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What do *you* think common data standards in government should look like?

Hi brainstrust,

We’ve been thinking a bit about common data standards lately - what they might encompass, how they might be developed, and the pain points they could help us all collectively address.

I’d love to know people’s takes on two questions:

  1. What does a common data standard mean to you?

  2. What would (or wouldn’t) be useful to have in them?

Some explanation and background -

What is a common data standard?
A set of definitions for data attributes that provide a consistent approach to collecting and representing data that is commonly used across organisations. For example - agreeing how to define and collect sex and gender information or how addresses should be collected and validated.

For a human services-focussed example, check out the Common dataset for human services from the ACT government.

For an infrastructure and assets-focussed example, check out the Open council data standards.

What challenges might it help solve?

  • Differences in how key pieces of information are recorded by organisations make it difficult to take a whole-of-government view of particular groups in the community (e.g. Organisation A collects people’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse status as [Yes / No] based on the individual’s own identification, Organisation B collects it based on a combination of [Country of birth and Main language spoken at home]
  • Differences in interpretation of key concepts both in data and by the people on the frontlines of service delivery (e.g. The difference between sex and gender)
1 Like

Hi Keith, Interesting concept and one that has been around for a millennium as I am sure you know. The challenge as I see it is not in implementing a ‘standard’ (and there are already standards for many forms of data) but more aligned to providing guidance for common vocabularies and data structures as I see the ‘data standard as you defined’ doing both from the examples provided.

What you point out as ‘commonly used across government’ is probably the real focus area. Common data (demographics, services, financial data, property, topo data) may be a focus to begin with but that being said, not all agencies capture this data. There is also the challenge of defining standards for data capture by contractors (where a lot of data is captured) and getting this into the contract space so it minimises re-use.

Possible pointing towards a common data standard guidance area would assist with contracts.
Sounds like it would be of benefit relating to demographic type data as you pointed out. For assets and alike, certain parts of the information may be shared, others are more focused on internal risk management activities (i.e knowledge about the asset, criticality, life etc.) so may not ever have a common approach other than the defined standards (PAS55 series, / ISO 15500 series) and linkages to other standards (Assets to BIM ISO 19650). Probably steps up a notch in complexity for environmental/biodiversity data.

To answer your questions:
1. What does a common data standard mean to you? Data Standards relate to the metadata and structure of the data as aligned to a compliance or regulatory need. To be certified in asset management or record keeping, how the information is structured and stored is more important than providing a common way for others to access and share.
2. What would (or wouldn’t) be useful to have in them? If provided at a guidance level, formatting guidance (DDMMYYY), common descriptors and definitions for capture method, intended use, so basically the 6 quality measures of Accuracy, Consistency, Integrity, Completeness, Currency and Intended Purpose defined for common shared data. Each having some defined structure to represent these elements for the disciplines of use. (accuracy means many things dependent on your use)



Hi Keith,

Governance and process are hugely important in defining/useage of any data standards as Daz has outline above.

On a more technical note, its so much easier when we (the consultant doing the work) receives a file geodatabase with coded domains (aka dropdowns) this really helps to ensure Accuracy, Consistency, Integrity, Completeness, Currency in whatever it is we’re documenting/collecting information on.

While i personally much prefer GDB’s (see why here - it is important to give the contractor options in which data format is best to store/supply spatial information that matches their available/preferred software. So have identical templates in formats such as GDB/ Feature class, Shapefile, Tab file, excel ect…

However, your organisation needs to be conformable with handling/QA’ing each and ingesting it into a master database, this process needs to be automated to reduce risk/liability. This would all be covered in a spatial strategy for your organisation.