When to use open standards for data

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 are useful for interaction, aggregation, comparison and linking. Where possible, consider using an existing open standard rather than developing a new one.

Using open standards for data

Open standards are useful tools for:

Increasing interoperability – the ease with which systems can work together using tools and processes developed in line with a standard for data exchange, a standard to share vocabulary and/or a way of working that results in successful data exchange.

For example, developers can add public transport information from anywhere in the world to their apps as long as the data complies with the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). This is how Google Maps and Citymapper provide the public with bus, train and tram schedules alongside driving and walking directions.

Improving comparability by making it easier to compare data from different sources and draw conclusions.

Using a standard to share vocabulary that makes language and concepts reusable and consistent, or a standard for data exchange, can make for better quality data that is easier to compare.

For example, local planning authorities and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in England can compare sites suitable for redevelopment across the country or region when brownfield land data is shared using the Brownfield Land Registers Data Standard.

Enabling aggregation by decreasing the cost and complexity of combining similar data from multiple sources.

Open standards encourage the publication of new data and better quality data structured in a similar way, making it easier to combine them.

Open standards encourage the creation of new tools and services to take advantage of data that conforms to the standard.

For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collects environmental data in its role as a federal agency protecting human health and the environment. To form a national picture, information from individual states, local agencies, tribes, and other organisations are aggregated using open standards for environmental data.

Enabling linkability – the ease with which diverse data can be combined to increase usefulness and insight. A standard to share vocabulary featuring common codes and authoritative identifiers that identify people, places, events and things allows data from multiple sources to be linked.

For example, the local authorities in England register is an authoritative list published by the UK government.

The codes in the register are used by 360Giving, the standard for grant making in the UK, to identify grants awarded to or by local authorities. To provide more insight, developers using this data can extend the information available to include data from this or other registers.

You should develop or adopt an open standard when you need to

  • increase interoperability and comparability of data
  • enable aggregation and linking of data from multiple sources

Common uses of open standards for data

Open standards are a key tool in helping create a strong data infrastructure. A data infrastructure consists of data assets, the organisations that operate and maintain them, and guides describing how to use and manage the data.

A strong data infrastructure is critical to fostering business innovation, driving better public services and creating healthy, sustainable communities.

You should develop or adopt an open standard when

  • collaboration with other stakeholders around the data infrastructure is important and

  • processes or data need to be reusable and repeatable.

To promote common understanding

There are thousands of open standards available today for diverse purposes in a wide variety of sectors.

Successful open standards for data have one thing in common – they focus on solving specific problems with reusable agreements that support better quality data.

For example, in the U.S, there are differences in how building and construction permits are issued by different state, county and municipal governments.

Civic technology companies, governments and other parties collaborated to create the BLDS Data Specification, making it easier to share and use data on building and construction permits in the jurisdictions who have adopted the standard.

Use an open standard when people and organisations need to agree on common guidance, a shared language, or common models.

For more information, read about standards to share vocabulary and standards for guidance.

To support policy and legislation

Open standards for data can support the implementation of policy and embody legislation when they are adopted or developed by governments and public bodies.

By providing clear guidance on how to disclose data, automate compliance checks, aggregate or report on data, open standards can lead to better quality data and strengthen a data infrastructure.

For example, local authorities in the UK must publish their spending over £500 as part of the local government transparency code 2015. The guidance is supported by a standard: the Expenditure exceeding £500 scheme.

Use an open standard when policy or legislation leads to the production of data, or can be supported by the use of good quality data or guidance.

For more information, read about the policy impacts of open standards.

To fill gaps in a data infrastructure

A data infrastructure underpins transparency, accountability, public services, business innovation and civil society.

It consists of data assets, the organisations that operate and maintain them, and guides describing how to use and manage the data. A data infrastructure is supported by robust and successful open data standards.

In a given domain or sector, there may be existing open standards which you can use.

There may be gaps where important needs have not been met, but creating robust and successful open standards can be a difficult and drawn-out process. Use or extend an existing open standard if you can.

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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