The Center for Government Excellence (GovEx), part of Johns Hopkins University, and GeoThink, a part of McGill University’s Department of Geography, have launched a new open data standards directory. The goal of the directory is to help establish a set of standards around the types of data typically disclosed by governments in order to ensure consistency. The directory is the first of its kind and will allow communities from around the world to contribute standards.
Data standards are open, collaboratively developed sets of schematics or semantics that are agreed upon and that facilitate interoperability between multiple providers and consumers for the public good. There are two main types of data standards. The first is schematic standards or the structure of the data and how information is related to one another. The second is semantic standards which are terms and definitions throughout the data in which definitions should be consistent.
Currently, there are over 60 standards on the directory from around the world. The standards are often ordered by solution provider so users can get a sense of how these systems work and whether they’ll be interoperable with existing technology. GovEx and McGill hope to expand these efforts to more standards, countries, and languages. Users who go to the directory can click on a data topic to understand what information is usually disclosed and get information on data practices.
“Our goal with the project is to support the ecosystem of open data,” explains Andrew Nicklin, GovEx Director of Data Practices in an interview with CivSource. “We are building on research that showed the emergence of multiple data standards in government data and thought it would be worthwhile to make the information that we have accessible.”
The need for data standards is both immediate and ongoing. GovEx works with the cities involved in Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative and many of those localities are getting involved with open data for the first time. City officials that are new to open data now have the ability to start with an understanding of current best practices for data sharing in place rather than working through trial and error. Over time, as new data sets become part of the government disclosure mix, being able to build on existing best practices will ensure consistency.
The directory also includes a mechanism for updating old standards.
Nicklin adds that with the initial set of 60 standards in place, GovEx and GeoThink have started to work on a roadmap for the future. “It’s still early stages, but our goal is to expand our partner network and also engage with the open data community about what other standards they’d like to see,” he says. “Many state and local governments are still in the data audit stage, so we expect that there will be new findings that become part of open data policies and those data will need standards.”