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Digital technologies are transforming our lives, but are taking longer to transform government services. In most countries the way existing legislation is written is a barrier to digital service transformation.

As part of the multi-agency Service Innovation Work Programme, the Service Innovation Lab team is experimenting with machine consumable legislation to get past this. Over three weeks a multi-disciplinary team rewrote two pieces of legislation as software code - the Better Rules Discovery.

This work is turning heads: upon seeing a presentation by the team at the Digital Nations Summit in February 2018, Estonia’s Chief Information Officer Siim Sikkut described legislation-as-code as “the most transformative idea” to come from it.

Legislation is typically written in a way which makes it incompatible with digital service delivery. There may be a written requirement for people to physically interact with the government, such as signing a hard copy document, or the legislation may be written in an unclear way which requires interpretation to implement.

If rewritten programmatically, as software code, legislation can be understood and executed by a machine to support decision making, or for example, application processes — this has big implications for service design and interaction with people and the private sector. It’s also a prerequisite for government using artificial intelligence in a safe, open and responsible way.

The Service Innovation Lab and the Better for Business programme are working together to further explore the opportunities this approach enables for people-centred service delivery, and open and transparent government.

The story of the Better Rule's work has been picked up by a range of different communities across the world: from business rules analysts to lawyers, computer scientists, academics, local, state and federal governments and the World Bank.

The global public service network Apolitical wrote about what we did and what it all means, and helped to spread the word to over 120 countries and tens of millions of people. Read Apolitical's story about how legislation-as-code might be the key to kick-starting digital reform.

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