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Water Bill 1990 Hypertext Project: A case study

Paul B. Rosair
Surface Water Branch
Water Authority of Western Australia

Heinz V. Dreher
School of Information Systems
Curtin University of Technology


This paper presents a case study of how hypertext is being applied at the Water Authority of Western Australia to help facilitate the formulation, preparation, interpretation and distribution of the Water Bill 1990 legislation. We address methodology and corporate culture issues, the advantages gained and some of the problems raised by using this presently unconventional form of knowledge representation, and explain how the application of hypertext technology is being used as a tool to assist with the implementation of this legislation.

To assist future implementors we report on:

the DEVELOPMENT approach undertaken -
   Convince management
   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
   Unanticipated gains

and ISSUES confronting hypertext developers generally -
   'Master' Document


Knowledge workers the world over, irrespective of specific knowledge domain with which they work, are struggling to cope with the vast and growing amounts of information pertaining to their work. Generally this information is stored in electronic form, but is available for use as paper based documents. Each reader, or knowledge user, must examine ' paper based documents in an essentially linear fashion to extract information relevant to the particular enterprise at hand. Even when access is provided to the electronic form, searching, cutting and pasting, document and file merging, whilst being much quicker than the manually accomplished equivalent task, is nevertheless still relatively tedious, error prone, and leads to replication and duplication creating an exacerbated information management problem.

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 Water Authority and the Bill in context

The Water Bill 1990 was created as a logical consequence of the creation of the Water Authority of Western Australia, formed in 1985 by the merger of the Metropolitan Water Authority and the water service components of the Public Works Dept. The creation of the Water Authority emphasised the need and at the same created a unique opportunity to make a complete review of all water legislation.

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.

About the Water Authority of Western Australia

The Water Authority of Western Australia (Annual Report 1991) is a Public organisation, responsible to the Minister for Water Resources. It operates under the provisions of the Water Authority Act 1984 and related acts dealing with specific areas of responsibility.

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 1990 Hypertext Project

Although this can be considered to be the first attempt by the staff associated with the Hyperware Research Laboratory at Curtin University to cast the law into hypertextual form, it is not the first time that hypertext concepts have been applied in support of 'law workers'. For example, Yoder and Wettach (1989) report the HyperLex application system meeting with considerable success.

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.

The development approach undertaken

Convince management

As is the case with nearly all new technology management are now on guard, and quite justifiably so, to its likely costs and impacts. The industry is littered with examples of organisations burning their fingers in adopting certain new technologies before their time (Hutchins 1991). Hypertext can suffer from the same barrier, although the 'Water Bill' project was not seriously hampered in this regard as management were quick to recognise its advantages and realise that the costs were low. Additionally, the particular hypertext technology being considered was available and sufficiently mature to virtually eradicate any threat from the 'burnt fingers' peril.

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.

Application suitability

Whilst this type of technology is still developing, some applications don't really lend themselves to hypertext development. Among them are the large numerical database applications, complex logical systems or scientific/engineering modelling applications. Predominantly text based systems with a modest graphics requirement appear to be the most suitable. It is probable that documents which are not excessively dynamic such as minutes, policy, procedures, handbooks, training manuals, user guides, newsletters and legislation are more suitable than documents such as rosters, schedules, timetables etc., which have a tendency to have a dynamic maintenance overhead.

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.

Acquire the electronic data

To reduce additional typing overheads it is imperative that any existing electronic data associated with the application can be easily acquired. In the case of the Water Bill this was a very straight forward exercise. Since the legislation was written in house it was quite a simple matter to obtain the electronic files, in Word Perfect 5.1 format, from the State Print Office at a nominal fee. Consequently no copyright infringements were breached. The variety of electronic file formats can be quite extensive and one needs to familiarise oneself with them to handle them efficiently and effectively. If the electronic files do not already exist then typing or scanning can be alternatives, however scanning can present some problems.

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.

