which required reproduction or re-creation of many similar documents with minor variations.
Today's law firms are turning to information technology once again, but this time to help with information access (and management) as opposed to document creation. At Reed Smith, a Pittsburgh USA based law firm with 385 attorneys and 537 staff (as at June 1989), hypertext technology is used as a knowledge management tool (Yoder and Wettach 1989).
But it's not only the law firms who are exploring the information technologies for gain and advantage in the legal domain. Research Centres, Universities, and avant garde public service departments are active in the field also. Marshall (1989) describes a tool to support the formulation, organisation, and presentation of legal arguments. Fisse (1991) creates hypertextual legal case analyses and judgement interpretations in hypertextual form.
In Western Australia, the Water Authority has, in the second half of 1991, taken the unprecedented step of casting a Bill for an Act into a hypertext. The hypertext has been distributed within the Water Authority along with the normal paper version and is presently being evaluated.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to consolidate the ten Acts under which the Water Authority currently operates. It is a historic landmark in water legislation in Western Australia, bringing together, in an integrated way, laws affecting all aspects of water, including management of the resources and the provision of the four water services of water supply, sewerage, irrigation and drainage.
The Bill is essentially a restatement of the existing Acts, and therefore most of the legislation is not new. However, there are some differences from the existing legislation. In some cases, the changes are necessary in order to rationalise conflicting provisions in existing Acts. Still others are to correct known defects, remove uncertainties, effect improvements or update to present day requirements. It is expected the Bill may be enacted in the Autumn session of the 1992 Western Australian State Parliament.
It meets the needs of its customers throughout Western Australia by ensuring the availability of cost effective water related services while also managing water resources for the continuing benefit of the community.
The Authority is a regionalised statewide organisation employing over 4350 people. The decentralised and regional structure is intended to move the decision making process closer its customers ensuring that the Authority remains sensitive to their needs. This is assisted by 19 Advisory Committees established under the Water Authority Act to provide advice on groundwater, surface water, irrigation allocation and water resources management issues.
The Authority has always been a leader in the application of new technologies especially in the area of Information Technology. The widespread use of hypertext in the Authority has however, thus far not eventuated. The project reported here represents the first major implementation of hypertext within the organisation, and the first known hypertextual form of legislation in Australia and elsewhere.
The 'Water Bill' project, however, casts the actual Act into a hypertext, and will therefore support access to information and provisions within it, and in ways far superior to the more usual linear paper based document. It therefore has the potential to empower all who must consult the law.
The 'Water Bill' as implemented at the Authority, utilises HyperShell (1991) software running both on stand alone IBM compatible PCs or on Server PCs located on token ring networks throughout the Authority.
With the introduction of the new Water Legislation a method to access and distribute it needed to be considered in view of the new technologies available in the marketplace. The hypertext concepts appeared ideally suited the purposes. Consequently a project was commenced in July 1991 to build a hypertext application to meet this requirement.
It is always necessary, however, to solicit sufficient management support to proceed on a project such as this. This can be done effectively by demonstrating the technology on a one to one basis using existing successful applications. It is also advisable to convert a small subsection of the total application to include in the demonstrations. Clearly detail all the perceived benefits of such an option and finally suggest, rather than commence a major project, that a pilot project be commenced so as to confirm these beliefs prior to any large investment being allocated to the project.
A well defined need should also be identified. In the case of the Water Bill this was self evident very early on, and a point which should become perfectly clear in a demonstration of the hypertext and its planned use. Access to electronic data associated with the Authority's legislation in the past has been quite a difficult and tedious task. Electronic manuscripts are available in an IBM 3090 mainframe Dissos library with very limited query and search capabilities. The Water Bill 1990 hypertext application has gone a long way to overcoming this problem.
When obtaining electronic data one may encounter some surprising reactions from the custodians of the data when making a request. Although nearly all suppliers of this information are quite affable when asked to provide a hard copy of the data there appears to be a curious reluctance to provide it in electronic digital form despite the fact that both alternatives are dispensing the same information and no copyright constraints exist. Straightforward textual data can be scanned or retyped so as to effectively reproduce the base electronic data despite its inconvenience, an option which is generally not available with graphical or geographical-spatial data.
