Policy impacts of open standards

Open standards for data are reusable agreements that make it easier for people and organisations to publish, access, share and use better quality data.

Open standards for data can support the implementation of policy and embody policy when they are developed and/or adopted.

Standards can support implementation of policy

Policy affects the norms, environments and operation of communities, organisations and systems. These examples show how open standards for data can help to support public and private policy objectives by enabling the publication and use of data:

  • Improved consumer experience interventions, such as a standard for bin collection days, create better lives for citizens, in particular (but not limited to) their interactions with state service provision
  • Efficient delivery interventions, such as the Open Contracting Data Standard, make providing services or fulfilling regulatory requirements by government more efficient and effective
  • Market interventions, such as the UK’s Open Banking standard, make data available to correct for market failures, such as by breaking down monopolies and promoting competition
  • Better data management interventions, such as standards for collecting statistics, help government manage the data that it relies on more effectively and efficiently and with wider societal and economic benefits

Case study: Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)

Following the Boxing Day tsunami disaster in 2004, the Internet Society (ISOC) launched a collaborative effort to agree on an internet-supported worldwide standard for public warnings. The collaboration, sponsored by FEMA, featured diverse collaborators but was resisted by supporters of established protocols. The standard is now widely adopted, in part because CAP supports each organisation’s internal policy while providing a common international protocol.

Standards can embody policy

Standards are increasingly important in delivering policy. In the past, policymakers requiring organisations to publish data have focused on what data must be published but not on how. This leads to situations where disclosure is widespread but the data is difficult to collate and use.

By adopting open standards for data and linking them to policy and regulation, policymakers can

  • make data more usable
  • provide clear guidance on how to disclose data
  • automate compliance checks, data aggregation and reporting

Open standards for data provide clarity to data publishers, the opportunity for stakeholder engagement and help ensure consistent and comparable results.

Policymakers need to be careful about which standard is adopted and when. Picking the wrong standard, or mandating it too early, can stifle innovation.

Sometimes policymakers will need to work with stakeholders to encourage creation of a standard or adopt an existing open standard that was developed by the market. Typically governments will link a standard to secondary legislation or a code of practice, which can be changed more easily than primary legislation, or even just state that a standard should be adopted and nominate an organisation to be responsible for enforcing compliance.

Case study: Brownfield Site Register Open Data Standard

In 2017 the UK government launched the Brownfield Site Register Open Data Standard, a standard for publishing the location and condition of brownfield land (land suitable for redevelopment). The standard embodies legislation by tying the standard directly to regulation 4 of the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017. The standard was developed in collaboration with local planning authorities, with tools available to validate and aggregate the data from data.gov.uk with minimal human intervention.

How to use this guide

There are a number of ways for you to learn more about the creation, development and adoption of open standards for data.

About this guide

This guidebook helps people and organisations create, develop and adopt open standards for data. It supports a variety of users, including policy leads, domain experts and technologists.

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