Study the data closely

Since nearly all word processing systems are designed to satisfy the print media it would be unwise at this stage to enforce hypertext rules and disciplines on staff who have responsibility for typing the original documents. Therefore it is imperative that simple and semi-automatic conversion systems be developed in the interim, which take standard Word Processing documents and convert them to a hypertext format with as little inconvenience to the staff involved as possible. This is done by utilising the macro facilities provided with nearly all modern word processing packages.

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.

Complete the conversion

Once the data has been studied and some test macros have been developed and trialled, a suite of production macros were assembled so as to commence the final conversion. In the case of the Water Bill 1990 project, macros were developed using Word Perfect 5.1, however the actual package used is of little consequence as long as it has built in macro capabilities. The authors found this package particularly strong in this area. The Hyperware Research Laboratory has achieved similar success using Microsoft's Word 5.0.

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.

Hyperfile objects

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.

Advantages of the system

Ease and cost of distribution

Having the Water Bill 1990 legislation available electronically in hypertext has meant that the entire Bill could be distributed to external users for basically the cost of a floppy disk whilst internal users can have access arranged at no cost. Since the printed Bill is quite large, savings can also be made in both paper and mailing costs. More importantly amendments can also be incorporated and distributed without costly reprints. Many staff can have simultaneous access to a master copy located on the numerous Local Area Networks stationed throughout the Authority. Amendments and updates can also quickly and easily be sent to key regional staff located in remote areas of the state over the Authority's Wide Area Network through the existing electronic mailing service.

Now that the Bill is currently at the 'Public Comment' phase of its enactment interested parties can also obtain hypertext versions on request.

Easy access to answer inquiries

Whilst the Bill is being digested by all parties concerned, the Authority is receiving constant inquiries from both the Public and Private sector. It is sometimes important that these inquiries be answered promptly. The hypertext searching facilities are intended to meet this requirement.

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.


The implementation of hypertext at the Authority using the HyperShell (1991) software product has meant that the system can run on any IBM compatible PC from a base XT with a Hercules monitor through to a powerful 486 with a sophisticated graphics monitor. Consequently, staff can also have access to the Bill using laptop computers from any location within the state. This means they can answer questions relating to the legislation at country advisory committee meetings, public gatherings and shire council meetings, to name but a few.


Although this aspect has not been extensively researched by the authors there is a body of opinion that the hypertext concept with its back tracking and book marking facilities aids staff when they are required to familiarise themselves with new legislation, policies or procedures. Hypertext systems also tend to make this process a much more enjoyable experience for those involved.

Unanticipated gains

Other advantages have also come to light after working with the Water Bill 1990 hypertext application. When interpreting the Bill some terms have a special meaning under the Act, unless the reader has some prior understanding of the legislation it may not be apparent that these terms, embodied in the text, do have specific significance. In the hypertext these terms have been automatically highlighted and can be actioned at any time so as to display the special meaning associated with them.

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.

Some issues confronting hypertext application developers

'Master' document

Since hypertext application files differ, in varying degree depending on which hypertext system is used, from the common 'word processed' document, the question of which should be considered as the 'master' repository of the information or knowledge must be addressed.

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.


One area of concern to the authors and which is still to be resolved, is the question of liability. Specifically, if advice was given solely based on the hypertext version of the legislation and it was later found to be invalid where would liability lie, with the adviser or the hypertext application developer?


This project has convinced the authors that the hypertext concept has an increasing part to play to assist staff involved in formulating and dealing with legislation and more importantly in aiding those who need to absorb the information, be they the general public, private organisations or the public sector. It has also demonstrated that the software, so essential to introduce this approach has now sufficiently matured enough to effectively facilitate and complement this technology.

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.


Fisse, B. (1991). Legal case analyses presented as hypertexts created using OWL International's GUIDE hypertext system. Personal communications with the author. University of Sydney Law School.

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
Western Australia

Heinz V. Dreher
Hyperware Research Laboratory
School of Information Systems
Curtin University of Technology
GPO Box U1987, Perth 6001
Western Australia
Email: Dreher_H@cc.Curtin.edu.au

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

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