Generally the more structured a document the easier it is to develop these automatic conversion routines. Fortunately, the Water Bill 1990, as is the case with most legislation, has a very structured and consistent format which makes the task of developing a semi-automatic conversion system viable. Adequate time was spent prior to conversion studying the document closely to look for opportunities to take advantage of the consistent use of special characters and formats such as the use of quotes, bolding, underline, fonts, hard carriage returns, italics etc..
In the case of legislation, even more so than other types of documents, it is important to automate the process of conversion as much as possible so as to handle future amendments. A large research effort has been mounted by the Hyperware Research Lab at Curtin University to support the document to hypertext conversion process, resulting among other things in TXT2HTX and UNIT2HTX.
Careful consideration must be taken when handling tables and graphics embedded in the documentation. In some cases they may have to be handled separately from the main document and some manual intervention will generally be required.
At this stage of development it is also important to engage the services of some users of the data to gather feedback on possible system access paths and screen layouts.
Production macros were developed to automatically create 'frames', 'notes', 'menus', 'frame links', 'note references', 'scripts' and highlighted parts of the text. These items form the objects comprising a HyperShell hypertext, known as a hyperfile.
After the macros were executed the final converted hypertext file was encased in a HyperShell chassis prior to distributing in within the Authority and externally on floppy disk or on the local area network. The HyperShell (1991) software developer's license allows for unlimited run time royalty free distribution of the software together with any hypertext application.
Now that the Bill is currently at the 'Public Comment' phase of its enactment interested parties can also obtain hypertext versions on request.
The Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Commission of Western Australia has shown interest in the work currently going on in the Authority to assist with the policy and legislative program with the intention of supporting a manned telephone inquiries room with hypertext capabilities in responding to customers in a similar way.
Searching the printed legislation to see where it covers certain distinct areas of interest is a difficult and onerous task. The sophisticated searching capabilities within the hypertext system aid this type of inquiry immensely.
When a particular Schedule or Section is omitted from the legislation it is also necessary to remove all existing references to it contained elsewhere within the document, hypertext easily caters for this requirement. The system can also be used as a research tool for staff involved in investigating various associated topics.
At some point in the future we fully expect this issue to be resolved in favour of hypertext, but in the meantime the only practical solution is to continue to accept the 'word processed' document version as the 'master' and to concentrate efforts on simplifying the automatic conversion to the hypertext format.
Another option is to embed the special hypertext characters within the 'word processed' document version as hidden characters which are not printed. This would enable typists to build hypertext applications at the same time as they key the information. Again this process could be automated by the use of macros, however not all word processing packages currently support these features.
The benefits of such a strategy are many and varied, some of which have been covered in this 'paper' (sic). The Water Authority, encouraged by this project has now embarked on an activity to convert all policies and guidelines, relating to the Water Resources Management function into an integrated hypertext application. The specialist application computing group responsible for this area is also considering developing hypertext applications to manage technical documentation and procedures. With the Authority also seriously embarking on a Quality Improvement Program the use of hypertext systems to manage procedures from a quality assurance perspective is also seen as beneficial.
Hutchins, D. (1991). Pushed over the edge: Venture fights back. PROFIT, IDG Communications, Sydney: May 1991. pp21-23.
HyperShell (1991) is the trademark of Text Technology, 66 Kennedy Avenue, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, and is a hypertext implementation tool for the IBM PC and compatible personal computer market.
Marshall, C. C. (1989). Representing the Structure of a Legal Argument. Technical Report Series SSL-89-30 [P89-00028], Systems Sciences Laboratory, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, California.
Water Authority of Western Australia (1991). Annual Report 1991.
Yoder, E. and Wettach, T. C. (1989). Hypertext '89 Proceedings, pp159-167, Association of Computing Machinery.
|Authors: Paul B. Rosair|
Surface Water Branch
Water Authority of Western Australia
PO Box 100, Leederville 6007
Heinz V. Dreher
Please cite as: Rosair, P. B. and Dreher, H. V. (1992). Water Bill 1990 Hypertext Project: A case study. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 525-534. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/rosair.html