Managing change in 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.

Being clear about who manages change, and how, will increase trust and confidence in the open standard as it matures.

What is governance?

Governance is a process for managing change. Governance makes it easier to develop, update, adopt, implement and use an open standard by considering:

  • the needs of the people and organisations using or affected by the standard

  • the desired outcomes for the standard

  • the resources available for managing change

Governance makes it clear who will manage change and how. There are many ways to manage change, from lightweight processes providing simple guidelines to formal processes involving independent boards or committees.

Choosing the right governance process

This depends on the nature of the open standard. A good place to start while scoping and starting the standard is with lightweight governance that provides simple guidelines. You can develop more formal and complex processes through the standard development cycle with the standard’s stakeholders.

To decide if you need a more a formal process, ask:

  • What do the people and organisations using or affected by the standard expect? Some sectors and industries expect formal governance processes from the start. In such situations, putting these in place will improve trust and confidence in the open standard.

  • How many people and organisations develop, use or are affected by the standard? The variety of people and organisations involved in developing and using a standard or outputs from standard can affect how complex governance needs to be. A more a formal governance process could make it easier to develop, update, adopt, implement and use the open standard if there is a wide variety of stakeholders.

  • How complex is the open standard? As part of our research into user experiences of open standards for data, we found lightweight standards are more quickly adopted and more easily used. Here, governance can also be simpler and more lightweight. As the standard becomes more complex, you may need a formal governance process to manage change.

  • How mature is the open standard? Starting with a lightweight process can mean governance isn’t seen as red tape and it supports rather than detracts from the development of the standard. As the standard matures and is reviewed, a more formal governance process can replace lightweight processes where they no longer work.

Establishing a governance team

These are the people or the organisation responsible for managing change. The team can be an independent organisation separate from the standard’s owner and developers, where independent governance improves trust and confidence in the standard. The team can develop governance themselves or delegate responsibility, for example to an independent governance board or groups in the standard’s community.

Governance boards tend to be populated by independent experts. You can establish them either during or just after scoping and starting the standard.

Governance boards can:

  • establish policy based on the the vision for the open standard

  • make decisions to guide the development and use of standard, for example, deciding which features to implement based on feedback from the standard’s community

  • oversee the development of the standard by providing strategic advice to the standard’s owner

Developing good governance principles

These set the stage for developing good governance. They outline the key things to consider when managing change in your open standard. Ideally, the governance principles will align with the vision you developed for the standard when scoping and starting the standard.

Important questions to ask when developing good governance principles include:

Good examples of governance principles include:

Considering policy, regulations and legislation

Policy, regulations or legislation can affect the activities and products in a standard’s development. For example, contributors may need to assign or transfer intellectual property rights to contribute to the standard’s development. You will need to decide who retains the copyright and how branding is used for the standard.

Data or models produced using the open standard will also have intellectual property rights. You may need to decide which licences are recommended for use with data or models published using the open standard. Adopters of your open standard may need to consider governance of data or models they create, including deciding where the data falls in the ‘Data Spectrum’ - consider what advice and support you can provide to help them.

Policy, regulation and legislation can affect governance by dictating how often the standard is revised, who can make decisions, if a governance board is needed and more. The Brownfield Site Register Open Data Standard, for example, is openly licensed under the Open Government Licence for public sector information (OGL v3) developed to help organisations adhere to The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015. This licence allows reuse of all content except logos without charge in any format or medium.

Building capacity and expertise

Activities to understand capacity and expertise:

  • Identify stakeholders and determine who the early adopters will be

  • Refine the scope of the standard by making sure there is agreement about the problem the standard is solving

  • Refine the expected impact of the standard by considering stakeholders’ perspectives

  • Use the appropriate language so that stakeholders can take part – this may mean targeting language for each major group of stakeholders

  • Provide the right level of governance to support the open standard – a highly regulated sector with expert stakeholders may need more policies, processes and procedures in place

  • Ensure governance is accessible, which may mean hard copies, multiple formats, or multiple languages depending on how diverse the stakeholders are and their usual preference for communication

Governance documents can include information about available capacity and expectations by documenting:

  • expectations from the team and the community in terms of time commitment and contributions

  • roles, responsibilities and expertise in the standard’s team and within the community

  • opportunities to engage with the standard and community

Governance case studies

The following case studies look at two ways to manage change: the lightweight governance process used by Google’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and the evolving governance of the Open Contracting Data Standard.

For examples of formal governance processes, see:

Case study: lightweight governance with GTFS

Google’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is an open standard for sharing public transport information. It manages change using a set of guiding principles to preserve the original aims of the standard and keep it on track.

Governance revolves around ease of use and publication, backwards compatibility (so that changes do not stop tools using the standard) and ensuring usefulness. Changes to GTFS are driven by the community and anyone can contribute as long as they demonstrate there is interest in the change and follow both the specification amendment process and guiding principles.

To support a large community of potential contributors, Google uses GitHub, a development platform. Contributors propose changes, which are discussed for at least seven days and must have the support of at least one contributor publishing data and one using data. Proposals are accepted if there are at least three supporting votes.

This lightweight governance process allows GTFS to continue to evolve and support its stakeholders’ needs while reducing the overheads of the governance process.

Case study: evolving governance with open contracting

The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) is an open standard for sharing public procurement information. Its governance has evolved from a lightweight process as the standard continues to grow.

Governance includes stewardship from the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) and a process that encourages community participation and supports the Open Stand principles of due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance and openness.

Anyone can raise issues using the GitHub repository or through the mailing list. The technical team reviews the issues and proposed updates are peer reviewed by members of the standard’s community.A working group comprising OCP staff representatives, a multi-stakeholder advisory board and the technical team approve the updates.

Expected outputs

Typical outputs include:

  • clear governance principles that set out the key outcomes of governance

  • governance roles and responsibilities including membership of committees, governance board or working groups where necessary

  • a roadmap for implementing governance linked to the development roadmap

  • refined stakeholder lists, development scope or impact based on feedback from stakeholders

  • an independent governance board to oversee governance and steer the open standard’s development (if needed)

  • clarification of copyright and other intellectual property rights for the open standard and data or models produced using the standard (where necessary)

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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