https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2013/09/27/first-open-standards-selected/

First open standards selected

We set up an Open Standards Board last April to help us decide which open standards to use in government technology. Selecting and implementing open standards will make our services better and give us more flexibility in choosing our suppliers. On Tuesday, the board recommended that we adopt four open standards to help solve two of our first user needs based challenges.

There was a clear - and at times impassioned  - debate from the board members and the clear focus on the needs of users helped with the complex issues around each case. I accepted the recommendations wholeheartedly and we have now published the two agreed standards profiles, which describe how and when to implement these open standards in government.

What our new standards profiles help to fix

Agreeing the standards profile for cross-platform character encoding means that we can prevent accidental or unanticipated corruption of text that is transferred between systems, saving costs in detecting and fixing errors in the text, and providing more accurate information.

The standards profile that we’ve agreed for persistent resolvable identifiers is really a starting point for more work that we now need to get on with. When that’s been completed data re-users will be able to identify things, such as schools, hospitals or companies, using identifiers that continue to mean the same thing over time, helping them to easily understand and combine data about those things from different sources.

What else needs fixing?

The board considered a third draft standards profile on metadata and controlled vocabularies on Tuesday. It recommended the use case for this should be made clearer before the board will reach a conclusion on any open standards that might be adopted. We’ll therefore be taking another look into how government bodies should describe and share their information by raising new challenges with a clearer scope through the Standards Hub.

Next

Now that we have tested out the process using these relatively simple challenges, the real work can begin. You’ve already come forward with 14 suggestions for what we should look at next, as well as the five other challenges that we’re currently working on.

It is great to see the enthusiasm and dedication that everyone involved is putting into making this happen - board members, advisory panels, the people involved in developing the proposals and the people who contribute ideas and comments through the Standards Hub. The Open Standards team have worked very hard to make this work and deserve all our thanks.

Keep pushing us. Keep coming forward with your ideas. And we’ll keep on working to make your services better and our technology more open.

6 comments

  1. Max Froumentin

    A few comments on the site:
    - very good to see that, so far, the profiles are short and to-the-point. That's rare
    - "There was a clear – and at times impassioned - debate" - are there any minutes of discussions and technical arguments? Nothing at http://standards.data.gov.uk/meetings
    - why is not possible to discuss or react on proposals? If the process of selecting standards for government is to happen publicly as this site indicates, there needs to be many avenues for discussions, not just a way to leave comments on challenges or on this blog. See W3C for an example to follow.
    - What's the relationship between this site and the government's Open Standards Principles? Is this site the official technical implementation of those principles? Are the standards selected going to be made mandatory across gov, included in the GDS service manual? How are the principles, or the decisions to adopt them, fueled by government requirements or current practices.

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    • Tracey W

      Hi Max, thanks for your comment.

      We were a little slow in posting the minutes - apologies for that; we'll get them up sooner in future but they are now available on the Standards Hub in the meetings section.

      Regarding the ability to comment on proposals, this is something we positively encourage. We are keen to be open and to learn from others.

      After we have received responses from users of the Standards Hub on which open standards might help to solve a particular challenge, we then close the challenge for comments whilst we consider these and prepare one or more proposals.

      We publish the proposals on the Hub and invite users to comment on them so that we can develop and assess them, taking into consideration the feedback we receive. There may also be other activities such as workshops or pilots and we would encourage people to get involved in these too.

      Only after this stage, do we close comments so that a final draft can be prepared for the standards panel to evaluate when it considers its advice to the Open Standards Board.

      The draft standards profiles are considered by panels made up of technical experts from across government - who will soon be joined by volunteers from outside of government too. They evaluate proposals based on a number of factors, and consider the proposed standards taking into account things such as applicability to government and the impact on government services.

      The standards profiles that have been agreed are compulsory for use in the government bodies that are within the scope of the Open Standards Principles, subject to a comply or explain process and to public procurement regulations.

      The Open Standards Principles mentioned that the Standards Hub and the Open Standards Board would be the mechanism for selecting open standards for use in government technology - these standards profiles are the first output.

      The GDS Service Design Manual and the Cabinet Office webpage introducing the Open Standards Principles have both been updated to reflect the adoption of these open standards profiles.

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      • Max Froumentin

        Thanks for your answers. I think the most important changes that should happen are:
        - the process allows the public to react as late as possible: as the committee agrees on a challenge, there should be a period where people can send comments and the board would need to answer them before finalising the spec
        - the website should reflect all discussions and comments that have taken place as the challenge was developed and discussed. A forum for each challenge would be best for that)
        - the main resource of the site is going to be profiles (because that's what people will be asking for), but right now the focus is challenges.
        - there should be a way to discuss the process and other non-challenge issues on the site. So that discussions like this one happens in a more useful place.

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        • Tracey W

          Thanks very much for your feedback Max, it's helpful to have perspectives on the things we could improve. I'll pass these comments on to the relevant people.

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  2. David K Matthewson

    Yes, I'd second that - great to see this site but if HMG is serious about this then we need more involvement. After all, I suspect there are more 'experts' out here than there are in HMG....

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    • Tracey W

      Thanks for your comment, David.

      We have some fantastic people working in government but we completely agree that we can't do this alone. There are also many experts outside of government who can help us.

      The Open Standards Board already draws half of its members from outside government and we are looking to appoint additional experts to join the Board's advisory panels, following our call for volunteers - details are at standards.data.gov.uk/meeting/volunteers

      We encourage experts from all sectors to get involved with the work we're doing on setting open standards.

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