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 These days, I mostly post my tech musings on Linkedin.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanmcgrath/

Monday, May 24, 2010

KLISS. First things first. What is a legislature/parliament?

I thought I'd start talking about the technical aspects of KLISS at the highest possible level...

Before progress can be made modelling any domain inside a computer system, it is necessary to put a box around the highest possible view of the domain, thereby establishing what is inside the model boundary and what is outside.

At the highest possible level of abstraction, a legislature/parliament is a black box, into which a corpus of law (at some time, T) is injected. The legislature/parliament then acts on that corpus to produce an updated corpus of law at some time T+1.

Thats the highest level model that I have found useful to start discussions of enterprise legislative architectures. Some interesting points about this:

0) The "Corpus of Law" is easier to state than it is to enumerate. It includes the primary law for the legislature/parliament obviously but also, depending on the jurisdiction, secondary forms of law and "softer" forms of regulation such as chamber rules.

1) The "Corpus of Law" subject to modification by the legislature/parliament is smaller than the corpus in force. I.e. federal level laws that bind in various ways, at state level, and yet are not modifiable at state level. Some organizations may adopt rules of order like Rogers or Masons, that are not modifiable directly.

2) Note the feedback loop. The corpus of law at time T is the input to the function (the black box) that produces the law at time T+1, and that then becomes the input for the next legislative act. This feedback loop is the primary source of complexity in legislative informatics.

3) Note the self reference. The corpus often includes laws that specify how laws are made. Those laws are themselves often subject to change inside the black box.

4) In order to qualify as a democratic entity, the transition from Corpus(T) to Corpus(T+1) must be rigorously audit trailed and that audit trail is *itself* an output of the legislature/parliament. I.e. journals, committee reports etc. that expose how Corpus(T) became Corpus(T+1).

5) Note the word "act". Legislatures/parliaments act on a corpus i.e. changes are proposed, debated and potentially implemented. The black box can be thought of as an event driven machine. A machine in which events happen (new bills introduced, amendments proposed, votes taken etc..) and these events cause down-stream events/actions.

6) In order for the audit trail to be comprehensive and accurate it must be able to cite - not just documents like bills, committee meeting minutes etc. - but cite those documents as they looked at arbitrary *points in time*.

Some formalisms I find useful in thinking through this model:
Speech acts provide a nice model for reasoning about actions and reactions, causes and effects inside a legislature.

Rigid designators provide a nice model for reasoning about citations and dealing with the incredibly rich, temporally laced, network graph that legislatures both consume and produce.

Eventual consistency provides a nice model for reasoning about the synchronization of all the disparate views of legislative outputs that must somehow be kept consistent: bill status, agenda minutes etc. etc., each produced in paper, PDF, HTML versions PLUS twitter feeds, rss feeds etc.

Peter Suber's paradox of self amendment is an excellent analysis of the problems inherent in a system that operates under a set of modifiable rules in which modifications to the rules must occur according to the rules set out in the set of modifiable rules :-)

Next time: some thoughts on the main reasons why legislatures/parliaments are very different animals to most process-centric/document-centric/publishing-centric organizations and why, most "classic" design patterns need to be modified if they are to be successful in Legislative Enterprise Architectures.


Lewis John McGibbney said...

Hi Mr. McGrath,

I am curious to know whether you posted anything on this topic in any of your earlier posts. It is a topic which interests me but I am unsure where to start reading your work.

Thank you


Lewis John McGibbney said...

Hi Sean,

I wonder if you can inform as to whether this is the first of many discussions exploring this topic or if your blog posts contain even earlier material? I am very interested in the points you make and the analytical approach you take to this topic, it obviously displays a great deal of knowledge in the area.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.


Sean McGrath said...


This post was the start of a series of posts on the subject. Later I pulled most of the material together into a single white paper. It can be found here: http://www.propylon.com/index.php/legislative-solutions/lwb/128

Hope this helps. If not, let me know and I'll write more :-)