Setting High and Compatible Standards

Omidyar Network is proud to announce its support to a Joined Up Data initiative, spearheaded by two exceptional organizations, Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund.  The objective of our grant is to transform more data into better information. Specifically, it will support technical and political progress to ensure that 1) open data standards are not developed in isolation; and 2) datasets, especially data used to inform decisions that impact people’s lives most, adopt common definitions and fields.

Why Data Standards Matter

Standards enable interoperability, replicability, and efficiency. Airplane travel would be chaotic at best and deadly at worst if flights and air traffic control did not use common codes for call signs, flight numbers, location, date, and time. Trains that cross national borders need tracks built to a standard gauge as evidenced by Spain’s experience in making its trains interoperable with the rest of the continent’s.

Standards matter in data collection and publication as well.  This is especially true for those datasets that matter most to people’s lives, such as health, education, agriculture, and water. Disparate standards for basic category definitions like geography and organizations mean that data sources cannot be easily or cost-effectively analyzed for cross-comparison and decision making.

Compatible data standards that enable data being ‘joined up,’ would enable more efficacious logging and use of immunization records, controlling the spread of infectious disease, helping educators prioritize spending based on the greatest needs, and identifying the beneficial owners of companies to help ensure transparent and legal business transactions.

Data: More Valuable When Joined Up

Lots of efforts, time, and money are poured into the generation and publication of open data. And where open data is important in itself, the biggest return on investment is potentially from the inter-linkages among datasets. However, it is very difficult to yield this return because of the now-missing standards and building blocks (e.g., geodata, organizational identifiers, project identifiers) that would enable joining up of data.

Omidyar Network currently supports open data standards for contracting, extractives, budgets, and others. If “joining up” work is not considered and executed at early stages, these standards 1) could evolve in silos and 2) may not reach their full capacity.

Interoperability will not happen automatically; specific investments and efforts must be made to develop the public good infrastructure for the joining up of key datasets.

Who will Lead this Work?

The two organizations leading this project have an impressive track record working in this area. Development Initiatives is a global organization working to empower people to make more effective use of information. In 2013, it commissioned Open Knowledge Foundation to publish a cross-initiative scoping study, Joined-Up Data: Building Blocks for Common Standards, which recommended focus areas, shared learning, and the adoption of joined-up data and common standards for all publishers. Partnering with Development Initiatives is Publish What You Fund, whose mission is to achieve a significant increase in the availability of comprehensive, timely, comparable, accessible information about development flows.

This project is ambitious in its scope and goal:  achieve sector-level change by influencing and changing the data production methods and abilities of open data standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives and organizations.

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Discussion
Andrew Turner CTO, R&D DC at Esri

This is a great initiative - particularly given the goal is "transform more data into better information" where standards can enable rather than merely being the abstract objective. There are already a number of standards that exist - I'm curious to learn how these existing standards can be promoted, improved or integrated. And where we can devise methodologies for integrating systems that don't match the specific standard but can leverage linked semantics to create interoperability layers. I'm looking forward to hearing more details on where this collaboration will take place and how we can all participate!

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