The Australian Government - Dept of Finance sponsored a Proof of Concept (PoC) that looked at how Rules as Code (RaC) might be provided as a shared utility that can be used to deliver simpler, personalised digital user journeys for citizens. RaC is the process of taking legislation and regulations and turning them into machine-readable code. It provides many benefits to citizens and government, including greater reuse, less duplication, greater transparency and accessibility of rules.
The opportunity was a multi-vendor PoC project the Australian Department of Finance ran to explore ways to enable greater personalisation of government web-based services.
The Australian Government has a single whole of government website capability called GovCMS, which is a modular and open source platform. This enables the opportunity to extend, integrate and complement the platform with an open marketplace of companies, services and solutions.
The first innovation is in the approach to market taken by the Department of Finance to draw out innovative ideas to extend GovCMS capabilities for the hundreds of government departments and agencies across Australia.
The second innovation, and the main subject of this case study, was the use of Rules as Code as a PoC to explore the opportunities for a rules utility capability in the GovCMS toolbox, which departments/agencies could then easily incorporate into their online services as part of the GovCMS ecosystem.
Across government jurisdictions, the models for creating, using and changing legislation, regulation and rules were developed for use in a non-digital age. Some of the challenges that this presents include:
- Once developed and drafted, there is the complexity of scaling and implementing legislation and regulations
- The limited re-use of legislation and business rules impacts the speed of implementation for government and industry, and increases costs
- Duplication of legislation and business rules introduces risks of misalignment due to timing of updates, and possibly ambiguous or contradictory rules.
Furthermore, users struggle to understand the services available and what they are entitled to. This could result in people applying for payments they are not eligible for, wasting valuable time and effort and diminishing trust in Government systems.
RaC provides an easy-to-reuse and legislative based rules utility that can provide user journeys that transcend government and jurisdictional boundaries, offering a truly citizen-centric or ‘simple pathways’ where people can easily find out about rules and entitlements relevant to their specific needs.
RaC can foster greater government transparency, openness and accountability in that rules mapping, statements and code can all be made public, allowing the interpretation of the rules to be challenged and verified. RaC can also facilitate greater accessibility and more equitable distribution of benefits in that citizens can access the rules through any number of different user interfaces and devices.
While RaC and RaC technologies have been available for many years, the vision of providing RaC as a shared, centralised service or utility, hosted and maintained on a common technology platform has not been widely tested. The PoC helped demonstrate how such a shared, Open Source, API based RaC platform may work in practice. It helped answer some of the questions around scalable technical architecture, API integration, security, change management and governance processes.
‘My COVID Vaccination Status’ was chosen as the subject for the PoC, drawing from publicly available COVID vaccination rules available from Australian State and Federal health websites. A simulated health website was then developed that called on a rules engine using open source Drupal and OpenFisca technology solutions.
The PoC provided simple user journeys that helped answer the questions:
- Am I up to date with my COVID vaccinations?
- Do I have to be vaccinated for my job?
Regulations from both Federal and State jurisdictions were codified and hosted on the rules engine and accessed by a single web form instance providing a simple, citizen centric user journey.
PoC deliverables included the COVID RaC demonstrator website and a Whitepaper outlining PoC findings and recommendations.
The hundreds of departments that use GovCMS benefited from the procurement exercise and from the Rules as Code PoC, which led immediately to design and architectural discussions to improve the citizen experience of government services, but also enabled a community of government innovators the ability to collaborate together on new concepts and delivery opportunities.
The PoCs, including the Rules as Code PoC, are being assessed by the GovCMS community to prioritise new capabilities they could leverage to improve and personalise government services for citizens.
If Rules as Code is chosen as a new GovCMS capability, every department and jurisdiction using GovCMS will immediately be able to leverage the benefits and opportunities presented from Rules as Code, providing an immediate and easy path to scalability and adoption across the sector.
The normalisation of Rules as Code in service delivery would provide immediate benefits for policy makers and thus enable a rapid pathway to agile, iterative and test driven policy development.
Note that, to date, Dept of Finance has made no decisions on any future role that RaC may play in the GovCMS program.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
While RaC and RaC technologies have been available for many years, the vision of providing RaC as a shared, centralised service or utility, hosted and maintained on a common, Open Source (Drupal and OpenFisca) technology platform has not been widely tested.
The PoC helped demonstrate how a shared, API based RaC platform may work in practice. It helped identify the challenges and provided innovative pathways and suggestions covering the following areas:
- rules mapping and codification processes and artefacts
- rules engine technical solution design
- rules code and rules content interoperability
- API architecture that supports diverse range of user interfaces such as web, voice, mobile app & other 3rd party systems
- system maintenance, security and data privacy
- change management processes extending to external system dependencies
- RASCI modelling
- RaC governance structures to facilitate interoperability
These components required for hosting and managing Whole-of-Gov platforms
What is the current status of your innovation?
The PoC has provided an MVP RaC process and technical solution that can be reused, reconfigured and/or extended and to meet many other government rules use cases. That said, while Dept of Finance is using the inputs from the RaC PoC to inform their roadmap decision making process, no decisions have been taken to date on RaC and any future role that it may play in the GovCMS programme.
However, all of the technologies used for the PoC are Open Source and all of the code, findings and other PoC artefacts are freely available from Salsa Digital, the RaC PoC vendor.
Any other government agency or jurisdiction is welcome to engage Salsa Digital or any other vendor to evaluate, experiment, develop and productionise their own RaC system and service, using the PoC artefacts to meet their requirements. It is hoped that in the spirit of open source, and collaborative innovation, further RaC learnings and development are likewise shared openly with the wider government community.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Dept of Finance commissioned the RaC PoC and set the scope.
Salsa Digital delivered and showcased the PoC and related artefacts.
