How open standards are developed

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 combine elements of technical activity, stakeholder coordination and community engagement. Open standards can be built on or extend existing open standards.

What makes an open standard successful?

Our research on user experiences of open standards for data found that a successful open standard:

  • focuses on solving a specific problem or meeting a clear need

  • works well with other standards

  • is clear on how decisions have been made and why

  • has been implemented and tested

  • is robust but not verbose

  • is developed using an open, adaptable process

  • is delivered early

  • has included people with a variety of skills and backgrounds

Creating a new open standard can be time consuming and resource intensive, so it is important to take a considered approach.

This may mean using or extending an existing open standard rather than developing a new one.

If developing an open standard is the best approach, consider adopting the Open Stand principles for developing in the open, transparently and cooperatively.

You can also make open standards development more open and inclusive by following inclusive design principles. This may help to make your standard and its benefits more apparent, and the value it creates more observable and measurable.

A successful open standard for data builds the ecosystem around the standard. A variety of people and organisations will adopt, use or be impacted by the standard itself as well as any data sets, products and services developed around it.

Stakeholders can include:

How are open standards developed?

Open standards are developed by a variety of organisations, from nationally or internationally recognised formal standards bodies to commercial market leaders, governments, trade associations and other community bodies.

When you develop an open standard, the processes can vary depending on the sector, the aims of the standard, and the needs of the people and organisations involved.

Highly regulated sectors like healthcare or telecoms tend to follow formal processes. They create mandatory standards backed by policy, legislation or influential industry bodies and market leaders.

Formal processes typically feature:

  • detailed process documents

  • formal governance practices

  • one or more working groups

  • more use of formal language

  • preference for tried and tested technology

  • more milestones where committee approval is needed

At the other end of the spectrum, open standards development by other organisations tends to follow fewer formal processes and focus on being responsive to commercial or community needs.

These standards can become de facto due to the standard owner’s influence, engagement with government and industry bodies, or robust adoption by the industry or sector.

Less formal processes typically feature:

  • a preference for cutting-edge technology that favours the digitally literate

  • visible engagement with the community

  • fewer process documents

  • lightweight governance practices

  • more use of language that favours the digitally literate

  • fewer milestones where committee approval is needed

  • open online change management using repositories like Github

Most open standards development processes fall somewhere between highly formal and informal.

Despite differences in formality, all standards processes follow similar stages. Most standards development processes involve a trigger to scope and start the standards development, then a development stage followed by a launch and adoption.

If your standard is adopted, it may be regularly reviewed and updated. When a standard is poorly adopted or no longer needed, it may be withdrawn, retired or abandoned.

While this seems linear, there may be cycles of activity with stages repeated or being worked on at the same time – for example, ongoing development and launch or repeated reviews.

Open standards for data development may follow different paths, but with the same goal: to produce a robust, successful and reusable shared agreement that helps to produce better quality data.

Stages in standards development Source: The Open Data Institute

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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