Georgia’s new e-procurement platform – making public information public
Update, 18-01-2011:A comment on the Georgian version of this post notes that the Procurement site has been updated to provide a static link to every tender announcement. This is great, because now tender announcements can be easily emailed and discussed on social networking sites like Facebook. I commend the State Procurement Agency for their commitment to improving this website. Original post: A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Georgian government’s new income declarations website, declaration.ge, and found that although the site makes information about government officials’ income visible, it has design flaws that prevent that information from being usable. Usability is just as important to transparency as the visibility of the information in the first place. So when the State Procurement Agency launched its own new website, tenders.gov.ge, designed to bring transparency to the process of bidding for government contracts, I hoped that the new site would make information usable as well as visible. Compared to having no online data at all, the new site is a huge improvement—previously, tender information was kept in giant stacks of hard copies. Unfortunately, just like declaration.ge, the information on tenders.gov.ge isn’t as usable as it could be because of design flaws. This is because tenders.gov.ge uses fancy new web development techniques similar to those used by Google Maps and many other sites. The details of these techniques aren’t important, but the effect is this: the URL displayed in the browser’s address bar never changes. If you’ve ever tried to send someone a link to a Google map, you know that you can’t just copy the address bar. Instead, you have to use Google’s “Link to this page” feature. Tenders.gov.ge works like Google Maps, except that it doesn’t have a “Link to this page” feature, so providing a link to a set of search results or an individual procurement announcement is essentially impossible. Luckily, there’s an easy solution to this problem: the site should simply do what Google Maps does, and provide a “Link to this page” feature. Tenders.gov.gealso makes searching the full text of the available data difficult; since I explained the importance of full-text search in my previous post, I will just note the reasons why it is difficult on this site:
- A lot of the most important information on Tenders.gov.ge (like who won the tender) is only available in PDF files, and these PDFs do not appear in search engine results because of the linking problem explained above.
- Many of the PDFs are scans of signed documents which by nature do not include searchable text. Signatures are important, so I support providing these documents. However, every scanned document was originally created on a computer, which means that a searchable original must exist, somewhere. The original documents should be provided too.
- There are no bulk downloads available.
In the coming weeks we will publish a set of guidelines to assist government agencies in making their websites as transparent and usable as possible.