Salsa Digital engaged world leading RaC and Digital Transformation experts such as Pia Andrews (AWS Strategic Advisor-Public Sector) and other technical leads that have worked on RaC projects in Canada and New Zealand.
Many representatives from Aust govt agencies attended the Dept of Finance (GovCMS) community showcase and provided commentary and feedback.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The key stakeholders were Dept of Finance (GovCMS) who commissioned the PoC and represented the requirements of the wider GovCMS community.
The key beneficiaries of any future RaC solution will be Australian citizens who would gain access to citizen-centric digital user journeys.
Other beneficiaries would include other govt and private entities that would have access to verified source of machine readable rules that can be integrated into their own systems.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The PoC provided a reference example of how written versions of reasonably complex regulation, in this case COVID vaccination rules, can be codified and successfully deployed in a rules engine.
The PoC also delivered a working model of a hosted RaC technology solution using Open Source Drupal & OpenFisca applications. This, along with openly available code and process documentation, can be reused by any other government agency to build their own RaC solution.
The simulated COVID website provides a real world experience of how RaC can be used to provide citizens their current vaccination status by answering a handful of simple questions via an accessible and anonymous user interface. This would have otherwise been a complex, time consuming exercise.
The Whitepaper provides insights for Whole-of-Gov programs wanting to implement RaC systems and processes.
RaC showcase sessions inspired participants to consider new and innovative ways of presenting government rules to citizens.
Challenges and Failures
A key challenge was not having direct access to the relevant policy expert but instead relying on published web material to derive reasonably complex COVID vaccination rules. While all sources were dated (which is great) at times it was hard to work out how the source/information related to one another. Was all ‘old’ stuff no longer relevant? Were some sections still valid but others not? How about misalignment in terminology used by different jurisdictions?
These perceived ambiguities and contradictions in the actual regulation highlighted the need for a ‘single source of truth’ for rules and the need for policymakers to draft policy both in written and machine-readable code (RaC) formats simultaneously.
Another challenge is finding champions in Govt agencies that understand the far-reaching vision and potential of RaC that aren't deterred by the challenges of learning and implementing new technologies and new ways of working.
Conditions for Success
RaC requires the support of a large govt agency to show the way for it to be adopted and accepted broadly across other govt agencies and jurisdictions. While the French govt has taken the lead with their Mes Aides service (which uses RaC to inform French citizens on their eligibility to 32 social benefits) further momentum is required through having more, large government agencies sign up and deploy RaC systems in production.
RaC governance structures like a RaC Council would ideally be needed to ensure standards for interoperability of coded rules and RaC process frameworks. This will help consumers of RaC services develop citizen-centric application interfaces that transcend agency and jurisdictional boundaries by being able to more easily ‘merge’ rules across agencies through standardisation.
We also need the sponsorship for a well managed, secure, performant shared Open Source RaC platform to help lower the barrier for agencies to experiment, discover and deploy RaC systems
The PoC delivered a working model of a hosted RaC technology solution using Open Source Drupal & OpenFisca applications. This along with openly available code and process documentation can be reused by any other government agency to build their own RaC solution.
Should Dept of Finance (GovCMS) – or equivalent central government agencies in other jurisdictions – choose to invest in a secure, performant shared Open Source RaC platform, it will lower the barrier for agencies to experiment, discover and deploy RaC systems. And it will fast-track the adoption of RaC more broadly.
While individual agencies, notably the French Government, have implemented RaC for specific use cases, to our knowledge no government entity has implemented a common, RaC platform as a shared service or utility for other government agencies to use.
Salsa Digital will also share the PoC learnings, tools and code with the GovZero New Zealand - RaC initiative through its existing ongoing relationship.
The PoC experience significantly expanded our understanding of the benefits and opportunities of RaC when delivered as a centrally managed, well governed, shared service or utility.
In addition to the benefits to citizens through simplified user experiences, the benefits to agencies in maintaining a single-source-of-truth for their rules, there is the potential to enable further downstream innovation by providing reliable access to standardised, verifiable and trusted government rule sets as a utility. Imagine your official COVID app having a link to 'check my COVID vaccination status' and having the backend system use your COVID cert details to check against the RaC platform and return the result. Then when the rules change, imagine how much easier change management would be. Going further, policymakers can use the RaC utility to test or simulate the impact of policy changes during the drafting phase and the list goes on.
The lesson, RaC is a key enabler of government innovation
As we embarked on this PoC journey, we listened to accounts from people wanting to know if they were up to date with their COVID vaccinations and having to spend hours trawling through health websites trying to find an answer. Even after investing this time they were still left with some uncertainty. Then when our RaC analysts began their own research to find definitive responses to questions about COVID vaccination status, they had a similar experience.
Then, toward the end of the PoC project, using the live demonstrator website for the first time and by answering a few simple questions, receiving a definitive (non official) response such as ‘Yes you are up to date with your COVID vaccinations’ the power and potential of RaC was evident.
We were further excited to know that a voice device, mobile app or other systems could, via the PoC platform’s API’s, potentially access the same rules and deliver the same response.
These are just some of many other RaC use cases & possibilities
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
- GovCMS Rules-as-Code Proof-of-Concept Whitepaper v1.2 Rules as Code Whitepaper outlining findings and recommendations from the proof-of-concept
- Whitepaper Attachment 01 - About Rules-as-Code
- Whitepaper Attachment 02 - About OpenFisca Whitepaper Attachment 02 - About OpenFisca
- Whitepaper Attachment 03 - Rules-as-Code Service Delivery Methodology
- Whitepaper Attachment 03 - Rules-as-Code Service Delivery Methodology
- Whitepaper Attachment 05 - About GovZero
- Whitepaper Attachment 06 - Gov Zero Aotearoa - Introduction Pack
23 November 2022