By Matthew Harang and Dan Strongin

In many ways, communication is the cornerstone of civilization. After all, it is humans unique ability to communicate on endless levels that sets us apart from other species. In today’s fast paced world, information travels at the speed on light, or at least 100mbps; and with an increase in speed often comes a decrease in quality. Communication has suffered with the increased role of technology in our lives. For example, people are increasingly inclined to “tweet” or “text” friends and family rather than talking or meeting in person. The same is true regarding the use of technical languages. Communication often struggles to keep up with technology.

Strategy Markup Language, or StratML is an XML language for the modern world that standardizes words, ideas and commands into a machine-readable output that will make communication easier in an increasingly automated world. In addition, it meets recent standards required by the government for public policy entities. We recently had the chance to interview Owen Ambur, Chair of the StratML Committee, to gain more insight into how this language will affect public policy.

Can you define StratML in a nutshell?

StratML is an XML vocabulary and schema for the information commonly contained in strategic and performance plans and reports.  Its vision is a worldwide web of intentions, stakeholders, and results.

What is the main purpose of StratML, and how is it used?

Generally speaking, the purpose of the StratML standard is to make it easier to share and use strategic and performance information not only across organizations and systems but also within them. It supports the formation of partnerships and the alignment of resources to achieve objectives.  On February 11, 2015, StratML Part 1, Strategic Plans, was published as an international standard (ISO 17469-1) and Part 2, Performance Plans and Reports, is now entering the ISO process.

How does StratML relate to and provide benefits for public policy and public administration?

Policy is meaningless unless it leads to performance and “administration” is about performance.  However, without metrics, the evaluation of performance is highly subjective. That may serve the interests of politicians, whose priority is to get re-elected, and bureaucrats, whose priority is to remain anonymous.  However, it leaves the rest of us in doubt … and that leads inevitably to disillusionment and mistrust.  So the contribution that StratML can make include: a) to provide objective, readily usable metrics for public performance, b) to help restore confidence and trust in public agencies and officials, and c) ultimately, to improve public performance based upon more efficient and effective feedback from stakeholders.]

How do you see StratML Part Two & StratML Part Three adding value to Public Policy issues?

We have far too much policy, in narrative form, and far too few actual performance plans, in machine-readable format, like StratML.  We applied the KISS principle to make Parts One and Two as simple and easy to implement as possible.  Part Three, Additional Elements, addresses more detailed data requirements set forth in the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA).  Section 10 of GPRAMA requires U.S. federal agencies to publish their strategic and performance plans and reports in machine-readable format, like StratML.  That is good practice not only for agencies at all levels of government, worldwide, but also for all organizations whose plans and reports should be matters of public record.

Which departments or organizations currently use StratML?

While both Parts One and Two are American National (ANSI) standards, they have not yet crossed the chasm from being duly adopted de jure standards to becoming widely adopted and used de facto standards.  However, more than 3,000 plans are now in the prototypical StratML collection, thereby demonstrating the usability of the standard as well as providing a corpus of data for vendors to use in demonstrating the utility of their products and services.  A list of some of the types of tools, apps, and services that will be required is available here: http://xml.fido.gov/stratml/draft/StratMLToolList.htm

OXygen 17 is the first commercial release of a product supporting ISO 17469-1. http://xml.fido.gov/stratml/index.htm#oXygen The folks at Ximdex have developed a Web form-based authoring/editing interface and I understand they plan to demonstrate the capability of their platform to apply the features of the Semantic Web to the StratML collection.  http://xml.fido.gov/stratml/index.htm#Ximdex. Other prototypical tools and services that have been developed thus far are listed at http://xml.fido.gov/stratml/index.htm#Forms & http://xml.fido.gov/stratml/index.htm#Services  See, for example, Joe Carmel’s XForms form, which can be used by anyone with a browser (Chrome or Firefox): http://xmldatasets.net/XF2/stratmlisoxform.xml

What is the long-term future of StratML?

The vision is highly expansive, potentially encompassing everything that anyone wishes to accomplish and needs to engage others to achieve.  All of the existing “social” media are not only immature for business-quality purposes but also proprietary in nature.  However, combined with an open data standard like StratML, such services will create the *Strategic* Semantic Web – thereby unleashing creativity, collaboration, and productivity in ways previously unimaginable.

StratML fills a void by standardizing technical and strategic communication. With an increasing number of corporations and government entities utilizing the XML-based vocabulary and approach, StratML could easily become the technical language of the future.