Getting up close with data standards

August 18, 2021 by No Comments | Category Data, Digital Scotland

Blog by Lucie Woellenstein, PhD intern in the Data Standards team, Digital Directorate.

My name is Lucie Woellenstein and I am a PhD intern in the Data Standards team within the Open Data & Data Innovations team, in the Digital Directorate, Scottish Government. Some of you may remember my last blog, where I spoke about the data standards landscape and some of the great organisations involved with data standards. Well, I want to revisit one of the points I made in that blog and elaborate here.

Just to recap, I introduced the Data Standards Authority (DSA), who work with experts across the wider public sector and devolved administrations, the private sector and academia to identify, improve and help implement data standards across government and the public sector. I mentioned that they use Github to interact with the public to develop, improve and implement better data standards. Well today, I want to deep dive into how exactly this works.

First, I will summarise the role of the DSA in setting open data standards a little better. To do this, I also need to introduce the Open Standards Board (OSB). The OSB works with the Cabinet Office and is responsible for selecting and implementing open standards regarding data and technology to be used across all of government. Its board is made up of professionals from academia and private sector companies such as IBM, Microsoft and the Open Data Institute. They meet a few times a year to review newly proposed open standards to decide whether they should get added to the published recommended open standards to be using.

This is where the DSA come in. One of the DSA’s responsibilities is to propose new data standards or amendments to existing standards to the OSB for review. I must stress that when I say new standards, it is not usually completely newly developed standards, but pre-existing standards not already on the Open Standards list that would solve a business’ or organisation’s data problem.

This is where you get to come in. For example, imagine you and your organisation want to publish some data online. You feel using a metadata standard that is not already on the Open Standards list would be most appropriate, and it would help if others across government were using that same standard. Well using their Open Standards Github, you can raise a suggestion by clicking the big green button ‘new issue’ under the issues tab at the top. Note that you will need a Github account to do so. As a user, you can read and comment on other people’s suggestions and the list of the current suggestions on Issues · alphagov/open-standards · GitHub is worth looking over.

Then a panel of technology experts will choose some suggestions to become ‘challenges’ and appoint a challenge owner to champion them. They are tagged as challenges on Issues · alphagov/open-standards · GitHub. Again you can get involved with the discussion on pre-existing challenges and offer solutions. The challenge owner will draw up a proposal based on the discussion and responses on the challenge, which is also an iterative and interactive process involving you and others interested. If you are up to it, you can even become a challenge owner yourself.

The current list of challenges are:

Finally, we come to the solution stage, where the OSB reviews the proposal and decide whether its approach is solving the challenge and if the open standard should be adopted across government.

So if you have a data or business problem, which you think can be solved by a data standard not already on the Open Standards list, I encourage YOU to raise a challenge with the DSA and find a solution!

If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch with our team at

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